Core training has been made popular by the media with pictures of washboard abs and tight midsections. Many personal training programs put a lot of emphasis on ab and back work to strengthen the core.

But what is the core really?

Firstly, lets take a look at what the core consists of – The abs, the lower back and the muscles in the pelvis and hip region.

Many experts state that the core is the MOST important part of the body, and that if the core is weak, then you cannot produce force efficiently. This statement is somewhat true. However, the emphasis on why everyone should be solely training this muscle group is flawed.

The truth is this – You are only as strong as your weakest link. Imagine a chain. A chain is only as strong as the rusty link it has in the middle. You can hang a lot of weight on a chain. But the chain will break as the faulty link will give way.

That is the way our body works. And putting a lot of emphasis on core training doesn’t make a stronger and fitter body. You can have a strong midsection, but if your legs are weak, you are only as strong as your legs. Likewise, if you have strong legs, but a weak midsection, you are only as strong as that midsection.

Another misconception is that the core is the abdominal region.

Think about it, how much can a midsection move? Its range of motion is limited and it’s primary purpose is to act like a tree trunk – to keep the body stable. What other muscle is important in this muscle group that is neglected in most “core” programs?

It’s actually, the glutes. Yes, your butt. It’s not just there to make you look good. It’s there to help keep you stable.

Think of  the start of a sprint. Do people start bent over? Or upright? Tennis. Do tennis players start a game upright or bent over? Think of pushing a heavy object, do you push it upright or bent over? Now. Ask yourself why. Apart from a lower centre of gravity, the body activates your butt muscles in a bent over position to start stable. In my opinion, these muscles are very important to generate force efficiently. Maybe the media can’t put up pictures of a person’s behind to promote core training because it is too obscene? Or maybe they are just misinformed.

So what should a training program consist of? The answer – exercises that make you strong all round. There are a plethora of exercises to choose from. However at the PIT, we focus on four major lifts with some other exercises ( Chinups, barbell rows etc ) to support muscle balance and assist us with these lifts.

They are namely

The squat


The Squat is the mother of all leg exercises. It requires the trainee to perform a task that every person is actually capable of. Meaning, it’s not a fancy exercise. We squat whenever we sit and get out of our chairs. Everyone of our trainees squat below parallel. What this means is that they do a squat where the knees bend more than 90 degrees, or where your butt passes your knee height. We call it a full range squat. NOT squatting past 90 degrees does more damage on the knees than most people think. You cause a muscle imbalance by activating the front of your thigh and neglecting the back. This can lead to knee and hip problems. If you can’t squat more than 90 degrees, there are a variety of reasons and solutions to fix this. It is not something that you are born with. PITBull Alison Forrow couldn’t squat low enough at first but ended up coming in second in the Singapore Powerlifting Open in 2013. There is always a solution.

The deadlift


The deadlift is the most efficient exercise to train the muscles in the back of the body. It works the hamstrings ( Back of your legs ), your lower back, your upper back and even the front of your legs doing this lift. It is the simple movement of picking something off the ground. Like many exercises in the gym, the deadlift has been considered “dangerous” in many of today’s gyms. Well, swimming is dangerous if you don’t know how to swim. When done right, the deadlift is a very safe and efficient exercise and everyone, including my 9 year old son can do it. He deadlifts about 1.5 times his bodyweight.

The benchpress


Go to any gym on a Monday and you will see this station hogged by men as Monday is always “chest day”. And yes, girls can do this exercise too. It’s the same mechanics as a pushup but just with a lot more weight. While many other personal trainers argue that a pushup works the “core” and a benchpress doesn’t, remember that we are also doing other exercises to fire up the core, like the squat, deadlift and…

The front press


The front press is a shoulder press using a barbell. The barbell is lifted overhead and pressed above with elbows locked out. This is all done while standing. When standing and pressing overhead, it looks like it solely works the shoulders. But in actual fact, it works a lot more. The muscles in between your shoulder blades help stabilize the weight overhead, while your butt muscles and “core” keep you stable. This is another exercise deemed dangerous by many gyms. But like the deadlift, if done right, it is an exercise that is very efficient in training upper body strength and should be in everyone’s workout plan.

So to sign off, this is what I have to say –

There are no shortcuts, there is only work to be done. Do not buy into hype and just put the work in to get stronger and fitter.Your body will thank you for it.