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The Best Core Strength Exercise Tip You Will Ever Get

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 03 May 2015
Hits: 4780

When it comes to Core Strength exercises or "Core workouts" for that matter, there is a wide variety of exercises and definitions as to exactly what the core is, and exactly how to exercise correctly for great results. Lying on your back doing crunches, holding planks for great lengths of time and pilates classes are what most would regard as great examples of core stability and strength. To think that the core is just the abdominal muscles is where everyone goes wrong. The core is a combination of the inner unit stabilizer muscles working in synergy with the outer unit more global muscles that produce movement. (I will explain this in more detail below).True core strength can only be developed in a standing position and requires many intricate parts to be executed in perfect sequence for you to get it right. Many people do not realize the importance of breathing when it comes to developing significant strength. But if you took a look at a lot of the ancient forms of exercise like martial arts and yoga, and even weightlifting and gymnastics and you will see the elite athletes spend a considerable amount of time developing perfect breathing techniques. Why? Because they know it is absolutely critical for developing strength for their sport. And this tip that I am going to show you in this article is based around the theory of breathing and how to create pressure through the entire kinetic chain to produce force. The most interesting point is that this is not even new, it is old news for the skilled martial arts fan. In fact it is the whole basis of the one inch punch!

What Is This Tip?

I first saw this in Paul Chek's Scientific Core Conditioning correspondence course and applied it immediately in my own training with great results. However reflecting later on I realized I did actually know this already but the gym and fitness industry had corrupted my way of exercising with how to breathe and exercise. My many years of Pilates training had also created a mass amount of dysfunction that I had to "unlearn".

This tip is actually quite simple however it will take some considerable practice to make it automatic. You can watch the quick video below of me explaining this to see it in action.

There is two important actions you need to take for you to begin developing core strength like never before.

  1. Activate your "inner unit" abdominal muscles, in particular the TVA and diaphragm by drawing in your belly button towards your spine
  2. Place your tongue on the roof of the mouth

That's it. Well sort of, there is a lot more that you will need to do depending on what movement you are using at the time. But in a nutshell this is really how you create whole body strength, to provide optimal stability with the ability to move objects with force.

How Does This Actually Work?

This is quite a complex thing to explain so I will give you a scientific explanation and also a simple analogy to help you understand. Just remember that you must do the 2 things (tongue on roof of mouth and belly button in and you will be fine)
As opposed to what many people think we are made up of a series of complex chains and systems that co ordinate together well when everything is where it is supposed to be. These complex chains are known as slings and to produce movement they pull together a series of muscles all in split second in a perfectly timed sequence. This particular tip is by far the most important as it is the link that joins the upper and lower body together. It also joins our stabilizer system, is made up of what is called the Inner Unit, and the moving muscles that are known as the Outer Unit together so that you remain stable and strong.

Why Most Core Workouts Cause More Harm Than Good?

You must isolate your weak abs! This is where many of the so called "Core Workouts" focus on, and where Pilates and many of the Physiotherapy rehab programs will spend years trying to develop in the belief that if your core is stronger you will prevent injury. It seems logical at first, strengthen your stabilizers with heaps of isolated exercises, "feel the burn" so to speak and it can only do you good. I myself became a qualified Pilates instructor in Matwork and Reformer, thinking this is the best core training you can do. After a few years of accumulating more injuries and seeing many clients around me become worse using this method I could see something was fundamentally wrong. They all needed to be better at exercises standing up, not lying on the floor, seated or kneeling. The needed to learn how to move correctly.

Currently I work with many severe spinal injury clients and some of the most complex cases you will ever see. However these people are all able to drive a car to my studio and walk in through the door. Many still go to work and have lifestyle activities to do at home like cleaning the house, or mowing the lawn. Their fear or re-injury will be with movements like bending, twisting, squatting and lunging. All are movements performed in a standing position. If this is the case, then how can someone improve abilities by lying on the floor trying to activate their pelvic floor! It is ridiculous. By all means you will need to show them how to do this, but the key here is, they MUST learn how to integrate these muscles with the rest of their body, when performing a movement for them to be fully functional and strong for life. Click here to read some of our clients success stories 

What Is The Inner Unit?

The inner unit is composed of the Transversus abdominis (TVA) , the posterior fibres of the Obliquus internus abdominis, the diaphragm, the pelvic floor muscles, the Multifidus and lumbar portions of the Longissimus and Iliocostalis. These muscles have attach to the body at the spine only, meaning that when they activate they generate little or no movement. This is how we can easily determine if you are cheating, by looking to see if your body moves when asked to activate. Contraction of these deep core muscles provides segmental stabilization of the spine. They effectively stabilize the spine and sacroiliac joint at low levels of contraction with low susceptibility to fatigue. Coordination is critical for proper stabilization. The ability of the inner unit muscles to contract prior to force production of the larger prime mover muscles (geared toward movement) is more important than their strength. Research shows that in people with no history of low back pain, the TVA fires 30 milliseconds before arm movements and 110 milliseconds before leg movements. This is why Pilates and Physiotherapists focus so intently on these muscles. You can see why they do this, and how that might make sense.

Contraction of the TVA plays a very important role in inner unit stabilization for the following reasons:

  1. The drawing in of the abdominal wall on TVA contraction (TVA) increases what we refer to as intra-abdominal pressure.
  2. The TVA and Obliquus internus abdominis are connected with the thoracolumbar fascia which is the muscles around the lower back area. The contraction of these muscles tightens the thoracolumbar fascia in a weight-belt like fashion. The thoracolumbar fascia attach to the spine. The generated lateral tension on the thoracolumbar fascia by the contraction of the TVA and Obliquus internus abdominis, stabilises each vertebra of your spine. The Multifidus and extensors of the back are enveloped in the thoracolumbar fascia. When these muscles contract, they will expand within the confined area of the thoracolumbar fascia. The increased intra-compartmental pressure produces an extension force.This is referred to as the hydraulic amplifier mechanism. It is mathematically proven that the hydraulic amplifier mechanism increases the strength of the back extensors by 30%!

