Three Exercises to Activate and Strengthen Your Core

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Think of your core as a switch that enables or disables certain actions. When the glutes and abs fire, explosive energy is generated, transferred and expended, and the right systems can launch on time.

At the same time, an athletic core prevents energy leaks and bad movement patterns, reducing the risk of injury. Poor core control is directly correlated with lower back pain and chronic disc problems, and such injuries often develop early and worsen with age. Protecting the lower back is essential to long-term health and maximum energy transfer. An active core enables a strong, unmoving, Houdini-like abdominal wall that protects the back from excessive forces associated with strength training and athletic competition.

Planks, Side Planks, Pallof Presses and other exercises designed to "stiffen the torso and function to prevent movement" are great for improving the core's resistive abilities, according to Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo and a world-renowned back expert.


  • Lie on stomach with elbows bent underneath
  • Raise body until only elbows and toes touch ground
  • Keep body rigid and flat by tightening abs and butt
  • Hold for specified time or until form begins to suffer

Side Plank

  • Lie on side with elbow underneath body and directly below shoulder
  • Keeping body straight, raise onto elbow and outside edge of foot; hold for specified time
  • Repeat on opposite side

Pallof Press

  • Assume athletic stance
  • Stand perpendicular to cable machine with arms at chest level
  • Holding grip firmly, press arms out straight
  • Relax neck and upper shoulders; focus on a firm grip and a tight core
  • Hold press for a predetermined time; repeat
  • Rest and repeat on opposite side

An active core enables your body to be a great "unmoving mover." Without core stability, you  are a collection of joints, muscles and connective tissue without purpose—and you certainly aren't ready to compete or win. But by contracting your glutes and abs and resisting movement, you are ready to win consistently with the strongest and smartest core imaginable.

Next time you do a Bench Press or Push-Up, be athletic about it. Squeeze your abs and glutes as if you are doing a Plank or Deadlift. If you're about to do a Sit-Up or put your back under duress to perform extraneous exercises targeting your six-pack, stop and re-read all of the above [and consider harnessing your nutrition to lose belly weight instead].

During every exercise you complete, your body systems work with each other to produce the desired movement. I tell my clients that if they don't feel a full contraction of their glute and abdominal muscles during every rep of every exercise, then the rep does not count.

Now tell me: are you athletic?

Catch up on the first two posts in this core series here.


Chris Doherty, a performance enhancement and certified strength and conditioning specialist, currently trains clients in Boston. Doherty interned as a strength coach for Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning, where he honed his coaching abilities and trained top high school and collegiate athletes in numerous sports. His favorite sports are basketball, football and golf. When not training, he can be found booking a weekend getaway to Las Vegas.

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