Unconventional Core Training

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You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s a classic, and many fellow movie buffs and connoisseurs will recognize the quote from above.

It’s one of roughly 816 (give or take) memorable lines from the movie, and it’s uttered by Inigo Montoya. Throughout the movie, Sicilian boss Vizzini repeatedly describes the unfolding events as “inconceivable.”

In one scene of the movie, as Vizzini tries to cut a rope that the Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing up, he blurts out in an exasperated tone it was inconceivable that he did not fall.

At this point, Inigo responds with the now famous quote:


So what does this have to do with anything fitness related?

Well, replace the character Inigo with myself, replace the word inconceivable with the word “core,” and you’ll have the exact same scene playing before your eyes. Except, you know, I’d have less chest hair, be a tad more beefy, and in lieu of the swordplay…I’d be rockin some killer nunchuck skills.

What Do You Mean “Core?”

Ask five different people what the core is and how you train it, and you’ll inevitably get five different answers.

Most abundant, though, would be any number of iterations referring to a Men’s Health Magazine cover:

Or maybe Dr. Spencer Nadolsky (that’s right: a doctor who lifts!) because he’s hunky as balls:

Trust me: there’s a six-pack underneath there.

Make no mistake: when most people think core, they think six-pack abs – or, rectus abdominis, if we wanted to be uppity anatomy nerds – that you can cut diamonds on. Too, they think about all the various exercises in the infinite training toolbox which can be used to carve our said six-pack abs.

Crunches, sit-ups, planks, RKC planks, side planks, planks on one-leg, planks with one arm behind your back, planks with alternate reach, planks on a stability ball, planks blindfolded, planks while fighting zombies, and more planks. Because people like planks.

And they wouldn’t be wrong. The “abs” are certainly part of the core and all the exercises listed above have their time and place. Relax, no need to shit a copy of Ultimate Back Health and Performance because I mentioned crunches and sit-ups. I too am a huge fan of Dr. McGill’s work and understand the pitfalls of repeated spinal flexion.

Occasional unloaded (spinal) flexion, for the right population, also has a time and place. But that’s a conversation for another time.

All of it, however, is a teeny tiny fraction of the entire picture. It’s akin to only being able to see the top right-hand corner of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. And that’s it.

How lame is that?

The core is so much more than what we can see on a magazine cover. There’s the pelvic floor on the bottom, the diaphragm at the top, the rectus abdominis in the front, the obliques (internal & external) on the sides, and the erectors as well as all the “ancillary” support musculature: paraspinals, multifidi, longissimus, iliocostalis (lumborum & thoracis), etc, in the back.

It’s more or less a canister.

In fact, the “core” consists of everything from the neck line down to the hips: pecs, lats, glutes, the sexy”v-taper” leading down to you know where, everything. Or, to be overly simplistic: everything not including the legs, arms, and head.

And its main job, contrary to popular belief, is not to crunch or perform countless sit-ups. Rather, the core’s main function is to counteract rotary movement so that force can be more easily (and efficiently) transferred from the lower body to the upper body, and vice versa.

I mean, if you really look at the way the muscles are oriented (especially in the front) you can see they take on a more inter-connected, inter-laced, weblike presentation…designed to resist hoop stress.

This is why I prefer exercises like various chops and lifts, Pallof presses, rollouts, and Farmer carries…as they all train the core in a more “functional” manner.

Chops and lifts help train rotary stability; rollouts tend to train anti-extension; and Farmer carries are superb in resisting lateral flexion.

Pallof presses, depending on how they’re set up, can train every plane of motion and resist flexion, rotation, and extension. And they’re gluten free!




However, we can’t neglect the fact the core is a much more intricate chain of events.

Coming full circle back to the rectus abdominis (RA):

1. Yes, one of its main functions is spinal flexion. But I generally don’t go out of my way to program more spinal flexion, via sit-ups and crunches with most of my clients (especially “computer guy” who sits in front of a computer all day in flexion).

The catch-22 is that many of these same clients are rocking significant anterior pelvic tilt in addition to a flared rib cage (via lower ribs sticking out) which doesn’t bode well for ideal alignment and leads to a cascade effect of faulty diaphragm mechanics, breathing patterns, as well as a metric shit-storm of PRI (Postural Restoration Institute) stink eyes.

In this context training the RA to control rib position (ribs down) is very important. We need to train them (along with the external obliques) to contract isometrically to resist extension of the thoraco-lumbar region.

In other words, as Mike Robertson notes: “We need to teach our upper abs to control our rib position so that we can maintain optimal alignment of the rib cage during exercise and daily life.”

Walking around in a “flared” rib position in concert with an excessive anterior pelvic tilt is a one-way ticket to Mybackhatesmeville, USA.

Case in point, here’s an example of what I mean:

In the first picture my ribcage is flared out and the (imaginary) line between my nipples and belly button is long (excessive lumbar hyperextension). Conversely, in the bottom picture my abs are braced – essentially creating a flexion moment (not movement) –  and the line between my nipples and belly button is shorter (less extension). This is the position I’d ideally like to stay in for most of the day, especially while exercising.

Now, I’m am NOT insinuating you need to walk around all day “checking” yourself, making sure your abs and glutes are engaged, but I am saying it’s something that should enter the equation. And we can help address it by training the RA.

Read: Deadbugs, motherfucker.


2. An often forgotten “role” of the rectus abdominis is posterior pelvic tilt. Making the RA stronger/stiffer is another fantastic way to help “offset” excessive anterior pelvic tilt.

Remember: flexion from extension to neutral is different than flexion to more flexion from neutral.

Two exercises or drills that fit the bill are:

Reverse Crunches


Cuing Posterior Pelvic Tilt With Squats and Deadlifts


See what I mean?

