A few years ago I posted about the best time to do your core work. You can read it here, but the short answer is do it at the beginning of your workout. That remains my most popular post on the site! Since then though, my thoughts have changed slightly.
While I still stand by that post, now I find the best time to do your core work depends on what you hope to achieve from it. So I’ll break it down for you, based on the reasons you are training your core.
Firstly, I’ll just clarify what I mean by core. By core, I mean the whole torso, which includes anterior abs, obliques, transverse abs, erector spinea, glutes, and all the itty bitty little muscles in between.
You want stronger core muscles, because they’re your weakness
If your core is relatively weak, and you need to strengthen it to keep up with the rest of your body, then I recommend doing challenging core work at the start of a session that is dedicated towards core strength. You don’t want to be fatigued before starting your core work, so get it done at the start. You want to make it challenging enough so that you can really feel it work, so sit ups just won’t cut it.
In this case, you might only train your core in this session. This will mean you can get your workout done in under 20 minutes. But if you have other goals you are working towards, you might just want to prioritise core on this one day, then do lighter assistance exercises during the rest of your session. On your other training days, you should also do your core work at the start of your workout (so you don’t leave it off if you run out of time or oomph at the end) but perhaps go a little easier so you can still get through everything else effectively.
You want to maintain the strength in your core muscles
If you’re currently satisfied with your core strength, and you simply need to maintain it, then you can do your direct core work either at the start or the end of your workout. You can incorporate it into your warm up so you don’t feel you are spending too much time on this, or you could do it at the end after your main exercises. This, combined with correct technique in all your other exercises, is enough to maintain core strength.
You need to relieve back pain
Back pain due to weak anterior core strength is unbelievably common. If you are hunched over at your desk for hours on end, your core is getting weaker by the second. At some point you will likely get back pain due to poor posture and weak anterior core.
In this instance, depending on your pain, you may need to perform lighter core work with frequent rest breaks. Depending on the severity of your pain, you may be best doing your core work at the start of your workouts. Another option, while you increase your core strength endurance, is to perform direct core work in between your other work sets. For example you can superset pallof presses with your squats, and keep super setting other core exercises throughout your workout.
This will mean your core gets a lot of direct work, but also gets a lot of recovery time so you don’t end up straining your back as you fatigue. This is a great method to build up strength and endurance, which will help relieve back pain, and also get you to a point where you can do more challenging core work as a good preventative measure.
You want to get a 6 pack
Doesn’t everyone know that your 6 pack is made in the kitchen by now? That’s right, lose the fat, and your abs will appear. But… what if you have lost the fat, and your abs are there, but you want MORE of them? Well you’ll need to do some dedicated challenging direct core work. In this instance, set aside a day for core training and do heavy work at the start. You can do lighter non-direct core work at the end if you need to get some other assistance work in. I’ll also suggest doing moderately challenging core work at the end of all your other workouts, just to make sure it gets some more direct work. You’ll also have to eat appropriately so your muscles can grow 🙂
Well after all that I guess you want to know…
What are the best core exercises?
This question could be a whole post – or even a book – on its own. So I’ll be concise here.
First up I’ll say that none of my clients ever do sit ups. There is research out there that says repetitive spinal flexion will break your spine. There’s also other research that says you should be able to flex your back, but not under load. Not only do I find sit ups to be easy, boring and ineffective, I also err on the side of caution and don’t practise or preach spinal flexion.
So some of my favourite core exercises are:
- Pallof presses
- Push ups
- Ab wheel roll outs
- Turkish get ups
- Farmers walks
- Variations of all of these
If you are unfamiliar with any of those exercises, you’ll find them with a quick internet search. Or email me if you want more specific help with your training.
So these are my current thoughts on direct core training. It hasn’t deviated much since my original post, but it now it’s more detailed depending on your specific training needs.
Do you directly train your core? And do you know your specific reasons? Put this concept into practise for more effective core training 🙂