Real Core Training

Lets face it, most people want a six pack or a flat stomach.  We see adverts with people on the beach smiling, looking really happy with a rippling stomach or a perfectly flat belly. Or the front cover of a magazine of someone looking absolutely shredded. 

We see these pictures and want the same.  We think about how great we would feel, how much more confidence we would have on the beach, and actually like what we see in the mirror each morning.

So it’s no wonder I see countless people in the gym doing multiple sit ups or crunches in search of burning belly fat and producing six pack abs.  Unfortunately they’re usually doing more harm than good, not using the core to it’s full function and wasting allot of time.

There is allot of miss information on how to get six pack abs.  Most of the stuff out there shows these high rep ground based core circuits that get you to ‘feel the burn’ Crunches and sit ups do have their place in core training but shouldn’t be the main focus if you want a fully developed, functional core. 

What we see on adverts and in the magazines give the public a false sense of what’s real.  Models don’t  look like that all year round, and have dieted hard to get there.  You might have heard that ‘abs are made in the kitchen,’ while diet does have a major role to play in seeing your abs, it doesn't mean that if you see abs then the core is strong and fully functional.  Likewise someone might be carrying extra body fat, but have a solid bulletproof core underneath. 

Yes, diet matters when it comes to seeing you abs, which is for another blog post.  We not only want to see our abs, but we want the core to be strong and fully functioning too.  Today we’re going to find out what the core actually is, it’s number one role, and how to train it effectively so you can look good, perform your best and avoid potential injuries down the line.

The core has many roles.  But the number one role of the core is to stabilise and protect the spine while the limbs are in motion.  Think of when you see the slow motion videos of sprinters in the Olympics.  There midsection is solid and straight and their arms and legs are moving furiously in motion.  This is true core strength.  As their midsection is tight and solid which holds everything together helping them to run faster.  

The core is made up of the diaphragm, TVA (transverse abdominis) pelvic floor, multifidus as well as the lower back, glutes and hips. 


Think of this as our own inner corset that covers the entire mid section of our body.  The hierarchy of core training can be broken down into four key areas.  And we must master each of them in order if we are serious about building real core strength.

  1. Breathing
  2. Bracing
  3. Anti-movement
  4. Loaded Carries


Breathing is foundational to core training.  We breath on average 20,000 times during a day, and the majority of people breath into their upper chest.  Breathing into the upper chest creates mild hyperventilations throughout the day which leads to tight neck and shoulders and can make us feel anxious.  

The diaphragm is our breathing muscle, we use it as children, but as we get older and life stressors get in the way, we start to take our breath into the smallest, less dense part of our lungs.  The top!  Breathing using the diaphragm works our deepest core muscles.  Strengthening the muscles of the inner core protects our spine, builds strength in our pelvic floor and calms our nervous system. 

Learning to breath from the diaphragm takes practise.  Check out the video below for an explanation on how breath using your diaphragm.


You can incorporate diaphragmatic breathing when training.  This saves time and lets you drill the breathing pattern.  Add it into your warm ups and cool downs, using this breath when foam rolling or stretching.  This will soften the tissues helping the body to relax and go deeper, and can also help relive lower back pain.

You can add diaphragmatic breathing in-between the sets of your main lift.  Rest your legs 90 degrees over a bench and practise breathing, this will also teach you how to set up a brace.


Learning how to breath properly helps us set our brace.  When you think brace, think about when someone is going to punch you in the stomach. The tension you create is bracing, and this has the biggest strength payoff in core training.  Bracing protects the spine, builds a solid core, prevents lower back injuries and must be created before any heavy lift is undertaken.  Think of a dial, we want to create a maximum brace when performing a heavy lift which would be a 10.  And a 5-6 on the dial if we were perfuming a bent over row.  

Plank variations, or static holds are great ways to practise bracing.  It’s important to learn how to breath behind the brace, as we don't want to exhale all the air out when performing a heavy lift.  This is huge if you want to protect your lower back.  

Check the video below and get familiar with how bracing feels and how you can set it up before lifting.


Anti-Movement Patterns

Once we breath and brace properly then we can get into performing sexy core exercises.  This is where we start to build a strong core that resists being pulled in different plans of motion.  With any anti movement exercise we want the spine to stay rigid, the mid section solid and prevent any movement from happening.

Anti movement patterns can be broken down into

  • Anti flexion
  • Anti extension
  • Anti rotation
  • Anti lateral flexion

A neutral spine is paramount on all Anti movement exercises and must be set before any exercise is performed.  To get a neutral spine, draw your tailbone to your chin, squeeze the glutes and draw the ribcage down holding a brace.


This is resisting the spine from rounding forward.  The glutes and hips are part of the core and these need to be strong if we want to have a balanced mid section.  

Body weight hip thrust is a variation of a glute bridge that really targets the glutes as well as drills good hip extension.  

  1. Lay your upper back on the bench
  2. Bring the feet under the knees at a comfortable width
  3. Bring the hips down as low as possible
  4. Drive the hips to the ceiling 
  5. Squeezing the glutes at the top and maintain a neutral spine

Aim anywhere between 3-4 reps of 12-15 reps

Anti extension

You can think of this as any plank variation or movement that prevents the lower back arching.  All plank variations are great, and I like to use this Stir the Pot variation once some base level of strength and activation has been built.  (these are tough)

  1. Set the forearms on top of the ball
  2. Get set in a solid plank position (widen the feet is it’s challenging)
  3. Maintain neutral spine
  4. Keeping the shoulders and hips locked in position
  5. Draw a semi circle with the ball
  6. Squeeze the glutes, and keep as still as possible in the midsection

Try 3-4 sets from 5-8 reps of semi circles left to right, then right to left.

Anti rotation

We want our midline to stay straight and resist forces that want to rotate our body.  I like to use the Palloff press as choice of exercise.  This can be done using a band or weight stack.

  1. Stand inline with with band set up or weight stack
  2. Feet hip width apart
  3. Maintain neutral spine
  4. Exhale, pressing the band away from the chest
  5. Stand straight and tall, keep neutral spine and avoid any rotation

3-4 sets 12-15 reps or for 30-45s.  Make sure to do both sides.

Joe De fracno as a great anti rotation Alphabet which I use with all my clients.


Anti lateral flexion

Think of carrying a heavy suitcase.  The weight will want to pull us to down to the side, but the core is resisting and keeping our spine upright.  I like to use a Barbell iso hold for this exercise.  These look easy, but are actually very tough when done properly.

  1. Hold the barbell in the middle and at the side of the body
  2. Maintain a neutral spine throughout
  3. Brace tight and stay symmetrical through the body

Hold 3-4 sets 20-30s each side


Loaded Carries

Loaded carries are essential in a good strength programme.  If you want to get really strong, build mass in the back, shoulders, legs, arms and core then this is the exercise for you.  We need to breath and brace properly, create tension, keep a neutral posture and avoid movement in all directions which makes this an ultimate full body exercise.  


This is a standard Dumbbell Farmers Walk, but there area ton of variations, and you use can a ton of different pieces of equipment to make this staple core exercise more challenging.

GO HEAVY 3-6 sets from 30-40s

 I incorporate all of these key areas with my coaching clients and they have all seen huge results.  If you’re interested in coaching with me, want to build a strong core or have any questions then get in touch.  

I hope this sheds some light on what real core training should look like. Put the time in to build a solid foundation of proper breathing and bracing before you get onto the cool core stuff.  Be on point with your nutrition to lose body fat, use this blog to help build a strong functional core, and you’ll be looking great in your bikini or with more skin on show in no time.

Adam WilloughbyComment