“Coach, I really want a 6 pack! What core exercises can I do to help?”
We as coaches have heard this so many times, so let’s unpack this.
First and more importantly, if your goal is truly to get a 6 pack start by focusing less on exercises and more on nutrition. You can get a pretty cool 6 pack without doing any specific core exercises like sit ups, crunches, planks etc. You also might be 10% body fat with a strong core and NOT have a 6 pack because, well, genetics… Unfortunately genetics determine where you store body fat, and if it happens to be around your midsection you’re going to have to be much leaner to visibly see a 6 pack, so much to the point where it may actually mean sacrificing health.
For the most part, strength coaches don’t care too much if you have a 6 pack unless you’re training for a bodybuilding competition! We care much more about you being able to exercise pain free and reaching your health and fitness goals. The pain free & performance part is where core strength comes in. Core strength plays a pivotal role in spinal health and when working properly allows you to transfer force more efficiently.
What is the core?
Your core is the muscles 360 degrees around your spine that stabilize, move, and protect it. This includes your diaphragm, pelvic floor, obliques, transverse abdominis, lats, spinal erectors, arguably the glutes, and oh yeah, the rectus abdominis (your 6 pack muscles). Basically everything from your shoulders to your hips.
What does your core do?
Most importantly, it stabilizes your spine while you move with an external load (deadlifting, squatting). Stabilizing the spine means you can exercise without injuring your back. Secondly, it allows you to transfer force better from your lower body to your upper body (throwing a ball, power cleans.)
Training your core
A well rounded core training program would focus on all of the muscles of your core. When we think about the two main functions of your core (stabilizing & force transfer) your core is primarily designed to RESIST movement. So, we need to primarily train anti-rotation, anti-extension, and anti-lateral flexion exercises (Pallof Press, 1 arm Farmer carry, static plank, sorenson hold etc.) Throwing in exercises for your 6 pack along the way is great too, but it shouldn’t be the primary group trained.
The biggest mistake we see people is only training the front side of your core. If you don’t train the sides and the back, you’re going to miss out on a lot of performance and health benefits of core training.
Here are two sample core accessory sessions that hit it all!
4 sets for Quality
1 arm suitcase deadlift + 1 arm farmer carry Right arm (10+200ft)
1 arm suitcase deadlift + 1 arm farmer carry Left arm (10+200ft)
Hanging L sit – 15
Sorenson hold x 45 sec
10 pallof Press/side
200ft Double KB Front Rack Carry
20 Superman Lifts