Originally published at T-Nation.com
Complete Core Training
Getting Bigger and Better From Your Center
by Mike Robertson
The best exercises don’t have to be “new” to be effective. I think we can all agree that big, basic exercises like squats, deads, and pull-ups should be the cornerstone of any program. One of the great things about these exercises is the fact that they work to integrate the body into a functional whole, and higher-end core training should be no different.
Compound exercises are more useful than crunches.
Before we get into it, I have to admit I’m among the most boring persons known to man, and I don’t claim to have invented any of the exercises in this program. If someone else created it or brought it to my attention, I’m going to give credit where credit is due.
Below are several of the core exercises we’ve been using at the IFAST facility. You might have seen one or two before, but there are also some variations that you probably haven’t seen or tried before… and that’s where the real fun begins!
Split-Stance Cable Push
Let’s start off with an “easier” exercise. To perform the split-stance cable push, set up in a cable crossover machine with a D-handle, and position the cable just below hip height.
Grab the handle with your right hand, and face away from the weight stack with your left leg in front. Before you start pushing, think about a few quick cues — these are imperative in allsplit-stance variations:
• Think tall. Try to lengthen the area between your hips/pelvis and the top of your head. Most people have a tendency to over-arch.
• Stomach tight. Someone’s going to punch you in the stomach. What do you do?
• Butt tight. Think about trying to drive the hip of your trailing leg forward.
Before you even move, you should have a nice stretch in your right hip flexors. If not, re-set and try again.
From this position, all you’re going to do is perform an open-chain pressing movement. Don’t allow your body to rotate, and work to keep your stomach and butt tight throughout the movement.
Split-Stance Cable Pull
The split-stance cable pull is obviously the opposite of the cable push, but this time, you’ll be facing towards the weight stack. The same cues apply — stay tight, stay tall, and get that trailing leg’s glute tight.
Like any pulling exercise, think about pulling through your elbow and squeezing your shoulder blade back at the midpoint.
Split-Stance Cable Chop
This and the following exercise (the cable lift) are exercises I picked up from Gray Cook. If you have a long lever bar, like the one in the video, that’s ideal. If not, just use a rope attachment until you can get one.
To perform the cable chop, you want the knee closest to the weight stack up (you’ll see what I mean when you watch the video clip). The leg furthest from the weight stack will be your trailing leg. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, going as wide as possible. From there, think about “pulling” the bar across your body.
Once you run out of room, stabilize your pulling hand and “press” with the arm/hand closest to the stack. Allow the working hand to come back to the body, and then return to the starting position.
You’ll often see people wavering quite a bit while doing this exercise; if you can’t stabilize yourself, you’re using too much weight! This one definitely isn’t an ego booster.
Also, make sure to keep your hands wide. You’ll probably have a tendency to slide your hands closer to each other as the set goes on, to shorten the lever arm, but that’ll only turn you into a wuss who had to cheat the technique just to use more weight. Don’t be that guy.
Split-Stance Cable Lift
The split-stance cable lift is the cable chop’s evil twin. It tends to be more difficult and much harder to stabilize, so you’ll have to decrease the weights accordingly. To set up, you want the leg closest to the stack to be your trailing leg, while the leg furthest from the stack will be your “up” leg. The quick learners will notice that this is the opposite of the cable chop.
The actual performance of the lift is quite similar to the chop. Think about “pulling” the bar up and across the body, and then “pressing” away. Control the movement back to the body, and then again back to the starting position.
Blast Strap Fallout Isometric
Blast strap fallouts are similar to your typical ab wheel, but the increased instability makes for a torturous “ab” workout. Add in the fact that this is an isometric exercise, and you’ve got a real ass-kicker.
Start with a pair of blast straps in a push-up position. My feet are on a box, but you can also keep your feet on the floor. From the starting position, simply allow your arms to drift out in front of you to a point just before you increase the arch in your lower back.
Hold this extended position for time (15 seconds is a good start), and then return to the starting position. No blast straps? You can get them online at EliteFTS.com.
Blast Strap Fallout Flutters
When you’re a real beast and the fallout iso’s don’t cut it anymore, give this twisted variation a shot. This is compliments of Dan New, a mixed martial arts fighter and IFAST client.
It’s identical to a blast strap fallout, but instead of holding that stretched position, think about “fluttering” your arms in front of you in alternating fashion. You can also mix-up the pattern by moving your hands in circles or even out to the side. Again, we typically do this for a set time, instead of repetitions.
Many of you are probably familiar with the jackknife on a Swiss ball. But Swiss balls remind us of endless crunches and a general lack of results, so I was luckily introduced to this version.
Attach a resistance band to the top of a power rack and have a partner pull the band down so you can get your feet in. With your stomach tight, pull with your knees until they’re around hip height.
If you haven’t done weighted ab training in a while, this is virtually guaranteed to make you sore the next day. Enjoy.
Tall Kneeling Pallof Press Isometric
Chances are, you’ve heard of the traditional Pallof press. The exercise is named after John Pallof, an extremely bright physical therapist who let’s Eric Cressey hang out with him.
Now, you know me, and I love my stabilization exercises, so I’ve converted the original Pallof press into two different stabilization exercises. The first is the tall kneeling Pallof press isometric.
Once again, you’re going to attach a D-handle to a cable crossover, just below hip height. Face perpendicular to the stack and kneel down. In this kneeling position, think about getting your stomach tight and activating your glutes, because again, staying tight and tall is key.
Once you’re set, grab the handle with both hands and extend it to arms length straight ahead. I prefer the isometric version to the dynamic version, because it really challenges rotary stability.
Split-Stance Pallof Press Isometric
The final exercise we’ll be describing is another variation of the Pallof press. The set up is virtually identical, but instead of going with a tall kneeling stance, you’re using a split-stance. The leg closest to the cable stack will be your trailing leg, with your opposite hip/leg set in front of you.
You could perform it dynamically, but again, I prefer holding an isometric for time. Remember to stay tall, and keep the stomach and glute tight throughout.
Stronger Core, Stronger Everything Else
Now you’ve got some kick-ass exercises that will not only destroy your core, but also improve your body’s ability to work as a functional, seamless unit. Try some of them next time you hit the gym and you won’t be sorry. Well, maybe the day after training you’ll be sorry, but further down the road, you’ll be thankful.