Common exercises for this include leg raises, crunches, planks and various other isolated ab exercises. Like I said these are not all bad, they just do not teach you how to move and in some cases they actually are working too hard in relation to the movers. They must learn how to function in what their role is intended to be and work with the outer unit.

What Is The Outer Unit?

The outer unit consists of many muscles such as the such as large big moving muscles like your Latissimus dorsi, Gluteus muscles and hamstrings. The outer unit muscles have an important stability function when the body is under load (lifting weights) or during high-speed movements. The outer unit controls the range of motion, generates movement and provides stability on a bigger scale. This is where the SLINGS become more prominent and why we spend so much time teaching you how to do movements with opposite arms and legs and exercises like the Woodchop to encourage better timing, skill, strength and power with these slings. To read more about the Slings go to our Article "How To Train The Core Correctly For Great Results" and I detail each one of these slings with examples and pictures of each one. You can also watch the video below of our assessment process that integrates all of these slings together.

The Secret Is To Learn To Integrate

The simplest way I like to explain this tip is by using an annalogy of a bike tube inflating inside a tyre.

Think of the rim as the bones or skeletal system. The tyre is your big moving muscles such as the quads, glutes etc and the tube is the inner unit stabilizer muscles. Would it be a good idea just to focus on the tube and forget about improving the tyre? No that would be stupid. The tyre and the tube are intimately related. One needs the other to provide smooth and fluent movement. The must integrate. Now to test the wheel and see how strong it is would you try to spin the wheel with the bike upside down or lying on it's side? No, because that would also be stupid and achieve nothing. It needs to be standing up! It is my mission to educate the community about the importance of strength training to improve function and movement instead of focusing solely on muscles.

Just remember this. Your tongue is trying to stabilize your head and your abdominal muscles are trying to stabilize your pelvis. When they are both switched on at the same time they connect to each other to create a kinetic link with legs and arms. Watch the videos below of examples of full body integration at is best.

Focus More On Single Arm & Single Leg Exercises

By far the best exercises for improving Core Strength is single arm and single leg exercises. So far most of this article has focused on injury prevention and rehabilitation but what about sports? I really grasped the concept of Sports Conditioning and sports movement skills when I completed training with Twist Conditioning. These guys are right on the cutting edge to designing the best sports movement exercises and using their Linked Strength philosophy. Most sports require single arm or single leg movements at explosively high speeds, often with reactive collisions, and on unstable surfaces. This requires perfect timing, co ordination, strength and balance to play to your potential. There is no time to think, "draw my belly button in and put the tongue on the roof of the mouth". It has to be automatic. You will find the more complex single arm and single leg exercises require the highest levels of activation from both the inner unit and outer unit. Almost as if every single muscle in your body is working at once. As opposed to traditional strength training and most rehab or pilates training where you are trying to focus on one thing at a time. These exercises if practiced correctly and sticking to the form principle (only perform good movements) and not to failure will enable your body to develop the "automatic" movement you need when playing sports. And by taking the time to use standing exercises that utilize these skills you will also prevent injury and have core strength to die for!

  

Learn How To Breathe Correctly

As mentioned at the beginning, learning how to get your breathing right is critical. This is quite a complex topic in it's own right but here is some of the key points.

  1. Keep your mouth closed as much as possible.
  2. If you are doing any exercise that moves you toward the fetal position EXHALE or breathe out. Conversely, if the exercise moves your arms and legs away from the centre, or your spine lengthens, then inhale. Easy way to remember is if you are getting taller as you're doing a movement, breathe in.
  3. One important point here that is not common knowledge, when you breathe in, you activate cerebral spinal fluid up and down your spine. But you must have both extension and flexion for this to happen. This is why crunches off the floor are bad and how they will ruin your core as opposed to improve it.
  4. The heavier the load, the more pressure you will need to build, and your instincts will help you here.The respiratory system has a dual function – it also serves as a stabilizer system. The diaphragm is primarily a respiratory muscle and secondarily a stabilizer muscle.
    Notice what happens when you do a movement like a heavy deadlift or squat. You will find that you stop breathing when you lift the load, because as the nervous system senses the threat to the spinal cord, the diaphragm switches to a stabilizer role
    This is because it is a massive muscle that connects to most of your ribs and helps to stabilize the body.
  5. Whenever you are using arm movements, it is essential to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth with pursed lips. This allows you to keep your tongue on the roof in both in and out breaths. If you want to know more about breathing watch the video below.

Conclusion

The best core exercises and core workouts are where the body is working in full harmony with inner unit muscles and outer unit muscles. Cable woodchops, single arm cable press and complex multi joint exercises are by far the best for learning to make this method automatic. And funnily enough these mimic fighting actions of martial arts! Remember the one inch punch! It takes a while to become good at this so you must be patient and practice. If you have neck pain or shoulder pain this article is a must for you as this is a sign your shoulder and neck are unstable. In nearly 90% of neck pain cases we find faulty breathing patterns are present. This one tip will not only make you stronger but prevent any injury or pain.

This is one of our tips from our 6 week Core Essentials Injury Prevention class. If you live in the Melbourne area you can find out more about our class by clicking here.

You can also get a copy of our Special Report on Back Pain by clicking the image below