The Loaded Carry
Core training is one of the buzzwords of the fitness industry right now and if you go to any commercial gym you can find dozens of (usually quite bizarre) devices that are designed to tone your midsection.
A great approach to core training (or for that matter any type of training) is to work movements, not muscles. Training individual muscles like triceps or biceps is fine for bodybuilders, but for general people training movements like a squat or hip hinge pattern (imagine taking a bow after a stage performance – this is a hip hinge) gives you far more bang for your training buck.
The reason is that the body consists of hundreds of muscles that work in concert to produce movement. When we strength train, we want to activate and use as many muscles as possible. The body does not work in isolation and neither should we when we train.
The same goes for the core. All the muscles of the midsection work to support the leg and trunk and help to transmit force. An exercise like the push up is a great way to train core stability as the muscles of the mid section and back help to lock the trunk and pelvis in place.
Push ups are an example of a super simple exercise that gets butchered by the majority of people doing them. During a push up the body should be tight, contracted and absolutely still. Imagine that the torso and legs are as immobile as a piece of wood. What tends to happen to many people is that they snake up from the ground, creating a large arch in the lower back. This is simply because they are unable to contract and stabilise their core around the movement.
Another excellent method of core training is to use loaded carries. Studies by one of the world’s foremost researchers into spine biomechanics Dr Stuart McGill have shown that traditional strongman exercises such as farmers walks and yoke carries require extremely high levels of core activation.
Loaded carries are also fun, easy to implement and will generate some interesting stares from your neighbours!
Try carrying a heavy pair of dumbbells for 50 metres or a lighter pair for 200 metres. Don’t have a dumbbell? Load up a rucksack with books and carry it bear-hug style for as long as you can.
Unilateral work is also great here, so instead of carrying two dumbbells, carry one.
Not only will loaded carries help to develop the core, they are also great for conditioning. Carry a pair of 20kg dumbbells for 100 steps and tell me that doesn’t get you huffing and puffing.