A Complete Guide to Core Training

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Today’s guest post comes courtesy of TG.com regular contributor, Travis Hansen.

He shares his approach to core training as well as numerous exercises he uses with his own athlete/clients. I’m willing to bet there’s a number you’ve never seen or tried before.


A Complete Guide to Core Training

In the world of core training, there is a vast array of option to choose from and it can be overwhelming perhaps at times to decipher which options are more appropriate for you and your specific training goals.

What’s more, is that there are six sub-categories that absolutely need to be incorporated into your training regime so that you satisfy complete development of your core and all of its specific parts.

Here are the six categories for you:

#1- Prehab/Rehab based drills

#2- Anterior core drills

#3- Lateral/rotational core drills

#4- Posterior chains drills

#5- Explosive core work

#6- Core endurance work

1. Prehab/Rehab

Anytime there is a major weakness in the core there will be both a reduction in the recruitment of specific muscles in the core on outward to the rest of the body.

For example, it has been found that the TVA (Transverse Abdominis) muscle is suppose to be one of the first muscles to fire in the human body upon any movement initiated. This function is concrete enough to warrant a very valuable term/training principle that has been coined its honor.

The term “proximal to distal sequencing” has been adopted by many practitioners in the field on a regular basis, and helps explain how muscles activate inside at our core and then outward to the limbs sequentially. It’s also pretty well understood at this point that individuals with lower back pain tend to present with a timing delay of the TVA muscle which can prose several subsequent problems for you.

As a result, it becomes important that these individuals and even you partake in regular core training to either help remedy a current back issue, or prevent one from emerging in the future. And with 80% plus American who report back pain this issue becomes very urgent.

So in the context of prehab/rehab drills, here is a short list of drills you can include in your program if you aren’t already:

#1- Deadbugs

#2- Plank Progressions<— click to check out some plank progressions that don’t make my corneas bleed.

#3- Quadruped Progressions


2. Anterior Core

The next category on the list involves the development of the anterior core region or everything attached proximally from the lower sternum down all the way to the pubic symphysis. The TVA, Rectus Abdominis, and the external obliques are notable muscles within this sub-system of our anatomy.

This is system is your power pump per se as well, when it comes to core development.

Of course all systems are relevant in locomotion and none should be discounted, however, your individual power potential truly lies in this region along with the posterior chain, since they “co-contract” against one another in the sagittal plane.

If you don’t’ believe this then just witness performances across multiples exercises that are directionally linear dominant in nature versus those that are classified as lateral or rotational based: Squat, Deadlifts, Bench Presses, Jumps, and sprints are going to absolutely trump any shuffle, carioca, hip turn/crossover step, or lateral raise so on and so forth.

There are a few exceptions just like with everything, but overall our species was designed to express more strength and power in an up and down, front to back manner.

Here is a short list of anterior core drills for you:

#1- Reverse Crunches


#2- Stick Crunches

#3- Hanging leg raise progressions


#4- V-ups

#5- Rollouts

3. Lateral/Rotational Drills

The next category carries distinctions, but due to a natural lack of available variation with lateral based core drills, it’s much easier to just merge the two types together into one category.

If you play any sport, whether it be recreationally or what have you, you will need to incorporate lateral/rotational based core exercises into your program. Movements such as throwing, swinging, change of direction, etc. heavily rely on this region of our core anatomy.

Moreover, some of the fibers in the anterior core muscles will possess specific lines of pull that are geared towards rotation, such as the Rectus Abdominis muscle.

That means that by doubling up training to this muscle group and others, you are effectively covering all portions of the fibers within that muscle group and making them more sensitive to contracting in the process.

Some of examples of lateral/rotational based drills are as follow:

#1- Side plank variations



#2- Pallof presses

#3- Russian Twists


#4- Chops and Lifts

#5- Renegade Rows


4. Posterior Chain

The posterior chain has been discussed ad nauseum before just about everywhere on the internet, and it was alluded too briefly earlier, so we wont spend too much time on this one.

The “Deep Longitudinal Sub-System” is the more geeky and technical term for your posterior chain and if you analyze all of the target muscles you will see that it composes a vast majority of gross muscles or more than any other system which implies its extreme value in human movement and the core specifically.

The system begins at the heel then moves up through the shins, continuing up through the hamstrings and glutes, then across the thoracolumbar fascia and then the lumbar erectors, respectively. And if you haven’t heard it enough already, then its worth repeating, that if you aren’t absolutely crushing your posterior chain in the gym your are leaving a lot of strength and power skill in reserve.

