Core exercises are a misunderstood breed of exercise. People are always looking to find ways to make them more challenging by decreasing the stability or increasing the resistance.
The thought process will go something like this:
The plank is too easy.
“Ok, I’ll do it with one arm.”
Still too easy.
“Ok, I’ll just throw 60 pounds of chains on my back.”
although progressing the exercise can make it more challenging, progressing an exercise too quickly will lead to you being stronger in a compromised position, which could lead to injuries down the road.
Using increased instability and progressive overload (increasing weight) is a reasonable way to challenge yourself, but the end goal of core training is to increase trunk stability and abdominal engagement to put your body in the best alignment to lift and move safely. This means we need to be able to recruit our abdominals when lifting a heavy object off the ground, pressing objects off our chest, and even when we find ourselves sprinting.
Take the Plank for instance.
In the past, you may have done the Plank for time. That is great, but during the exercise what are you thinking about? Are you thinking about keeping the abdominals tight and the glutes activated? Are you actively thinking of pushing your hands and toes into the ground? Or are you just hanging out waiting for the time to pass?
I would bet you were thinking about the latter, and if that’s the case, you are not getting the full benefit of the Plank or any other core exercise performed for time.
You can transfer the same focus directly to a Farmer’s Walk, which, in my eyes, is just a walking Plank with heavy weights in each hand.
With the Farmer’s Walk, you need to engage the abdominals—keep your ribs down and your shoulders back. If you are not focusing on breathing in and fully exhaling (think about blowing through a straw) then you are more apt to rely on your natural instinct of locking out your lower back, or more accurately, relying on bone-on-bone contact to create stability. Instead, you should use the muscles attached to your spine to create stability.
By putting the emphasis on breathing, you will focus on engaging the abdominal muscles and staying in good alignment, allowing you to stabilize through muscular engagement.
Why This Matters
Proper trunk alignment plays a big role in overall back and hip health as well as shoulder health. From an athletic standpoint, it will allow you to contract and relax, enabling you to create more power and resist forces while being in better alignment.
Being able to breath properly helps turn off overactive muscles while helping to strengthen the muscles of the abdominals, diaphragm and pelvic floor.
With poor engagement of the core musculature, you can bet that the hips and shoulders are also not in ideal alignment.
What it looks like
- Planks 3×6-8 breaths
- Ab Wheel Iso Holds 3×5 breaths
- Kneeling Cable Chop 3x8e full exhale at bottom
When you really think about your breathing you become more focused on the muscles that need to be engaged during the exercise instead of just thinking about surviving the exercise. Plus, breathing will help increase abdominal engagement and trunk stability, which carries over to the bread and butter lifts like Squats, Bench and Deadlifts.