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The Core Training Bible

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

I would be willing to bet that everything you know about core training is wrong. It’s not your fault though and you are not alone. Majority of folks often refer to the crunch or sit up as the primary movement to target their core, and while this is not entirely wrong, it is not the best way to achieve a strong and aesthetic core either.

If you want to finally know the most effective core exercises and how to properly design your own core workouts for a bulletproof 6 pack, read on!

What You Will Learn in Today’s Article:

The Primary Function of the Core

Before we jump into the exercises and the juicy stuff, we need to understand the ins and outs of the core and its primary function. Contrary to popular belief the core is designed to do a lot more than just make you look good in a swimsuit.

The core’s primary function is to help stabilize your spine and resist movement, especially while the extremities are in motion and or underload.

If your training is anything like most people at rec center gyms, you are performing a lot of crunches and sit up variations. While this is not entirely wrong, this is only training 1 piece of the puzzle, and here’s why…

Exercises like sit ups, crunches, and leg raises, train what is called “spinal flexion” the primary muscle being targeted is the “6 pack muscle” or (rectus abdominis) (the muscle people call their abs). While this is fine for aesthetic reasons, the rectus abdominis is not the only muscle in the core and neglecting to train the other muscles leaves both aesthetic and strength gains on the table.

When you are only training spinal flexion movements, you are leaving out all the exercises that will resist movement. These are the movements that will make your core bulletproof and help protect you against injuries.

So, as you can see from the image above, only training your “6 pack muscles” (rectus abdominis) is leaving a lot of performance and aesthetics on the table.

If you are someone who has often struggled from lower back pain when squatting, deadlifting, doing heavy rows or other compound movements, it is very likely you have an underdeveloped core and need to spend more time training core stabilization rather than doing more “6 pack ab routines” off Instagram.

In the diagram above you can see that the core is made up of any muscle that attaches to the spinal column or pelvis. There are a lot more muscles than just the rectus abdominis that come into play here!

Do you need to know and memorize all of this? Well, if you are a trainer or coach, I’d recommend knowing this because you will be able to deliver your clients better results, but if you aren’t a trainer or coach, just know there is A LOT more to building a strong and good looking core than crunches and leg raises.

Proper Breathing for A Stronger Core

Before diving into specific core exercises and their purpose in training, it is crucial that we discuss proper breathing mechanics. When discussing breathing mechanics in strength training & core training we are referring to diaphragmatic breathing, or simply breathing through the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle located under the lungs and has been shown to help activate the deep core musculature which create stability in the trunk.

Diaphragmatic breathing and variations are the foundation of core training. It is one of the most underrated aspects of creating a strong and functional core. Practicing breathing drills is by no means flashy or Instagram worthy, but it is highly important because of its ability to create better posture, activate the deep core muscles, improve central nervous system, build strength in our abs and pelvic floor, and it releases unnecessary tension in the upper body from breathing incorrectly (chest breathing).

Here you can see Mike Robertson explaining proper breathing and bracing into a weightlifting belt for the squat pattern. This same technique should be used for all compound movements and during your anti core training exercises (we will discuss this later).

When first practicing proper diaphragmatic breathing, you should start by placing it in the beginning of your training sessions and on your off days at home. The best way to practice starting off, is to lay on the floor with your knees bent at 90 degrees. The floor provides you with a great external cue and allows you to see instantly if you are creating expansion in 360 degrees.

Next, place one hand on your chest and one hand just below your rib cage. The hands provide a great external cue because during inhalation, your hand on your stomach should rise higher than the hand on your chest, if it does you know you are successfully belly breathing or breathing through the diaphragm.

Another great cue I like to use to ensure we are creating 360-degree expansion upon inhalation, is to think about breathing deeply into your lower back. This, combined with the two tactile cues mentioned earlier and some daily practice results in the clients grasping diaphragmatic breathing in no time!

One thing I would like to note, for individuals who have never practiced diaphragmatic breathing, is to try and relax your upper body as much as possible. Years and years of breathing incorrectly creates tension in the neck, shoulder, chest, and jaw. It will take some time, so be patient.

Here’s a breakdown of how to perform the above exercise:
  1. Lay on the floor, knees at 90 degrees, 1 hand on your chest, 1 hand on your upper stomach.

  2. Relax your upper body- neck, shoulders, face, chest, etc. Now is the time to release any air you have in your upper chest.

  3. Take a big inhale through your nose, breathing into your stomach and your lower back. Here your hand should rise higher than your chest, your lower and mid back should be pushing into the ground.

  4. Hold your breath at the top for 1-2 seconds

  5. Exhale slowly through pursed lips

  6. During the exhale be thinking about pulling your ribcage down to your waist.

  7. That is 1 rep!

You should perform this for 5-15 reps depending on how new you are to this. As you progress, your inhales and exhales should get longer. This is something no matter what level of trainee you are, you can ALWAYS benefit from practicing and should practice this weekly.

