• Alex Parry

Strength Training for Core

A strong core is a great thing to have, it underpins a bunch of fitness qualities, and improves physical performance across all sports. In this article, we're going to cover...

Does strength training work your core?

100% yes. Strength training provides a significant core workout in pretty much every movement that you perform, and research shows that people who regularly strength-train have stronger core musculature than those who do not. This makes sense when you consider that squats, bench presses, overhead presses and deadlifts all require significant core bracing.

Plus movements like press-ups are essentially planks, whilst one arm rows are essentially an anti-rotational core workout. Heck, even bicep curls require some degree of core activation.

Is strength training on its own enough to develop core muscles?

Well, this mainly depends on what your goals are.

If you just want to have a stronger core as part of an overall health and fitness plan then strength training on its own is probably fine.

However, if you want to compete in sports with high core strength or endurance demands, then general strength training alone won't be enough.

For example, consider a gymnast who has to perform routines like this...

Having worked as a strength and conditioning coach for elite gymnasts, I can tell you right now that there is basically ZERO chance that regular strength training will get you even close to that level of core strength.

What is the best way to build core strength?

Again, the best way to build core strength is going to vary based on your goals, as well as on your own personal strengths and weaknesses.

To truly answer this question for YOU, we need to understand 2 fundamental things...

1) Basic core anatomy and how it relates to movement

2) The difference between core strength and endurance

1) 'Core' Muscles

Your core comprises way more muscles than most people think...

core muscle anatomy
Diagram from MyFitnessPal

Rectus Abdominus: Your 'six-pack' abs. Good for creating flexion at the hips.

Transverse Abdominus: Your deeper stabilisers that underpin movement.

Internal and External Obliques: Your 'side' muscles that help to create and resist rotation and lateral flexion.

Quadratus Lumborum: Your lower back muscles that provide hip stability

Multifidus: Your deep spinal stabilisers

Erector Spinae: Your larger back muscles that assist with hip extension

Pelvic Floor: Your deep pelvic muscles that support your organs

A good, well-rounded core programme will ensure that each of these muscles are addressed with specific movements.

2) What is Core Strength Versus Core Endurance?

When we talk about core strength, we often aren't very precise with our wording.

In sports science, 'strength' specifically refers to a muscles ability to produce maximal force.

Typically, this can only occur for a small amount of time. So core strength is incredibly important in things like high intensity/high effort squats, jumps and throws. But what about activities that take longer? Things like running, swimming and playing most team sports?

In these situations what becomes far more important is core endurance. Core endurance is the ability of your core muscles to produce submaximal forces for a longer period of time.

All of which means that...

"You need to think about your goals, and decide whether core strength or core endurance is most important, then reflect that in your training"

For core strength: Focus on challenging muscles with heavier loads and more difficult exercises for shorter times.

For core endurance: Focus on adding repetitions and/or increasing the times you perform exercises for.

Strength Training for Core Exercises

Through years of training athletes, I've found that a well-rounded strength-training programme with enough exercise variation and movement variety goes a long way when it comes to your core. Make sure that your base programme includes things like...

  • Squats (Back squat, front squat, goblet squat)

  • Lunges (Forward, backward, side, rear foot elevated)

  • Hip hinges (deadlifts, RDL's, kettlebell swings)

  • Pushes (press-ups, barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press)

  • Pulls (barbell rows, dumbbell rows, pull-ups)

Then you can start to add more targeted exercises onto this base programme.

Personally, I've found that an effective way to do this is to divide core movements into 4 key movement patterns (or rather 'anti-movement' patterns, in which you're fighting against specific movements)

Anti-Extension Core Exercises

  • Planks

  • Deadbugs

  • Aleknas

Anti-Rotation Core Exercises

  • Paloff Presses

  • Lying windscreen wipers

Anti-Lateral Flexion Core Exercises

  • Side Planks

  • One arm weighted carries

Anti-flexion exercises

  • Birddogs

  • Back extension Holds

On top of these patterns, I also like to add in...

Diaphram and TVA exercises