Carl Paoil doing hollow rocks

Exposing the Core
Written by Bryce Smith

When you think of core strength, most people immediately think of their abs. You probably think of crunches, sit-ups, leg lifts, hanging knee raises, and toes-to-bar, among other midline exercises. Having a strong core conjures up images of a model in an exercise machine commercial with a six pack of abs. Many of the models in those commercials do have a strong core, but it is important to understand that perception is not always reality and the way one’s core looks is not always indicative of their core strength.

Although the exercises listed above can be awesome when used properly, when you think of the core, please understand that it is a complex series of muscles that includes more than just the “six pack” – it includes everything that’s not an appendage. The core is a necessary component of virtually every movement of the human body. With that being said, it is very important that we understand how to properly use our core strength to generate stability and assist with force transfer from one extremity to another.

My favorite definition for core stability can be stated as “the ability to not change shape even when under stress from intensity and/or load.” An example of this is the ability to maintain your posture while squatting, pulling, pushing, etc. Damion Howell explains core strength as the ability of the muscles in the hip, shoulder girdle, and trunk to work together to form a functional segment. It is the ability of the core muscles to work in an efficient and coordinated fashion to maintain correct alignment of the spine and pelvis while the limbs are moving [2].

The most primal function of the core is stability. It acts as a bridge between the upper and lower extremities and aids in proper biomechanics during movements like deadlifts, overhead squats, and pushups. More often than not, people do not conceptually understand this function of the core and they mostly use it as a prime mover during flexion and extension exercises like crunches or back extensions. Those exercises do have a purpose, but the prime function of our core is stabilization. The core needs to be the force transfer center of the body.

Research has shown that athletes with higher core stability have a lower risk of injury [1]. We can practice and obtain greater core stability to protect the spine and surrounding musculature by first using static movements like front and side planks or hollow body holds. During static planks, if the belly starts to sag to the floor, this can be an indication of a potentially weak core or, at the very least, poor positioning. This weakness can also be seen during wall climbs when athletes have their thighs and belly against the wall rather than just the nose and the toes. Both of these can be used as a diagnostic tool or a indicator of a weak core.

Once static holds are mastered, we can later progress our core stability exercises to incorporate dynamic movements like Olympic lifting, running, or picking up dog food and tossing it over your shoulder. We can make each of these exercises more challenging by simply increasing the time domain, adding load, or enhancing intensity. It is important, however, to master the basic static core movements before moving on to the dynamic movements.

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In addition to the surface abdominals, athletes should also pay attention to their glutes, back, hip flexors, pelvic floor, and deep abdominals such as the psoas. If we maintain proper body alignment, we give ourselves the best chance to move efficiently.If we can enhance our core strength, we can become better movers. Better movers have a greater chance of lifting more weight, moving weight faster, and moving weight for a longer period of time. Yup – I just revealed the secret that everyone has been searching for.

Below is a sample of core work that may be beneficial in your training regimen:

Monday: 3 sets:

  1. Bird dogs x 10 each side (as seen here:

  2. Hollow Body Hold x 45- 60 seconds (as seen here:

  3. Superman Hold x 15-20 reps (as seen here: )

Wednesday: 3 sets:

  1. Weighted Plank x 60 seconds (as seen here: )

  2. Single leg glute bridge x 10 each leg (as seen here: )

  3. Bulgarian Goat Bagger Swings x 10 (as seen here: )

Friday: 3 sets:

  1. Face Down Chinese Plank x 60 seconds (as seen here: )

  2. Face Up Chinese Plank x 60 seconds (as seen here: )

  3. Hip Extensions x 10-15 (as seen here: )

Feel free to use these exercises as activation drills for your clients or as accessory work at the conclusion of each of your own sessions. Now you have the tools to get out there and begin focusing on enhancing core strength and becoming a better mover.


[1] Evans, Dena. “Personalized For Success.” What Is Core Strength and Why Is It Important? Focus-N-Fly, Inc, 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 28 May 2015.

[2] Howell, Damien. “Core Strength – Core Stability: Controversy regarding Definition – Does It Ensure Enhanced Athletic Performance?” (n.d.): n. pag. Damien Howell. Web. 28 May 2015.

[3] Neuromuscular training for sports injury prevention: a systematic review.

[4] Hübscher M, Zech A, Pfeifer K, Hänsel F, Vogt L, Banzer W., Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Mar; 42(3):413-21.

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StephJeremy RMichele VieuxPaulo Tatad Recent comment authors
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Thank-you for all the information. I definitely need to start applying more core work to my routine.

Jeremy Ramberg
Jeremy Ramberg

Great article. I need to incorporate this into my routine!

Paulo Tatad
Paulo Tatad

Excellent article.

If a GHD is not accessible, what’s a good modification for Hip Extension?

Michele Vieux
Michele Vieux

You can use a partner and a tall box! Lay face down on the box with the top half of your body hanging off. (Crease of the hip should freely move) Have a friend hold your legs to the box and perform your hip extensions that way.