The Best Core Exercise – Part 1

Want to know what’s the best way to strengthen your mid-section and back?

There’s one core exercise that will help you achieve that “bullet-proof” torso…

It’s STIFFNESS.

Confused? Then it’s time for a little lesson.

There’s an awesome saying by Pavel Tsatsouline in his book Power to the People in which he asks “would you fire a cannon from a canoe?” Well, would you? I think not! Just imagine what would happen – you and your cannon would flip right into the water!

Now would you do the same thing to your own body? That is, would you undergo a large amount of force while your body is weak and unstable? No!

So why would you round your back over to pick up a box? Or twist your spine to reach something behind you? Or perform endless crunches to “strengthen” your core?

Crunches are not the best core exercise, as popular as it is anyway. I believe there’s no good reason to engage your core in a bunch of active-movement. This is because humans have ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, and wrists – joints that exist to produce movement.

Look at weightlifters and one of their exercises, the deadlift. Here’s a 783lb deadlift, for example.

Notice how much movement occurs in his hips and knees. There’s probably around 60 degrees of movement in the knees (from the bottom of the lift until the top), and around 110 degrees in the hips??? And in the back, there’s a couple degrees of movement, simply because this is a 1-rep max lift for the lifter in the video. Anything lighter of a weight would most likely ensure this lifter’s spine is immobile during the deadlift.

Now, why would an elite lifter want to use joints other than his back to move a heavy load? I’ll tell you why. It’s because the muscles operating in hip extension and knee extension (AKA, the deadlift) are BIG, STRONG MUSCLES! In addition to that, these joints are fairly stable – the knee is essentially a hinge-joint, and the hip is a slightly-more-complicated ball-and-socket joint.

Leg musclesLeg muscles

Joints like the knees and hips are meant to MOVE! Now, let’s take a look at the core.

You’ve essentially got 30-something vertebrae creating 30-something little joints along the spine. These joints contain disks that are quite prone to herniation or rupture. Right next to the spine, you’ve got a bunch of vital organs. Finally, the organs and spine are encased in a “girdle” of flat, long muscles.

back muscles

Ab muscles

Now, which seems more sensible?

A) Using a less-complex joint operated by powerful muscles to move a load.

B) Using a more complex-joint(s) that’s prone to injury,  surrounded by vital organs, and operated by weaker/smaller muscles, to move a load.

I hope you chose letter A. Would you generate force and movement from your powerful knees/hips/shoulders, or from your delicate torso? It just makes a lot of sense to leave the heavy work to the big guns.

Now that we understand our more powerful and stable joints are better-suited for generating force, what does stiffness have to do with all this? And what about “firing a canon from a canoe?”

Firing a cannon from a canoe could represent generating force from the strong and stable joints (the cannon) with a weak, loose torso (the canoe). Firing a cannon from a warship, however could represent generating force from the joints with a strong, stiff torso. The torso transmits the force, instead of generating it.

The core’s job is to stay tight and stiff to protect its own contents and transmit force, while its stronger cousins do all the movement. So how about the best core exercise?

Squats – core stiff and straight.
Deadlifts – core stiff and straight.
Planks – core stiff and straight.
Suitcase carries – core stiff and straight.
Rollouts – core stiff and straight.
Overhead presses – core stiff and straight.
Pushups – core stiff and straight.

Do you see a pattern here?

Heavy deadlifting for core strength.
Crunches? No thanks, I’ll deadlift instead.

All of these “core” exercises require your torso to be stiff and straight. Now that I told you what are the best core exercises, go enjoy your bullet-proof abs and back.

Keep an eye out the the rest of this article-series!

Click here for part 2 and part 3 of the article series.

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One Comment

  1. Photo Credits
    Quads. Author: ” יוסי הראשון”. commons.wikimedia.com
    glutes. Author: N/A. commons.wikimedia.com
    Trunk. Author: Arcadian. commons.wikimedia.com
    Back. Author: Uwe Gille. commons.wikimedia.com
    Abs. Author:istolethetv. flickr.com

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