Training Your Core for Strength & Performance

If you want to see the biggest difference in your lifts, your sport, your lower back health and your overall strength and performance this is where training your core for stability comes into play.

In this section we are talking all about “anti-core training” this simply refers to what the core is designed to do, prevent movement at the spine while the extremities are in motion.

Anti-core training should make up the most of your core training if you have goals to be stronger, healthier, less prone to injury and more athletic.

Now when it comes to core stability exercises or “anti-core training” folks commonly think of the plank hold. While this is not wrong, it is far from the only exercises out there, and if you are like me, you would rather watch paint dry them hold a plank for anything longer than 30 seconds…it is terribly boring.

One of the best things about anti-core training is you can train it frequently (2-3x / week) without facing any recovery issues.

Anti-core training breaks down into 3 Categories: anti-extension, anti-rotation, and anti-lateral flexion.

ANTI-EXTENSION EXERCISES (Here you are working to resist extension at the spine)

  • TRX Fallout

  • Ab Wheel Rollout

  • Renegade Row

  • Hollow Body Hold

  • Hollow Body Rock

  • Hollow Body Sweeps

  • Plank Hold w/ Progressions

  • Swiss Ball Stir the Pot

  • Deadbug

ANTI-ROTATION EXERCISES (Here you are working to resist rotation at the spine)

  • Pallof Press + Variations

  • Renegade Row

  • Kettlebell/Dumbbell Pull Through

  • Swiss Ball Stir the Pot

  • Landmine Bus Driver

  • Single Arm Kettlebell Swing

  • Bird Dog

  • Bird Dog Row

ANTI-LATERAL FLEXION EXERCISES (Here you are working to resisting bending sideways at the spine)

  • Side Plank + Variations

  • Farmers Carries + Variations

  • Suitcase Carries + Variations

  • TRX Anti-Rotation Press

Training Your Core for Aesthetics

Now to the section that you probably care most about. How do we get that chiseled 6 pack, and how in the hell do we finally start to see our abs?!

Let’s start off by discussing the type of movements you will be performing most of the time to develop your “6 pack muscles” or rectus abdominis.

When training core for aesthetic purposes only, the movements will revolve around spinal flexion, or sit up variations, leg raises, and crunch variations.

However, when it comes to training these very well-known movements, most gym goers botch the execution. So, let’s look at the common mistakes while training for your core aesthetics.

1) Doing thousands of reps

This is a very common mistake I see people make, just simply doing too many reps because they believe it will lead to superior results, when in fact they are performing 100s of incorrect reps.

Your abs, just like any other muscle group are best trained inside the 5-30 rep range. In addition, your ab training just like all your other training should be focused on quality > quantity. We should not be taking our sets to failure, and in fact you should feel like you could do a few more reps per set.

Also, training abs in a low rep range with heavy weights is not a great call either, 9 times out 10 while performing abdominal training like this, other muscles will just take over.

2) Taking A Dedicated Ab Day

Your ab muscles recover quickly so choosing to train 1-2 ab movements multiple times a week makes a lot more sense than dedicating an entire day to “abs”

3) Neglecting Your Nutrition

Arguably the most important when it comes to having a visible pair of abs. If you slack on your nutrition, you will never get lean enough to see your abs the way you desire. This is probably the most common issue people have, they simply carry around too much body fat.

Want more defined abs? Dial in your nutrition.

A List of My Favorite 6 Pack Exercises:

Spinal Flexion Exercises:

  • Reverse Crunches

  • Cable Crunches

  • Decline Sit Ups

  • Swiss Ball Crunches

  • Hanging Knee Raises

  • Hanging Leg Raises

  • Toes To Bar

  • V-Ups

My recommendation is picking 2-3 movements off this list that you enjoy and “feel” the most while performing and really focus on progressing these and performing with a strong mind muscle connection.

How to Program Core Training into Your Workouts

Now to the most fun part of the entire article, application! Inside of this section we are going to take what we learned about the core, and training for both strength/performance and aesthetics and blend it into a weekly protocol for you to follow!

Strength & Performance:

  • Include 2-3 anti-movement exercises into your routine per week.

  • Reps will vary form 6-12 or 30 -60 seconds isometric holds.

  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing daily and incorporate proper breathing and bracing while performing heavy compound exercises.

  • Progress these 2-3 movements for 4-10 weeks.


  • Include 2-3 movements into your routine per week.

  • Train these in the 8-3 rep range.

  • Progress these 2-3 movements for 6-12 weeks.


  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing daily prior to working out, and on your off days.

Example Core Training Program for Strength & Aesthetics

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