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Skinny Without Willpower

Friday, August 26, 2011


What is the core? I see a lot of people at the gym claim to work out their core when they actually are working out their abs. So what exactly is the core? Simply put, the core is the group of muscles that connects your upper body (head, chest, shoulders, and arms) to your lower body (legs and feet). It consists of the abs, the obliques (the sides of your abs) the lower back, hip flexors and your glutes (butt). The core is a lot more than just a six-pack and its function is a lot more complex than just looking good on the beach. Whenever you lift something off the ground or you throw something, or you pull or push something it involves your core. All athleticism and explosiveness in sports comes from a strong core.

True power, as any martial artist would tell you, comes from the core and is transmitted to your extremities (hands and legs). Let me clarify what I mean by that. Mike Tyson’s arms measure 17" around and Evander Holyfield is a mere 16". Now consider an average bodybuilder with 21" arms. Who do you think can throw the harder punch? The answer is obvious. And the reason Tyson can throw a harder punch with his arm than a bodybuilder with 40% bigger arms is because Tyson doesn't punch with his arm! The arm is a mere medium to transfer the power that is generated in the core. An Olympic lifter with average sized arms and shoulders can lift more weight overhead that any bodybuilder with massive arms and shoulders only because the Olympic lifter lifts with his core and his arms merely serve the purpose of hoisting the weight. So how is this power generated at the core? It’s by being explosive at the hip joint. It’s by having powerful hip flexion that comes from having a strong lower back, hip flexors and glutes. Notice this Olympic lifter in slow motion. You will notice he brings up the weight in a controlled fashion until it reaches his hips and at that very moment he does a powerful hip snap and knee flexion that lifts him off the ground and sends the weight airborne. And as the weight is on its way up he quickly drops under the weight to 'catch' it overhead and then stands upright. At any point during the whole movement he doesn't use his arms to lift the weight. The power is generated at the core from his hip and knee flexion and transfers to the weight via his arms. The same applies to pretty much all athletic activities. The pitcher in baseball throws with a powerful hip rotation and flexion, the football player obviously needs a strong core and lower body to run and plow through opponents. A gymnast flips and somersaults mainly from the energy generated at the core. All of the strength and mixed martial art (MMA) athletes need a strong and explosive core and so do basketball players.

So now that we know the importance of a strong core, the next obvious question is how you train to attain it. Again, dare I say 'functional training?' Once again the best way to train functionally is to train the body as one whole unit and not in pieces (isolation exercises on the machines). While doing crunches will give you an enviable six-pack (if your body fat level is low enough) it won’t do much to give you a strong core. Planks, renegade rows, overhead squats, Olympic lifts, various kettle-bell drills (swings, snatches, Turkish get-ups etc) and most Pilates will give you a strong core and will make you more functional. Until next time…

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