The core is made up of the muscles around our midsection that connect directly to our vertebrae and all the muscles that attach from the pelvis to the spine. It’s not necessary to name each individual muscle but in short, the muscles that surround the hip or pelvic girdle (muscles of the bum and hips), muscles of the lower back and muscles of the stomach and sides all work together to make up our core. Training these muscles enhances the body’s ability to both resist and produce movement. For powerlifters and anyone else training to perform the compound barbell movements with heavy maximal or sub-maximal weight, it is vital to maintain spinal integrity throughout the movement. This ability to keep a stiff, stable spine under heavy loads is crucial for them to safely and effectively lift the most amount of weight.
Some people have the standpoint that the compound lifts are the only core training they require. Whilst the core is called upon and activated during these movements, they don’t necessarily teach you how to voluntarily and effectively activate the core muscles, which should be done before the movement even begins. I’m of the opinion that some core stability training done properly, is definitely beneficial for developing and maintaining spinal stiffness, since the appropriate exercises teach you to deliberately and consciously brace and develop tension in the important and necessary areas. Bracing is one important part of the puzzle to creating a sufficiently stable trunk under load which you will need to perform before every repetition with heavy weight (the second part is breathing correctly). That being said, the popular but very basic planking exercise and the likes, quickly become pretty redundant and these must be progressed to get the desired effect.
The walk out is one of my favourites and is a great progression from the average plank or weighted plank. It trains anti-extension and is what I’d consider to be one of the more advanced core exercises. Here’s how to perform it effectively:
- Start with the hands directly underneath the shoulders and keep the body in a straight line from shoulder down to ankle.
- Keep the hips square, facing directly to the floor (neutral) and squeeze the glutes and abdominals tight to engage the core.
- Whilst rigidly maintaining this alignment, step by step walk the hands out to your furthest position (If you can’t make it all the way down, stop at a position before you lose the alignment).
- Pause for a second at your lowest position and then walk the hands back to starting position.
- Make sure not to allow the lower back to arch or the hips to drop at any point during the movement.
- Secondly, ensure you do not allow the hips to flex too much on the way up. This will detract from the core and utilize the hip flexors to pull the body backward which it’s not ideal.
I would recommend 2-3 sets of 6-10 repetitions. Personally I like to perform these myself at the end of my session usually on a squat or deadlift day. However, they are also a very effective warm up tool. I have used these with lifters not so familiar with bracing and engaging their core and they are pretty effective at priming the body for effective bracing before heavy squats, or in fact any movement.