There is absolutely no shortage of core exercise circuits available on the training market today. As such, you will find loads of training variation and highly effective options to help carve your abdominals and improve your core performance. However, there still exists a need for more challenging, intense, function-specific exercises and circuits to address optimal performance of the core.
Now if you have never attempted this circuit or something similar before, or you are new to bar core training, or just returning after a layoff, then consider a few things. First, start in the reverse sequence as shown in the video, which progresses from easiest to hardest in nature. As you become skilled in the first progression (last drill), add in the next movement. After you add in a movement try to perform a limited amount of slow reps (1-3) with perfect form and ZERO decrease in muscular tension. If you are tired, lack focus, recovering, or just don’t have it that day then return when you can create and sustain maximal total body tension. You’ll know it when you feel it, otherwise your form will crumble. Total body tension is the basis for progression with bar core training as my mentor once said.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?
Research on bar core work is pretty scarce, but I did happen to find one prominent study for you to paint a clear picture. According to research from world renowned spinal bio-mechanist; Dr. Stuart McGill, hanging leg raises heavily stimulates target ab muscles. “>130% MVC in rectus abdominis, 88% MVC in external oblique.” 1 The beauty of the findings in this study is that a majority of people can perform a basic hanging leg raise exercise with relative ease. The great news is that this leaves room for tremendous progression opportunities. And if the return on such little investment is high according to research, then you can securely expect an even greater return with more advanced variations of hanging leg raises.
Direct core training on a bar is incredibly challenging and it provides a source of overload to the region like no other. Moreover, this style of training applies a similar training stimulus to what the core system has to encounter in athletic competition. Especially when you consider the relatively high level of activity demonstrated by the collective core during athletic movements such as sprinting, jumping, cutting, landing, braking, lifting, and more. In terms of intensity, or level of effort, I’m not sure there is anything better for the core than bar work.
GYMNASTS GOT IT RIGHT
The correlation between the physique and performance of a gymnast’s core and bar core work capacity is very high to say the least. The unfortunate downfall is that many of the progressions practiced by this type of athlete are flat-out ridiculous for the vast majority of the athletic population. As a result, this will naturally deter the majority from appreciating the extreme value that bar work would invariably have in the development of their core. By appropriately modifying the exercise selection, like in the video above, you can automatically create a training environment that most skilled athletes can handle and benefit from at some point. This could only translate into better performance on the field or court.
MORE VALUABLE CORE RESEARCH
I also wanted to share one of two very intriguing systematic reviews on core training that analyzed an entire spectrum of exercises from stability ball work, to free weight exercises and other devices. What the researchers found was that multi-joint free-weight exercises stimulated the targeted core muscles (TA and Multifidus) more so than other exercises. 1
Bottomline is that I see athletes on a daily basis completely underachieving in the development of their core. It’s understandable with the limited progressions being practically promoted throughout social media. We just keep regurgitating the classics which leads to eventual boredom and stagnancy in adaptation from training. Moreover, you are only as strong as your weakest link, so if you aren’t attempting to isolate and overload your core directly, you can only expect limitations in all other training endeavors of the upper and lower body. Don’t let this simple fix plague you, and start your bar core work today if you haven’t already.
#1-McGill S, Andersen J, Cannon J. Muscle activity and spine load during anterior chain whole body linkage exercises: the body saw, hanging leg raise and walkout from a push-up. J Sports Sci. 2014;33(4):419-26. doi:10.1080/02640414.2014.946437
#2-Martuscello, JM. Systematic review of Core muscle activity during physical fitness exercises. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27: 1684-1698, 2013