True Strength Comes from Within Part 1: Real Core Power

There are four main lifts in resistance training: Deadlift, Bench Press, Squat, and Overhead Press. Each of these are full body lifts when using a maximal weight; yes, even the bench press. So even though these are four completely different movement patterns, they all require core strength. The core ties the body together and stabilizes the spine to protect and to maintain a straight line of movement. When I look at the average lifter today, I see two main flaws that hinder their progression. The first is weak grips. It seems like everyone has a pair of lifting straps in their bag these days. What’s the point of moving heavy weights if you can’t hold on to them? The second is a very weak core. Introducing the weight belt! No core needed because this will hold your hips and ribs together. The human body has a built-in weight belt. It just needs to be trained.

                *NERD WARNING* The main muscles I am referring to are the transverse abdominis, the internal oblique, and the multifidus. The transverse abdominis is the muscular sheath underneath the rectus abdominis aka the “six- pack muscles.” These are used to stabilized the mid-section from the pelvis to the thoracic spine. Internal obliques are attached to the rib cage and extend laterally down to the hips. They are responsible for compression of the rib cage and stabilization during rotation of the shoulders and hips. The multifidus are muscles that extend the entire length of the spine from the base of the skull to the sacrum. Another function of the multifidus is to protect the disks and vertebrae from shifting and slipping.

     I know it that is a lot to take in, but the good news is that they can all be target together through resistance training. These muscles also work together to create internal pressure. Internal pressure is a must have for anyone wanting to be “strong like bull.” This is what separates the beasts from the wannabes. One sure fire way to tell what someone is made of is to see how they react under pressure. One of my favorite examples of this is the bench press to failure. I will load up the bar with a weight for a solid six to eight rep set (obviously weight will differ from client to client) and basically let them fail on the last rep. This will result in one of three actions.

     The first is that they will push and grind the weight out. This means they are fighting to the end, engaging their hips and giving the press everything they have until the weight touches their chest again. These are the beasts. These are the ones who truly know how to push themselves and fail like a professional. The second bunch are the funny ones. These guys will throw a tantrum. They will pant and kick their feet like a three-year-old wanting a cookie. They know how to create internal pressure, but they have no idea how to control or focus it into power. One way to break this habit is to do slow reps with overhead press or front-loaded squats. If they are standing, they cannot throw a tantrum; they must work with the force. The third group will just give up and let the weight drop. Usually they will say, “I don’t have it” or, “I can’t do it.” This means the they are not even trying. If they were giving it everything they had, they would not be able to talk because the intraabdominal and intrathoracic pressure would be too high to maintain control of the diaphragm. This is where the guttural yell comes from. I suggest heavy loaded carries and high rep Goblet squats for this group because they need to spend more time under tension and learn how to build internal pressure.

     I don’t care how many crunches you can knock out in a day; if you don’t move heavy weight, you have a weak core. This is one reason I hate doing ab work. It’s great for the beach, but it serves no real-world application and it doesn’t build strength. If you want true core strength you must stay under pressure. Powerlifters are notorious for having large midsections or “power bellies.” They don’t care about shredding down and looking good. They care about moving weight. You can also see this in the good ‘ol boys that throw hay and wrestle cattle for a living. They look chubby, but they can also sling a ninety-pound bail up into a twelve-foot barn loft all day long. This could be done with any of the four main lifts, but there are some great ways to target these muscles that can be worked into every workout.