Name: Marc Megna
Weight: 210 lbs
Occupation: MuscleTech athlete; personal trainer; MLB/NFL off-season trainer
Education: University of Richmond, BS in sociology; NSCA; TRX; CPR
My success in the gym has come from consistently training big-ticket exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, chin-up, and row. While I constantly vary the volume and intensity of these lifts, and regularly use alternatives, the movement patterns stay pretty constant. In other words, I am always dancing with the girl who brought me to the party.
The same should be said of your training. I think too many people obsess over the fluff—like a visible six-pack—and don't pay enough attention to the foundation: essential big lifts. If you came here looking for ways to carve visible abs, you need to redirect your attention to creating a solid training foundation. Besides, seeing your abs is about having a good nutrition plan, not about how many crunches you do after every workout.
Having said that, core training is an important part of your exercise regimen—if you do it correctly. Your core strength and stability are essential to your performance in the big lifts. If your trunk isn't strong or stable, you won't be able to squat or push much weight over your head. So, I like to build my core with accessory abdominal movements.
Here are six core exercises I have been utilizing lately. I've found them to be continuously challenging and effective. Give them a shot!
Exercise 1 Suspension Rollout
Suggested prescription: 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps
I love the anterior core stability challenge of rollouts in general. But, by using the suspension system so you can be on your feet instead of on your knees, you're promoting full-body tension. This full-body tension is important in a lot of other lifts like the overhead press, squat, and deadlift.
Standing Roll Out
Watch The Video - 01:51
Start on your toes and lean forward with your hands in the straps right below your shoulders. Reach your hands forward until you feel like your body will sag or you'll be unable to return to the start position. Pause for a second in this extended position, and then return to the start.
Do not allow your hips to bend or hands to return past your shoulders. If you need to increase the difficulty, lower the straps and move so your body is more parallel to the floor.
Megna's Pro Tip: Squeeze your glutes as hard as humanly possible throughout the movement to keep the body's position.
Exercise 2 Plank to Opposite Raise
Suggested prescription: 2-3 sets of 45-60 seconds
Planks are one of the best core stability exercises out there, but once you master them, they can become pretty pedestrian. Adding a dynamic component to this anti-extension exercise can make it a lot more difficult, because it will also require anti-rotation work.
Plank to Opposite Raise
Watch The Video - 00:18
Start in a plank position. Reach a hand out in front of the body and raise the opposite leg 1-2 inches off the ground. Hold for 45-60 seconds, return to the start position, and repeat with the other limbs. Squeeze the glutes, quads, and core to maintain tension. If you can't hold the position very long, start with shorter work periods.
Megna's Pro Tip: Place a dowel or PVC pipe at the hips, perpendicular to your body, to ensure that your hips aren't rotating.
Exercise 3 Chain-Resisted Lateral Crawl
Suggested Prescription: 2-3 sets of 10-15 steps per side
Crawls are a great exercise group because they really work core stability and put your shoulders and hips in a movement pattern that many of us haven't used since childhood. Getting back to these fundamental patterns is good for our joints and motor programming. Adding a lateral movement to crawls can make them even more challenging.
Chain-Resisted Lateral Crawl
Watch The Video - 00:42
Using chains as resistance will really put a lot of demand on your core and will leave the shoulders burning. Begin in a push-up position with a chain connected to a dip belt at your waist. Cross the back hand over the front hand while you step sideways with the lead foot. Be sure to change directions.
Megna's Pro Tip: Keep your whole body neutral by looking straight down. Resist the temptation to move your neck.
Exercise 4 Cross Carry
Suggested Prescription: 2-3 sets of 20-30 steps per side
The cross carry is a farmer's carry taken to the next level. The movement promotes core strength via anti-extension and anti-lateral flexion. It's also a great exercise because it's performed standing, which is how we use core muscles naturally.
Cross Body Carry
Watch The Video - 00:25
Hold a kettlebell in both hands. One should be 2-3 times lighter than the other. Push the lighter one up over your head in the bottoms-up position. Hold the heavier one at your side like you would hold a suitcase. Walk forward while you maintain an upright position. After 20-30 steps, swap the kettlebells around and walk back with the other hand holding the lighter kettlebell above your head.
Megna's Pro Tip: Maintain a vertical spine by trying not to lean one way or the other. Walk as normally as possible.
Exercise 5 Sliding Inchworm
Suggested Prescription: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps
The sliding inchworm is a reverse-crunch variation combined with a walk-out. The combo will work the entire anterior core, including both upper and lower abs. Because you're crawling, you'll also blast your shoulders.
Watch The Video - 02:08
Begin in a push-up position with your feet on something that will glide along the floor. Push your hips to the ceiling, pulling your toes to the hands. Once your hips are as high as they can go, without changing the alignment of your spine or putting too much tension on your hamstrings, walk your hands out to return to starting position. If you'd like to make this more difficult, add a push-up to the bottom.
Megna's Pro Tip: To get the full effect of the reverse crunch, move your hips up by pushing your toes down to the floor.
Exercise 6 Wide-Stance Rope Rotation
Suggested Prescription: 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps per side
A true core program would be deficient without some oblique work. One exercise I love hits this area and also improves overall core stability. I call it a wide-stance rope rotation.
Wide-Stance Rope Rotation
Watch The Video - 00:12
Stand to the side of a cable stack with your feet much wider than shoulder width, and the rope attachment at shoulder height. Keeping your arms straight, pull the rope across your body and return it under control. Your spine should remain vertical.
Megna's Pro Tip: Keep your hips as still as possible throughout this exercise. When the hips rotate, the obliques are no longer doing the heavy lifting.
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