Next time you’re tempted to skip your ab workout, you might want to think again. A strong core brings a lot of benefits, including making you better at weightlifting.
For every part of our training that we love, there’s always one we’re much less enthused about. They’re the exercises we tend to make excuses about skipping because we’re “too tired” or we promise that we’ll “do them tomorrow instead”. It might be biceps, leg press or cardio for you. For me, it’s abs.
I’ve been strength training for long enough to know, deep down, how important a strong core. And yet, as I come to the end of a great lifting session, the last thing I want to do is head over to the mats to do crunches and mountain climbers.
It’s not that I don’t want to build a stronger core, it’s just that ab exercises get repetitive and are, well, boring in comparison to my other training. Plus, they don’t give me that satisfying DOMS that comes after a heavy leg day, just a dull ache in my stomach for the next few days.
But it’s time I got real: training your core really is essential, not just for everyday activities, but also for weightlifting.
“Having a strong core is a much deeper and more important issue than simply having a six-pack,” says Sara Picken-Brown, a coach and former professional bodybuilder with over twenty years fitness industry experience. “The ‘core’ is a group of muscles and tendons that support the spine, hips and provide stability to these all-important structures when we run, walk, swim and lift objects. These deep stabiliser muscles allow us to move efficiently and pain-free and prevent unnecessary compression of the spine and hip complex.”
So, how can training your core help you gain strength and lift better?
How is your core used in weightlifting?
“Your abdominals are a group of muscles that work very hard in your day-to-day, so when weight training, they work even harder to support your spine and lift that extra load,” says Picken-Brown. “This is especially true if you’re completing functional, multi-joint movement exercises like side lunges or squats into overhead press.
As you lift heavier, you will naturally work the core more. Even when you’re focussing on the larger muscle groups, the smaller support muscles and tissue maintain the integrity of support structures like your spine. This builds a more effective kinetic chain of movement, making your lifts better, stronger and more efficient.
A strong core allows us to stand – and lift – with an aligned spine, move efficiently and control the breath depth and rate more effectively.”
What impact will a stronger core have on your weightlifting?
“To get the best you can out of your weightlifting experience, it’s really important to strengthen your core muscles,” says Lucy Arnold, a former personal trainer and founder of Lucy Locket Loves. “Strengthening those muscles helps you to manage sudden and heavy forces on this area of your body.”
“A strong core is also important for injury prevention and maintaining technique integrity while training,” adds Picken-Brown. “ If you are just starting a weight training program, focusing on your core conditioning early will mean that you not only stay safe, but you will progress much faster with your strength gains.”
Arnold stresses the importance of this in particular. “In 2017, I suffered a back injury which required surgery,” she says. “I also had to take time to recover and eventually rebuild my strength to what it was before. I had to really ensure my core was strong so I wouldn’t damage my back further and potentially need another operation.
This meant I really had to strip back to the basics of core training and gradually move up to help me regain the ability to maintain proper form when lifting weights.”
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What are the signs of a weak core?
“Sitting for long periods and a lack of general exercise can all have impacts on your core strength, especially the pelvic floor,” says Picken-Brown.
“Chronic stress and trauma can also create shifts in pelvic tilt, tightening hip flexors and impacting posture which can create over activation and weakness in the core and diaphragm. Therefore, management of stress and breath are all vital to look at before commencing a more intense training program,” she previously told Stylist.
What are the best exercises strengthen your core?
“The great thing about this is it can be shaped for your needs, as eventually you can introduce weighted planks, which helps to further strengthen your core,” says Arnold.
- Simply lie on your front, with your arms pressed to your chest, with your wrists and shoulders aligned, and your hips placed slightly higher than your knees
- While holding a rigid position, extend out your legs and brace your arms as if you were doing a pushup.
- Hold this position until you need to stop and then reverse the process
- If you are applying weights to your back, ensure you are using an amount you can handle, and you have someone with you to assist in putting on and taking off the weight
- Get down on your hands and knees, keep a straight back, stand on your tip toes and move up slightly to let your knees hover above the ground
- Keep your back straight and move your left hand and right foot forward and vice versa
- Do this a few times forward and then reverse
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- Lie on your back, with your hands underneath you
- Squeeze your core in, and begin to kick your legs in succession, but do not touch the ground
- Keep your legs straight and maintain this posture to give your core a fantastic workout
Not a fan of traditional core moves? Don’t worry.
“Invest in a TRX,” suggests Picken-Brown. “This is a wonderful tool to work your core and full body alike. Using this simple contraption, you’ll notice strength, balance and stability improvements in a matter of a few sessions.”
Alternatively, she advises trying a Barre or Pilates class with a more dynamic focus. “Even one session a week of targeted, sweaty core work that has a high repetition, low resistance combination of both deep core (the support muscles) and superficial (show muscles) will teach you about breath control and condition the area, while keeping you engaged.”
For more ways to elevate your strength training potential, check out the Strong Women Training Club where you’ll find tips, training plans and workout videos.