Project #CoreUpgrade has been going on for me for some time… since before Christmas last year, 2018 to be exact.
Tim and I were recording a podcast before Christmas discussing goals for 2019. I asked Tim for some advice on what he thinks I should work on and he said;
Why don’t you sort out your core mate!
The turtle shell, as he often refers to it, might look good on the outside (in terms of six pack muscles) but it’s a little more like an armadillo (for those that remember the favour Dime bar advert) on the inside… soft!
Joking aside, I want to give you an insight into what we discussed “off air” after the podcast recording and explain the rationale behind why I embarked on “Project #CoreUpgrade”, what Tim identify and how I’ve been training more effectively for it.
Lets start right at the beginning with a quick anatomy and science lesson, so we can be clear on what the core actually is and what core stability means. When discussing the core we are referring to the musculature and connective tissue of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (LPHC) which includes the lumbar spine, pelvic girdle and hip joint.
One term that is often referred to with core training is “core stability” so to be clear on exactly what core stability means, it is defined as;
Neuromuscular efficiency of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.
So with the core and core stability it’s clear we are discussing more than just “six pack” abs. With the core we have to think differently than one muscle working in one plane of motion. The transverse abdomens, internal oblique, multifidus and deep erector spinae muscles as work together in stabilising the LPHC during functional movements.
Have you got stability through the lumbar spine, pelvis and hip? Or are you just good a flexing the spine in sit ups and crunches? Are you efficient with movement and range of motion or is your LPHC all tight and junked up? Things like lower back pain can come from poor LPHC stability as a result of a weak core. Everything can tighten up around it to ‘protect it’ which is certainly not neuromuscular efficiency and can result in lower back pain that I’ve previously suffered with during extended periods of standing or sitting.
Sometimes the stabilising musculature gets described as the ‘small little muscles’ and mine were certainly small and weak! Project #CoreUpgrade was about bringing the core stabilisers up to the level of my rectus abdominal, which was going to take a bit of time as those bad boys got worked pretty hard every morning and every night from the ages of 13 to 21 years old. Hundreds of sit ups and crunches my bedroom, in the quest for an even more defined six pack created an overload!
Little did ‘young Jacko’ know but all I was doing was creating an imbalance of musculature around the core. Overworking my rectus abdominals ticked the box for the six pack goal, but created more of a turtle shell than spinal and hip stability that would be needed for solid trunk strength in my calisthenics journey yet to come!
So I spent too much of my teenage years casing after an aesthetic goal of the sixpack. That resulted in poor training and over developed rectus abdominals. I was good at creating spinal flexion but that’s it! The deep core stabilisers that provide spinal stability and help to maintain pelvic stability and trunk alignment were weak in comparison.
This was something clearly apparent when I first met Tim and we started ‘messing around’ with calisthenics together 5 years ago. My first ever hollow body hold was embarrassing and I felt like the turtle shell was getting in the way… in certainly couldn’t create the shape effectively. Holding it was a problem and a hollow rock was never happening!
The biggest mistake I made (in my opinion) was not actually all the sit ups and crunches in my bedroom for all those years but the fact my ego got in the way when I realised there was a problem.
Before I knew I had a problem with my core I was blissfully unaware. A bad place to be! You can only make change once you know initially that there is something that needs changing. Then you need to know how to change it but the first step is that recognition and acceptance followed by a willingness to change.
For me 5 years ago the hollow body hold pointed out there was a problem, which was made pretty clear when Tim laughed out loud in the gym as I struggled with a basic core hold. We didn’t know each other very well, at that point, so maybe he didn’t feel he could tell me with the same conviction he did more recently that “you need to sort your core out”.
So the reality is that Project #CoreUpgrade could and should have started 5 years ago but the reality is it didn’t. My ego got in the way. But you know what, that’s ok. I’ve learned a lot through the process and I’m making the change happen more effectively now. I hope the difficulties I went through can help streamline the action you’ll take yourself to upgrade your core.
So what have I being doing as part of project #CoreUpgrade to improve my core strength, pelvis and spinal stability to help maintain better trunk alignment.
I’ve been choosing core exercises that challenges both my weak areas as well as my tight and restricted areas like the lumbar spine, hips and shoulders.
Therefore two of my favourite exercises have been ab wheel rollouts and stability ball pikes. And the good news, my core feels better, my shoulders feel better and lever strength is improved as well as handstand alignment.
I’ve been picking two exercises like these, one slightly more strength based (ab wheel rollouts in this case) and one more stability based. The strength based exercise I’ve been hitting 8 to 12 reps and the stability exercises more endurance like 12 to 20 reps (stabilising musculature like more volume).
The rollouts focus more on the trunk alignment and shoulder flexion which is great for both the trunk strength in lever work as well as improving alignment for your handstands and strength in that end range shoulder flexion position where your arm is full strength above you head.
Stability ball pikes focus on hamstring length whilst using the lower abs to ‘pull’ into hip flexion rather than using rectus abdominal to create spinal flexion. These have been great for me as they helps not only with the core strength but also the hamstring flexibility which has been a little side project I’ve been working on too.
Anytime we can get more than one training outcome from a single exercise that’s ticking more than one goal we have, it’s a winner in our eyes. Tim often talks about doing the least amount of work for the most amount of progress and that’s certainly the case with these core exercises.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed find out the reason behind Project #CoreUpgrade as well what I’ve been implementing in my training that you can use the same principles to upgrade your core.
There are so many different core exercises you can use from hanging leg raises and planks to hollow rocks and leg lifts, so feel free to use whichever core exercises you want. Just ensure you know why you are choosing them and the exercises give you the adaptations you require, targeting your weak areas rather than overworking your strong areas.
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