Core Strength Training for Combat Sports – By Simon Boulter
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In combat sports, everything comes from the core. Every punch, kick, takedown, submission attempt, every movement that generates power starts from the core. If its your weak link, you are screwed.
It may be news to you but the core does not consist of just the six pack muscles (rectus abdominus), oh no. In fact there are many muscles that make up the core, including the external oblique’s, internal oblique’s, lower back muscles and deep postural and stability abdominal muscles, one of which being the transverse abdominis or transversus, psoas and iliacus.
The main function of the rectus abdominis is flexion of the torso, think of the ‘sitting up’ portion of a sit up. It is also the muscles that your see bulging out, making up the ‘six pack’ that so many of you are chasing. At either side of the abdominis rectus sit the external and internal obliques. Together these muscles provide rotational movement as well as stability.
Unknown to most, the transverse abdominis is the deepest muscle that runs under the abs and is in use in any movement your body makes. In fact studies have shown that this muscle actually fires up before nearly any other muscle to provide stability, no matter what movement you make. Other than supporting the body with proper posture and stability, a strong core can eliminate lower back pain and dramatically improve posture. Another of the core’s functions is to transfer strength and power throughout the body it is your link between your lower and upper body, while also providing stability throughout movement. When you sprint for example, a strong and well trained midsection will transfer power from the upper body to the lower body and vice versa. This is true not just for running but all sports, it is important to have a strong, stable and functional core and doing so will make you a far more powerful and explosive athlete. Not to mention, it does feel great to have a ripped, muscular looking midsection to be proud of.
Unfortunately the fitness industry has become core obsessed resulting in equipment companies flooding the market with ridiculous and pointless contraptions that are meant to ‘shred your abs.’ Remember the electronic abs belt I mentioned earlier? Check out a late night home shopping channel show and you will be sure to see one of these absurd gadgets with the TV show host making outrageous claims about what these gizmos can do without probably even a clue of how they work or exercise in general. Honestly this stuff makes me sick, all it does is promote laziness and makes people believe that they can get results with zero effort.
Many people have a very limited knowledge of core exercises, with the average gym goer usually opting for a few sets of sit ups or crunches at the end of their workout. And that is the extent of their core work. Doing thousands of repetitions of sit ups in one day won’t help you get a six pack, using the right exercises to rigorously stimulate strength and muscle growth is what gets results. In fact if you can perform more than 20 repetitions of a particular core exercise, I suggest that it is time to find a way to make this exercise more difficult or move onto a more challenging exercise all together.
You are going to have to try and forget the ignorant crap that you have been force fed your whole life when it comes to abdominal training, sit ups and crunches do two things. Jack and Shit. And Jack left town.
Sit ups and crunches offer very limited benefits when compared to many more beneficial bang for your buck exercises. They are just simply inferior exercises and are really not worth your time. Not only that, but crunching and curling your body can have a very negative effect on your body and training. It is in fact one of the most debated topics in the fitness industry, whether or not performing crunches is bad for you. After all, these exercises seem pretty harmless. Crunches and sit ups can increase the risk of a herniated disk long term, dramatically effect posture causing rounder shoulders which is called kyphosis and causes many muscular imbalances as the opposing muscles in the lower back are largely inactive during these exercises more so with crunches. Sit ups do not any of the important deep postural muscles of the core, and even place a tremendous amount of stress on your lower back and spine which can lead to vertebrae and nerve damage.
