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Core Strength Training & How To Do It Correctly To Get Great Results!

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 25 March 2014
Hits: 40856

I want to “Develop Core Strength” is one of the most popular terms used in gyms these days but actually understanding what that really means, and how best to train your "Core Muscles" is what we will cover with this article. Almost every week I am told " I need to work more on my core, I know these functional movements are great but I think I need to spend more time working on my core". Or even better than that, "my physio says I need to work more on my core". I then ask them “what do you mean by core exercises?” And the response is some type of plank, crunch, leg raise etc. These are all forms of isolated abdominal training, not core training in its purest form. Isolated abdominal exercises can be a great way to initially to activate the inner unit core muscles, but if they are not integrated into functional movements with multiple joints and muscles it is pointless. To achieve great core strength you must educate the body how to use the inner unit muscles of the abdominals to work in perfect harmony with the outer unit muscles that provide movement. And the best way to do this is using exercises that target the four myofascial slings.

What Is The Core Exactly?

This is what most people think the core is - "Core strength exercises strengthen your core muscles, including your abdominal muscles, back muscles and the muscles around the pelvis. Strong core muscles make it easier to do many physical activities. You can do core strength exercises on a carpeted floor or mat." I got this from the top page of a google search when I typed in what is core strength?

You can see why people now believe this to be true. Even google thinks it is true. What most people fail to understand is that the deep abdominal stabilizers (inner unit) are actually quite small and unable to generate much force in comparison to the larger exterior muscles. The stabilizers are mainly concerned with providing joint stiffness and segmental stability. Their work is what you would classify as low level activity needed for long periods of time. It would be bad if your stabilizers only lasted 30 seconds. The key here is they cannot provide movement. They need the outer unit muscles to do this.

The outer unit or large prime mover global muscles are more designed to move the body, and what you would classify as high level activity needed in short bursts. However they are unique in that they are also designed in a way to move but at the same time provide stability via use of what are called myofascial slings and co-ordinate the correct sequence of movements. This is very important to understand as it gives you some clues as to how the body prefers to move and more specifically how it moves most efficiently!

Read our article "The Best Core Strength Tip You Will Ever Get" to see a full explanation of the inner unit and outer unit and how coordination of your breathing is so important for developing core strength.

By devising training exercises, workouts, and programs that only target the deep abdominal muscles in an isolated fashion you will not significantly help to improve your CORE function. If anything this isolated training will continue to cause more dysfunction as there will now be an overload on the inner unit to make up for the weakness in the more powerful outer muscles. Basically you have now taught yourself to use smaller muscles to do jobs of bigger muscles! This is a plan for disaster and a lifelong problem with chronic injury.

I experienced this myself in a big way when I completed my Pilates Certification back in 2006 that required 40 hours of practical work. As a bulk of this type of training was abdominal isolated, and I was required to do a lot in a small amount of time, I eventually created a multitude of injuries. Very minimal time was spent in Pilates learning how to move standing up and in most classes today this is still the case. It is all about the "abs". I find it very strange to see people with a sever back injury like a herniated disc caused from bending poorly, spending all their rehab time doing mat work but never learning how to bend correctly or how to use the strong powerful leg muscles to do the heavy work of lifting objects. All the rehabilitation is focused on trying to strengthen little tiny muscles that can do nothing in terms of movement.

Even if you did improve your overall strength of your inner unit, what is the point if you still continue to bend over poorly with poor strength throughout your glutes and hamstrings which should be doing the work to lift things.

By the way I am not trying to ridicule Pilates, as there are some trainers out there who do teach functional movement in their classes. Unfortunately, I think these trainers are in the minority as many continue to focus on over-using the abdominal muscles. In my several years of Pilates certification I rarely did any work standing, and when I did the entire timing and sequence of the movement was wrong. 

We must move beyond isolating abdominal muscles and learn how to move! Read our article - Why strong abdominal muscles do not prevent back pain

And we move most effectively when we combine the inner unit and outer unit together via what is known as the Slings Of The Body.

So What Are These Four Slings & How Do I Train Them Effectively?


The body really is a complex system made up of many chains. These chains, when they are working well, help us move efficiently, produce more force, and create more speed. However, when there is a weak link in the chain most people don’t address the chains, but as we have already discussed target the muscles by using exercises like the plank or some form of crunches. Understanding what the slings are, and how they work, is the key to developing core strength. As I said in the introduction this is where you train the deep abdominal stabilizers to work together with the outer musculature with perfect timing in order to provide efficient movement with stability and strength simultaneously. 

True stability is all about reactivity, reflexes and TIMING!

Holding yourself stiff as a board does not teach you how to react in a split second and correct or maintain joint alignment ready for efficient and smooth movement. This is again is not stability training just training muscles. 