Here are some common drills for this type of core training:

#1- Bent Knee Hip Extension Work (glute bridge, slideboard leg curls, stability ball leg curls, GHR’s)



#2- Straight Knee Hip Extension Work (Swings, Deadlift variations, pull-through variations, sled sprints)


#3- Lateral/Rotational Hip Work (Jane Fonda’s/hip abductions, clamshells, and bandwalks)


5. Core Power

Core power is next on the list.

As an industry, there would to be more of a focus on promoting power in the lower and upper body regions, with less focus on the middle of the body. Then again, the core is implicated in many of the popular power training methods, like medicine ball throws, jump squats, and swings to name a few.

Truth is it doesn’t matter if you are an athlete who has to change directions frequently, or you’re a lifter or gym junkie whose trying to maximize your strength and power potential or raise your RFD (Rate of Fore Development) to the next level, you have to build high levels of reactivity in your core to initiate, anchor, and even match upper and lower body efforts. Once again you are only as strong as your weakest link.

Here are some core power training exercises:

#1-Standing medicine ball throws

#2- Medicine pullover throws

#3- V-up throws

#4- Rope plank swings


6. Core Endurance

And the final category of exercises is the more slow and higher volume-based approach.

Before we continue though, please understand that considerable research has shown that every possible motion of the lumbar spine is linked to some type of injury.

And if this were the case then we should all act like rigid hot dogs right?

Not a chance.

So what gives?

Well, like most things related to training: injury history, structural variances, program design, age, genetics, nutrition, work capacity, and much more will dictate future outcomes.

Dr. Stuart McGill is one of the best in the world when it comes to spine biomechanics, and he postulated at one time that the spine has an eventual limit to how many times it can bend and extend in a lifetime. Everyone took this information and ran with it. He also understands and appreciates that the rigorous daily demands of an athlete require us to potentially exceed or really challenge thresholds of the spine, so we need to prepare the highly delicate and vulnerable region as best we can.

And it’s inevitable that less than ideal postures and patterns will be produced in training, but managing these potentially threatening scenario’s is the end goal. Also consider that even if someone were to stress the core and spine heavily in their youth, intense activity will eventually decline since this type of activity is inversely related to aging.

As such, it will probably all balance itself out in the end and we shouldn’t worry too much if your training is in order.

With that being said, it’s imperative that you build the work capacity/endurance of your core just like all other muscle groups.

In one study, a timed superman or back extension test that was performed isometrically was useful in treating patients with non-specific lower back pain.

This would make obvious sense since discs have been shown to slightly slip as fatigue emerges in the core.

Endurance training of the local core musculature satisfies this TUT (Time Under Tension) specificity and when progressed properly, may help center the disc more and surrounding structures right where we want them.

Moreover, the core is comprised of a lot of slow twitch muscle fiber which have a tendency to respond better more with longer sets and TUT according to Henneman’s Size Principle.

Last but not least, witness all of the athletes throughout history who regularly performed thousands of crunches over the course of a training cycle with no back issues and stellar performances. How do you explain that one? Maybe there would be a slight link to back health or a lack there of in these instances, but more than likely it’s probably satisfying a psychological compulsion which drives other forces and is important.

Now that you have a compete infrastructure of core training you can effectively design your core training program so that it suits your individual needs and preferences. Just make sure to include all elements of the program. The core is synergistic in nature just like the rest of the body, where one part will fail to match the strength of all the components combined.

Programming Suggestions

I wanted you to go away with some rough parameters on how to program for the various options of core training.

Some methods can be performed in higher quantities and frequencies than others. Again, this is just a general scheme that applies to a majority of clients:

                                                                       Frequency/Sets/Reps/Rest/Int/Tempo (E-I-C)


#1-Prehab/Rehab based drills                3-5x     4-5     12-24   0-30 sec Mod.   3-1-1

#2-Anterior core drills                              2-3x       3-4     8-16     0-60 sec Mod.   3-1-1

#3-lateral/rotational core drills            2-3x       3-4     8-16     0-60 sec   Mod.   2-1-1

#4-Posterior chains drills                        2-3x       2-4   6-16     0-120 sec Mod-Hi   2-1-1 or 1-1-1

#5-Explosive core work                            1-2x       3-5     5-8       0-180 sec Ultra Hi   1-1-1

#6-Core endurance work                         2-3x       3-5     12-50+ 0-120sec   Mod.       1-1-1


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