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Work Your Core

Walk into almost any gym, and what do you see? Nearly everyone has a flabby gut, a weak back, and sloping shoulders. They lift the same weights month after month, and don’t seem to get any stronger. At the core of this problem is a failure to work the core.

The typical exercise program is literally an exercise in futility. And we know that by simply looking at all the people who are exercising. At the core of this problem is a failure to work the core.

People who haven’t worked out usually see great results, shortly after they start an exercise program. But nearly all of them reach a plateau within a few months—and those results just stop. At the core of this problem is a failure to work the core.

Physical training isn’t about flapping your arms or doing unnatural motions with weights. It's not about doing 3 sets of 10 reps, as though somehow your muscles are just as strong on the second set as they are on the first. It's not about Marathon sessions at the gym, how much you can spend on a willy-nilly supplement program, or even how tight your gym shorts are.

Physical training is about changing your body. It’s about changing it even at the cellular level. Not stronger arms or stronger legs—but a body that is stronger throughout. And the means to that end is to--you guessed it--work your core.

What do we mean by working your core? How do you do this? Interestingly, working your core means you do the very exercises nearly everyone avoids. These are the hard exercises that cause a body to expend huge amounts of energy. Not one of them involves a weight machine. All of them involve using stabilizer muscles to develop useful strength and an aesthetically pleasing body.

The king of such exercises is the squat. In this article, we’ll focus on how to do that exercise correctly for maximum gain and zero damage. But be aware that other exercises also work the core. Prime examples are good mornings and deadlifts. Don’t do these exercises without qualified instruction.

When lifting weights, most people pronate their backs and work their hip flexors (watch carefully at the gym, and you'll see this). Such an approach results in injury instead of progress.

Properly done, core-working exercises prevent injury and provide massive benefits in health and physical development. First, a general tip on working out:

General weight training tip

When you work any muscle group, you must focus on that group. Don’t, for example, work your back and chest on the same day. Your body simply doesn’t have the energy for that. Feel your muscles work as you train.


Most people doing a cable row, for example, are working their hips and not their backs. They are going through the motions, but not “connecting” with those back muscles and working them. Another example is the bench press. When you work pecs on the bench press, don’t recruit your front deltoids, legs, or back. Here’s how to get in the right position for the bench press:

  1. Lie flat on your back
  2. Pull your shoulder blades back. You want them as far back as you can get them.
  3. Your elbows are at your sides. Bend them to raise your arms 90 degrees.
  4. Notice where your hands are? That’s your bench press position. When you take the bar off the rack, pull your shoulders down and back, and move your hands into this position. Then, raise and lower the bar up and down. When you’re done with this set, let your shoulders roll forward and up. Move the bar back until it hits the rack stops, then lower it into the cradle.

If you do the bench press any other way, you are recruiting your front delts. This means less expansion of the rib cage, less pectoral development, more rounding of the shoulders, and increased risk of rotator cuff tear. Form is critical. Most people ignore it. Which is why they look the way they do and lack the results they could have.


Squatting for core power

The front squat is the squat variation to use. All of the other variations—with the bar held behind you—place too much load on the spine and will almost certainly lead to injury. That’s what former Mr. Olympia Frank Zane says, and he probably knows a thing or two about weight lifting.

Most people think of the squat as a leg exercise. Done correctly, it’s not. It’s a killer exercise for your abs—which form part of your core. It also works the rest of your core—really, everything between your sternum and your pelvic floor.

The key here is where you place your mental focus—and from where you draw your power—when you raise the weight. So, here’s how you do it:

  1. Take the bar off the rack, and lay it across the groove at the top of your pecs. Cross your hands for safety, assuming the classic front squat position.
  2. Take a deep breathe, then slowly exhale.
  3. As you are exhaling, lower the weight by squatting—that is, bending your knees and tilting your pelvis as though you are going to sit on a chair.
  4. Do not let your knees go past your toes.
  5. When you are fully “seated,” take a deep breath.
  6. Exhale, by contracting your abs hard.
  7. Push up, rising with an exhale. Push against your pelvic floor. Feel the weight push through you, and imagine the floor is pushing up through you.

When you work your core this way, you maximize the effects of your weight training program. The benefits include increased fat loss, increased bone density, reduced chance of poor bone structure (structure and density are the two components of bone strength), improved balance, and improved overall muscularity. A person doing just these squats twice a month will build arm size and strength faster than a person doing just biceps curls.

Exercise with purpose, and work that core. This will allow you to get the body you want in the least amount of time.

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Article Authorship

The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
  • The articles comply with the teachings of such luminaries as 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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