Strength Through Stillness

The fabled core. It’s a pretty broad name. I could say lumbo-pelvic hip complex, but I honestly doubt you give a shit about the name. You just want to make it stronger. You want to do it correctly. You don’t want to waste your time. You could do 3 million crunches, or you pay attention to a few points and get way more results for your effort.

Let’s take a look at rib position. How long can you hold a plank? A minute? Two Minutes? An hour? Does your plank look like this?

20120319100256-30-second-plankIf your plank looks like this, then you can hold a plank for zero seconds, in my humble opinion. The length of a muscle that is neither contracting nor stretching is its resting length. The amount of force you can voluntarily generate using a muscle is greatest at that resting length, so when you let your back sag and your ribs fly out like that, you are stretching the muscle past its ideal length. This impairs the muscle’s ability to generate the necessary tension, and you just end up hanging off your spine. Hello back pain, nice to meet you. By making sure your ribs are in the correct position, you can generate more force. When you generate more force, you are safer, and you get stronger. Safe and strong. Those are both pretty OK things. This rib position applies to almost every exercise. By setting up an ideal rib position, you can set the stage for serious strength gains.

The primary function of the abdominals is to resist movement. Should I say it again? If you’re training the core solely through crunches, leg lifts, or weighted side bends, you’re leaving strength gains on the table, and could possibly be doing more harm than good. Athletic endeavors such as throwing a ball, sprinting, and pulling on a foothold all depend on a stable midsection to transfer force from our larger lower body muscles to our upper body. Simply moving repeatedly into loaded flexion, extension and rotation will not lead to a great carryover into performance, especially if a stable, immobile foundation does not exist.

How to make it better

Let’s take a crunch. Simply put, a crunch is a flexion movement. Flexion is the counterpoint to extension. To safely train this movement without trying to make our stabilizers prime movers, simply find a way to resist movement instead of creating movement. Instead of a flexion movement, make it an anti-extension movement. A front plank, briefly discussed in the previous video, is a fantastic anti extension movement, as long as the ribs are set correctly.

Those weighted side bends you see in the gym? Lateral flexion. Try a heavy suitcase farmer walk instead. I like to mix this in with other strength work, for about 10 steps each foot, each direction, per set.


Seated Twists? How about the pallof press, an incredibly effective anti-rotation drill. 5-8 presses facing each way for 3-5 sets is a great starting point.


With any of these exercises, the goal should be to keep a rigid midsection, and allow the limbs to move without having to compensate in the trunk. Work to control movement instead of forcing it. Controlling something is expressing strength. Forcing something is spastic and weak. Which way do you want to move?


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Kettlebells For Climbers, a climbing foundational strength program I co-wrote with Kris Hampton of Power Company Climbing, is selling well and people are enjoying it! (Or so it seems) Grab your copy here.

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