“What is the most effective way to do core training?” Pete McCall details the basic function of the core muscles and demonstrates how ViPR can best be used when training with your client. 


‘Core training’ is one of the most popular and often misused phrases in the fitness world today. For some people, core training means doing crunches until their abs cramp. For others, core training means doing all sorts of complicated moves on various pieces of equipment that look better suited to a circus than a gym. There have been volumes written on core training, with almost every author offering a different theory (some research-based, others pure fiction) on the best way to strengthen and tone abdominal muscles. 

How many times have clients asked you the best way to develop a six-pack? If you’re like me, I always chuckle a little and inform the inquisitor that they already have a six-pack – the problem is that it’s usually being stored in a cooler. The real question is, “Which is the most effective way to do core training?” To get to the solution, we must first have an understanding of what the core muscles actually do during upright movement patterns. Understanding the basic function of the core muscles can help you identify the best exercises to help your clients reach their goals.

The interesting thing is that many fitness consumers think the purpose of core exercises is to burn abdominal fat; however, doing abdominal exercises in the hope of burning fat is like trying to walk up the down escalator: it just isn’t that efficient. The abdominal muscles, specifically the rectus abdominus, are often trained in a manner that doesn’t actually improve their ability to dissipate and distribute gravity and ground reaction forces, let alone expend enough energy to have a significant impact on stored adipose tissue (body fat).

The musculoskeletal structure of the human body is designed to be most efficient when standing upright on the ground, not lying on the floor. Think about it: the human body is designed to move, and the basic, default pattern of movement is walking. The skeletal and muscle structures are designed in such a way to create mechanical energy from gravity and ground reaction forces during the gait cycle in order to conserve metabolic energy. 

When watching the gait cycle, notice how the pelvis and thoracic spine rotate opposite to one another; as the right arm swings forward, it causes the rib cage to rotate to the left on the thoracic spine while the left leg is simultaneously swinging forward, causing the pelvis to rotate to the left. The muscles of the core are designed to facilitate this multiplanar action to make it smooth and efficient. That’s right: the actual purpose of our core muscles is to work effectively and efficiently while the body is in an upright, vertical position. What does the crunch exercise do? It uses the rectus abdominus (RA) to bring the rib cage closer to the pelvis, which causes the spine to flex in the sagittal plane; hence we are mistakenly taught that the RA flexes the spine, which it does ONLY when the human body is lying supine. 

Go back to the gait movement pattern; if the RA was truly designed to perform spinal flexion, then we would flex our spine to bring our rib cage closer to our pelvis as we walk. The fact is, that is opposite of what happens during gait; as the right leg transitions from mid-stance to heel-off (passing under the center of gravity), the right side RA is working eccentrically to decelerate the anterior rotation of the pelvis (caused by extension of the right femur) while the left side RA is working eccentrically to decelerate thoracic extension (created by extension of the left shoulder). 

Keep in mind that those are only the sagittal plane actions of the RA; in the transverse plane, the RA is lengthened by the left rotation of the rib cage (with right leg in extension) and the pelvis rotating to the right, while in the frontal plane the RA is lengthened by the pelvis shifting laterally relative to the femurs and the rib cage moving laterally relative to the pelvis. This means that, when we are moving in an upright position, the RA is working in all three planes. Now, does the crunch look like the most effective exercise to train the triplanar nature of this muscle? 

Next we look at the obliques (both internal and external); traditional oblique exercises involve lying supine and rolling one side of the body to the other like a turtle stuck on its back. Is that really how they work as the human body is walking? During gait, the right side external oblique is working with the left side internal oblique (and vice versa) to control the rotation of the rib cage over the pelvis. The fact is that, if we are designing core training programs with exercises that emphasize lying supine on the ground, then we are cheating our clients by not training them to maximize movement efficiency from their bodies.

Put it this way, having clients lie on the ground to do three sets of abdominal and oblique crunches will not train their muscles and spine to accommodate the multiplanar forces they’ll experience when lifting heavy objects from the trunk of a car or young children from the crib. If you really want to make a difference in your clients’ lives and earn referrals to other clients, having an understanding of how to develop exercise programs based on human biomechanics will really set you apart from other trainers.

Effective core training requires using exercises that integrate the hips, trunk and shoulders in order to efficiently distribute the forces (gravity, ground reaction and momentum) caused by upright movement patterns.

If we truly want to train the core the way it is designed to work, we need to get off of the floor and train the muscles from a standing position so they learn how to stabilize the body in a field of gravity. Some of my favorite core exercises are shown below (this is not a complete list – just a few exercises to demonstrate how ViPR can be used to strengthen core muscles from a standing position). Make sure to do a complete warm-up and that clients do not have any existing restrictions in their hips or thoracic spine that could limit mobility of those joints.

ViPR Forward Lunge with Overhead Lift

ViPR Diagonal Lift with Step

ViPR Carry Lateral Lunge with Rotation

ViPR Lateral Lunge with Shovel 

Muscles don’t know what they look like. They just do one of two things: produce force or reduce force. Based on its design, the function of the core is to use the forces created by gravity and ground reaction to create forward motion while walking. Having this fundamental understanding of functional biomechanics can help you identify the best way you can use ViPR with your clients to train their core muscles and how to produce the right amount of force at the right time. 

In the video: Aimee Nicotera. You can see Aimee and attend one of her sessions at FitPro LIVE this July in London. Please visit the FitPro LIVE website for more details: www.fitpro.com/live