"Gentlemen, welcome to Fight Club."

One of the most common questions I get from people is, "what should I do for core training?" or "what should I do for abs?" This question kind of drives me nuts because it’s difficult to answer in one e-mail...nay impossible. Training "abs" is not core training—I want to really drive that home. Although proper core training will surely get you "hawt abs," that’s not our primary concern. We’re chasing serious strength to develop a torso that can generate brutal power and helps put on a stellar athletic performance. Aesthetics are simply a nice side effect (albeit a pleasant one).

There are many wrong ways to train, but no specific right way to train. There are many paths to building a strong core that offer unique benefits, and which exercise variations you end up choosing is ultimately your choice and will depend on your own individual goals. Success, however, leaves clues. And when examining the most effective core training techniques, there is a set of patterns that is common among all of them.

These clues are the keys to unlocking the athletic performance inside of you—a performance left untapped, just waiting to be unleashed. Yet, I walk into health clubs and gyms and I see the same pitiful sight in all of them. I look over in the corner at a matted area, and I see people working abs by performing useless crunch exercises that produce no results with little to no enthusiasm, and it makes me sick.

So many trainees are so completely clueless as to training the core the right way, which is unfortunate because the keys to developing unreal core strength and building a truly powerful torso is out there.

That's why I can’t simply answer the question,"what should I do for abs?" in a single e-mail the next time someone asks me. Core training is so complex that I could write a book about it (and I recently have done so). I can, however, refer them to this simple set of rules, which are all essential elements of a highly effective core training routine.

The Rules Of Core Training…

Rule #1: Build Your House Upon Rock

Working on the basics is something you have to do. Period. It isn’t like some optional video game tutorial that you can skip and expect to be able to wing it. You have to pay your dues and build a solid foundation. If you don’t, none of the more advanced core training techniques will be anywhere near as effective.

Don’t build your house on a foundation made of sand. Your core is your foundation, and neglecting your midsection training is a grave mistake not just for any athlete but for the average Joe, too. Having a strong core just makes everything easier. So focus on the basics: build a solid foundation with plank variations and other exercises that have you hold a neutral spine and encourage proper posture. Too many "bros" are too quick to rush past this stuff, thinking that it’s a namby-pamby sissy exercise for wimps. Don’t be that guy. Work on the basics and you’ll avoid an injury and set yourself up for more significant and steady strength gains later on down the line. I cannot emphasize this enough: build your house upon a solid foundation.

Rule #2: Don’t Do Sit Ups or Crunches

Sit ups and crunches suck. Nobody ever got abs from doing them, and nobody ever got strong from them either. Not only that, but they wreak all kinds of hell on the lower back, putting a great deal of pressure on the spine. They are also such a low-level activity that you’ll have to do incredibly high repetition sets to even feel like they are effective (which they are not). This is equally as important as the first rule, so don’t do sit ups or crunches. Every time you do a crunch, somewhere in the world a fairy drops dead. Not cool.

Rule #3: Use Compound Movements

The net is rampant with people asking how to isolate the abs. One of the most common questions I receive is, "how can I target my lower abs?" First of all, you can’t really isolate one part of the abdominals. While they look kind of like several different muscles (with many referring to them as a six pack or an eight pack), the abdominals are actually just one sheet of muscle with ridges and valleys that give the distinct look of a six pack. Again, the abdominals are ONE muscle, not several. So you cannot isolate any part of it effectively without working the rest of the core.

That being said, the most effective "bang for your buck" core exercises that work many muscles of the body all at once are known as compound movements. These exercises will provide you with the most  significant strength gains in the shortest time possible. This is one reason why sit ups and crunches are terrible choices for core training. Instead of doing those, utilize exercises that work the midsection while incorporating many muscles at once to get the job done. The body was meant to be used as a single functional unit with its muscles all working together. Full body movements offer the greatest strength results.

Rule #4: Train the Torso with Low Reps

Despite what many people believe, the midsection responds best to low repetition, highly strenuous, max effort exercises rather than performing endless sets of high-rep crunches. Low rep, heavy core strength movements are the way forward if you want to build a solid midsection that will rival the marvelous Greek statues residing in museums today—those with thick, muscular, and ripped obliques and abdominals. Choose variations of exercises that effectively hit the core and keep you in the 3-10 repetition range for the biggest benefit.

Rule #5: Train Your Glutes

Along with the deep postural muscles of the core, the glutes are often extremely deficient in strength compared to how strong they could potentially become. The glutes should be the strongest and most muscular part of the human body; however, they are often neglected in many modern training routines (which is mind boggling because they are truly essential for unleashing serious athletic power, maintaining healthy posture, and preventing lower back pain). Train your glutes—they work in synergy with so many muscles of the midsection, and I would go so far as saying that they are in fact part of your core.

Rule #6: Use a Progressive Approach to Core Training

The problem with most athlete’s core training is that there’s no progression to speak of, aside from simply "do more reps" or "add more weight." However, that’s not always possible. Use a variety of exercises in your core training ranging from leg raises, static strength holds, plank variations, get ups, windmills, and bent presses (just to name just a few). Amongst those listed, you’ll find a number of variations of each, ranging from beginner to very advanced in difficulty.

Using the same old exercises week-in and week-out is just asking for stagnation. You won’t get anywhere and, more than that, you’ll end up with an overuse injury if you perform the same exercises in the exact same way every single week. A progressive approach to core training allows you to use a number of variations and to get stronger using familiar movement patterns, allowing for more significant strength gains and less risk of injury.

Rule #7: Train Your Core with Intensity           

Too many gym goers train their core with little to no intensity and a serious lack of direction. You’ll probably see more relentless intensity at a knitting competition (not sure if that’s actually a thing, but you get the idea). Meatheads will walk into a gym and train the ever-loving shit out of the bench press, curl away for donkeys, and smash their delts into oblivion, too. And a powerlifter will work diligently on his squat and deadlift. But how often do you see someone in a gym literally attacking his core training with as much relentless desire and serious intent as he does with his other favorite parts of training?

Come on people, the midsection is the core of it all—the key to unleashing ruthless strength and reaching your true athletic potential. Show it some love and train it hard. Stop approaching core training like it is a chore. Man up and attack your next core training session with malicious intent and go hard. Unless you’re willing to put in the work, you’re always going to get subpar results.

Do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

For more core training ideas that you can implement into your training right away, check out my video below that demonstrates various leg raise progressions.


Doing a crunch or a sit up is NOT one of them.