I encourage you to read our article on What Stability Really Means & How To Do It before moving on.

Okay so let’s have a look at these slings and provide you with some exercises that you can begin using them in your training.

1. Anterior Oblique System:

This system tells us that the obliques help provide stability and mobility in the action of walking or running. They are both important in providing that initial stability during the stance phase of gait and then contribute to pulling the leg through during the swing phase. In this movement the obliques and the contra-lateral adductors work in perfect sync to create movement.

Training this system is essential for the sporting player who use multi-directional movements as it enhances stability as speed increases in activities such as sprinting, and also when needing to brake or change direction. Any throwing sports like baseball, tennis and also the sport of boxing this movement pattern is essential. Deficits in the sling is often where you commonly see injury occur in most ball sports. Get rid of the bench press and learn how to use exercises like cable press, single arm barbell press and exercises using single arm.

Examples of exercises that activate the Anterior sling are

  1. Single Cable Press in lunge stance (pictured below)
  2. Woodchop activities.
  3. Using a sledgehammer to whack a Tractor Tyre is excellent for this sling.

2. Posterior Oblique System:

This system is also seen most commonly in again in walking. Where the anterior sling provides deceleration this sling provides propulsion. This is where the glute max of one hip works with the latissimus dorsi of the opposing side to create tension in the lower back region called the thoracolumbar fascia. The action of these muscles along with the fascial system is to prevent rotation of the pelvis when we walk and enable you to store energy to create more efficient movement. This is a commonly very weak with many people and one where we spend a lot of time trying to enhance the timing and co-ordination of the movements. Most people are so weak within their glutes that this sling is a real problem along with the next one being the lateral sling. Many SIJ back injuries and leg injuries can be easily avoided with more time spent working on this sling.

The timing is crucial for the development of this and this is why this is superior to any form of isolated glute work or abdominal work for that matter.

Read our article How To Strengthen Your Glutes for more information about this.

Exercises that activate the Posterior sling are

  1. Single arm cable pull in a lunge stance
  2. Single leg squat and pull
  3. Bent over row with single arm

3. Lateral System:

This system provides stability in sideways movement. It is often used to create stability in the pelvis during walking, stepping, etc. This is by far the most overlooked movement and one we find hard to teach as trainers. Not training this system effectively commonly results with pain in the hip, poor knee tracking, and possibly issues with ankle sprains and increased knee problems such as ITB friction or even ACL injury.

This sling connects the glute medius and glute minimus of the stance leg to the adductors and with the contralateral Quadratus Lumborum (QL). This sling plays a critical role in stabilizing the spine and hip joint in everyday activities like walking up stairs. This has obvious weakness with almost all back pain sufferers and a program to develop the integration of the inner unit and outer unit is crucial for long term success in getting rid of their pain.

Exercise examples for the lateral sling are:

  1. Step ups & walking up stairs
  2. Side lunges
  3. Rotational lunges

4. Deep Longitudinal System:

Our of all the slings this one is the hardest to actually define at times and also to use exercises to enhance. This system uses both the lower back region called the thoracolumbar fascia and the spinal system to create kinetic energy above the pelvis, while the large hamstring muscles acts as a relay between the pelvis and leg. What is also important to note is the relationship between the hamstrings and shin muscles. This relationship is both to create stability and help build as well as release kinetic energy to help more efficient movement. This is often where the most complex and coordinated exercises are used.

Exercises to activate the Deep Longitudinal System are

  1. Walking lunge with a balanced step,
  2. Running or sled dragging.
  3. We like to use the Bosu Lunge To Step Up exercise with this a lot as it breaks down any weakness in the kinetic chain. (pictured below)

Need More Ideas?

I know that we have only scratched the surface with exercise ideas and how to really maximize everything we have just covered and you must be thinking I need more ideas on how to do this right. Well to make your life easier I have provided you with a Free Report on Functional Training below which is actually just one chapter from our Little Black Book Of Training Secrets that you can get by clicking here or on the image below. This PDF report explains exactly how to train using the slings with chapters on Core Strength and Specific sports such as Football, Golf and Tennis. Plus a chapter for rehabilitation and injury prevention. It really is the ultimate resource tool for anyone wanting ideas on how to train correctly. 


Now this article does not mean you throw away all of the isolated abdominal exercises that you know. We still use plenty of these with most clients, in fact our assessment procedure has over 6 different isolated abdominal exercises in it! My point is that you need to have an understanding of trying to evolve from lying on the ground holding a plank to completing movements in a standing position. Then by combining this with single arm and single leg movements working on opposite side of the body you will start to bring the slings into play. And your body will now be able to fully Develop Core Strength to it's full potential!

If you live in Melbourne and would like to know more about our personal training or core strength programs click the image below to request a free consultation and I will get back to you within 24 hours to schedule time.


About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specializes in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.


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