Having a strong core will decrease risk of injury, improve mobility and agility, make you faster as well as make you more powerful and efficient in whatever sports you play. You could run faster, jump higher, punch and kick harder, all by improving core strength. Best get to work and start working that gut. Say goodbye to high repetition sit ups and crunches, it’s time to get strong. All of your strength and power comes from your core, so if you are weak there you are setting yourself up to fail
When doing tons of crunches and sit ups most people have to perform them for close to half an hour to feel like they have done a half decent workout and no matter how many repetitions or sets they do they never seem to get anywhere. Well you wouldn’t do hundreds of reps for any other strength exercise so why would your abdominal workout be any different? Sit ups, crunches and many other ab exercises just don’t effectively load the abs with high resistance and so the muscle never really gets stimulated to grow bigger or stronger. You need to add resistance, just like you would add more weight to the bar on your bench press, you need to seek out more difficult variations of ab exercises or find a way to load them with more weight to add resistance so that you are working within the ideal rep ranges for strength which is 5 to 10, or at max 10 to 20.
Luckily many of the core exercises in this book are very challenging and will have you working inside those rep ranges without the need to add extra weight for resistance.
You simply don’t need to be spending ages to get an effective abdominal workout, it can be done in as short as 10 minutes. I suggest doing your ab work at the end of the workout when you are doing strength workouts, so you don’t pre fatigue your core before you do heavy lifts like squats or deadlifts. However when performing H.I.I.T or cardio only days, I would do the core work at the start of the session as you will probably be too fatigued to do it by the end of a challenging cardio workout.
Also I feel it important to mention that you do not need to train your core everyday as many will have you believe. The abdominals are no different to any other muscle in that they need to recover and have days to rest in order to become bigger and stronger. You wouldn’t train your bench press every single day of the week so don’t be a numbskull and train your abs every day.
Lets talk about some of the Strength exercises you can use for your core, I recommend performing 3 to 5 sets of each, 5 to 20 reps
Hanging knee raises
Hang from a bar in a dead hang position with arms straight and shoulder width apart. From here raise your knees as close to your chest as possible. To get the most out of knee raises, hold the top position for a few seconds while contracting your abdominals as hard as you can. This will definitely get the abs burning. As with all of the Hanging raise variations, do not swing from the bottom of the movement. Use no momentum as this is cheating. If you cannot complete raises with good technique, slow and under control then you should choose an easier leg raises variation or different and easier abdominal exercises to work with for the time being.
Hanging leg raises
The next progression from knee raises, leg raises involve lifting straight legs to the height of your upper stomach or lower chest. Again you can hold the top position for a few seconds while contracting your abdominal muscles for extra difficulty and to get the most out of the exercise. Be sure to perform these slowly and under control.
The Abdominal Wheel
One of the few pieces of training equipment that I do believe is worth having at home is the abdominal wheel. These things have been around for years and should be included in any athletes routine who is looking to strengthen their core. The great part is they are extremely cheap, most can be purchased for 5 to 10 dollars only. It not only works the abdominals but it strengthens the whole body as the Full standing ab wheel rollout is as compound as a movement gets. If you don’t have a wheel, you can use a barbell.
Knees down ab wheel rollouts
When starting out it is best to begin training rollouts from the knees as they can be very challenging, even for advanced trainees. With your glutes and abs engaged, roll yourself out until your body creates a straight line, rollout as far as possible and hold that position for a few seconds. When you are ready, slowly roll back to the starting position. Quality of each rep is more important than the number of repetitions performed. Do this exercise slowly and under control while forcefully contracted your abdominals. When you feel ready, you may attempt these standing, without your knees touching the ground at any point.
Standing ab wheel rollouts
After a while the kneeling ab wheel rollout will become quite easy and you will find that you will be able to do a large number of repetitions with it. The standing ab wheel rollout is the ultimate test in core strength and stability as it utilizes every single muscle in your body, shifting your body into an outstretched and weakened position.
Below is a video of a sample core workout that requires ZERO equipment that can be performed absolutely anywhere at anytime, and addresses all the different core movement patterns and demands required for sports such as bjj, grappling, wrestling and striking sports. I perform each exercise one after another with as little rest as possible to address the ‘Strength Endurance’ demands placed upon the core when fighting.
The exercises used are
3 minute Plank test
Straight Leg Bicycle Kicks
Seated Bicycle Kicks
Lying Bicycle Kicks
Lying Leg Raises