We can’t be so “concrete” in our thought processes when it comes to core training. I could sit here and wax poetic on how I feel the lats are an often under-appreciated core muscle (learning to engage them to a higher degree while lifting heavy things works wonders with regards to spinal stability and performance).

Or that building bigger, stronger glutes would make for a better use of training time than any of those silly 30-minute ab blaster classes people take…but I’ve talked long enough.

If I may, let me introduce you to something….

Advanced Core Training

My good friend, Dean Somerset, just released is latest resource, Advanced Core Training, and it’s something that covers traditional core training as well as a bunch of voodoo theory stuff that will make your face melt.

In it you’ll find:

  • Detailed outline of core and hip function plus what the results of the assessment mean
  • Simplified walkthrough of the approach to core training that can be used for everyone. from rehab to elite performance.
  • Simple changes to variables like breathing and speed that can help change an exercise from a mobility drill to a speed and reaction drill and even to a max strength drill.
  • Tons of practical takeaways and coaching cues to help viewers implement the exercises and techniques immediately.

Those of you who were fans of his Ruthless Mobility series will find the material here a nice adjunct/sequel.

And if that’s not enticing enough: it’s on SALE at 40% off regular price this week, and you can earn continuing education credits too.


Check it out HERE. You won’t be disappointed. Dean’s wicked smaht.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Todd Marsh Fitness

    Great article, well set up. I really like the reverse crunch shown by you and Eric. That is an exercise I need to work on for my tilt. But I do have a question. Is there a purpose in the supine Pallof belly press for laying on the floor compared to the regular standing Pallof press? Keep up the great posts!

    August 4, 2015 at 8:41 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      It's more of a regression. I like to use if for those who exhibit poor lumbo-pelvic control. The floor gives them some feedback to NOT lose contact. So, in a way, it helps to build context which can then carry over to the standing pallof press.

      August 4, 2015 at 4:17 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Rachel

    Princess Bride for the win!! Love that movie. Even more than the 6-pack or the V, I'm all about a well defined line down the back. Mhmm. (But then again, guys who have that much definition on their back usually also have 6-packs lol.) In Mike Boyle's presentation at PB's Summit, he mentioned the core's anti-rotary purpose and to this end, stated his dislike for side bends. I'm not a huge side bend fan but I do do them occasionally so that was thought-provoking for me. I'm still a little conflicted on them and core training in general, but I'm only on year 2 in this business so I know I have a lot to learn!

    August 4, 2015 at 9:40 am | Reply to this comment

  • Aston Moore

    Great article man about core training. I am going to link to this page from my site http://www.elite-athletic-performance.com/core-training.html, my readers should read and see what you have to say

    August 4, 2015 at 10:28 am | Reply to this comment

  • Roberto Vázquez

    I'd like to know your opinion about one question I have had since month ago: I follow an Intermittent Fasting (IF) feed protocol. I began with 16h of fasting but now I usually do about 20 hours. I follow this protocol due to I don't have much time along the day to spend (I'm a very busy student who is doing a master project so that I have a lot of work-in-home to do). I'm very happy follow this protocol (I know, IF isn't magic but could become a great option, it depends on personal situation). The problem is that when you eat all your daily food, you have to eat a lot. That means that after eating, your stomach is full, very full of food. My mainly question is if this situation is danger for our spine due to a full stomach produces a "flared" rib position with an excessive anterior pelvic tilt and a hyperextended lumbar spine (similar than a pregnant. No so, of course, but similar. You know I want to mean). What do you think about this? Thank you very much Tony. Good job, keep it up!

    August 5, 2015 at 2:41 am | Reply to this comment

  • Frank

    Tony, did you happen to see this humorous post about PRI, and how far the theory offshoots are going? http://theawesomept.com/2015/05/07/crazy-things-in-pt-postural-restoration/ I notice that you and Eric and Mike have really been mentioning PRI a lot lately.

    August 5, 2015 at 5:12 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      We've been mentioning PRI for like four years. And, while I think there's a ton of validity to it, and I do use it, I DO NOT overstep my scope of practice. I still operate under the assumption we need to get people strong and that they need to lift weights. PRI drills make up maybe, MAYBE 0.98% of a training session for anyone under our roof.

      August 7, 2015 at 7:22 am | Reply to this comment

      • Frank

        Tony, thanks for the reply. I am fascinated with how certain ideas become more prominent, and accepted in the strength and conditioning business. For what, it's worth, I like the ribcage down stuff a ton, similar to Chris Duffin extolling the DNS stuff. Kelly Starrett was on this one early, too. Of course, and surely a veteran like you remembers this, for many years, the best information available seemed to suggest arching the spine very hard, and the "chest out" cue was the predominant school of thought. So roughly four years ago, give or take, the PRI concepts began filtering into the mainstream of strength media. I tried to research how long PRI has been around, their website copyrights from 2008.

        August 7, 2015 at 5:18 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Chris Ruffolo

    "flexion from extension to neutral is different than flexion to more flexion from neutral." That's a great concept I hadn't thought of before. Thanks. Excessive one way tends to lead to excessives in the opposite direction. It serves as a good reminder that neutrality is what we're after.

    August 7, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Chris

    Wow. What a great tip. I have never heard of the pelvic tilt before and I can't wait to try that next week. The video really clears it up.

    August 7, 2015 at 5:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kevin

    Another great article Tony, Thanks! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7d442b892975ea1f6362c439f3d57ba5c7d64dd25f4a60e63ec614ae2c4547af.jpg

    August 9, 2015 at 7:50 am | Reply to this comment

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    […] 1. Unconventional Core Training by Tony Gentilcore […]

    August 10, 2015 at 3:02 pm | Reply to this comment

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