CrossFit workouts demand that your entire body perform in sync. There are no isolation movements. Your upper and lower body must be on the same page in order to safely perform an exercise. What’s the link between the two halves of the body? The core.
All movement originates from the core. If you have a weak core, you won’t be able to properly perform many of the Olympic-based lifts in CrossFit. But more importantly, you’ll be putting yourself at risk for injury.
If you want maximize your performance and results during CrossFit workouts, your core must be a priority. Strengthening the core goes beyond sit-ups. Let’s take a look at the muscles that comprise the core, the benefits of having a strong core, and easy ways to improve core strength.
WHAT IS “THE CORE?”
Before we jump into the benefits of a strong core in CrossFit workouts, let’s be clear on what the term “core” refers to. Most people believe the core refers to the front of their abdominals or the glory muscles. This is only one part of what makes up the core. The major muscles that form the entire core are as follows:
Rectus Abdominus: The classic six-pack ab muscles. This long strip of muscle is located front and center.
Transverse Abdominus: The deepest layer of muscle tissue in the core, the transverse abdominis is located beneath the rectus abdominus and it runs from your hips, across your ribs, and wraps around. You can think of it like a belt of muscle.
Internal and External Obliques: This is muscle tissue that runs along your ribs.
Multifidus: A thin muscle, especially when compared to the transverse abdominis, that runs along the spine and helps to stabilize it.
Erector Spinae: Another spine-based muscle, the erector spinae does more than stabilize, it also allows you to rotate and twist from side to side.
Pelvic Floor Muscles: Located within the pelvis bone, these muscles are important for bladder control. (helps us avoid urinary/bowel related accidents)
While these are the primary muscles that make up the core, the glutes, hip flexors, and lower back must also be taken into account during workouts to ensure well-balanced strength and stability.
BENEFITS OF CORE STRENGTH IN CROSSFIT
Targeting your core brings about the obvious benefit of having a lean and sexy stomach; one that will get you plenty of attention during beach season. Outside of aesthetics, having a strong core has a number of functional benefits, especially for your CrossFit workouts.
Eliminates Over-Compensation: Since the core is the link for the upper and lower body, you’ll find that muscle overcompensation decreases. When a stronger muscle begins to pick up the slack for a weaker muscle, this is called overcompensation. Striking up a better balance between muscle groups means you won’t have to worry about a lagging body part for strength or aesthetics.
Helps Control Functional Movements: As mentioned above, all movement originates from the core. What’s more, there are many exercises that rely on the core for balance. In order to master functional movements and all CrossFit exercises such as the wall handstand or clean and press, you need core strength. Focusing on strengthening your core will ensure you’re able to complete your WOD without an issue.
Lower Risk of Injury: Most importantly, when you have a strong core, you lower your risk of injury. CrossFit workouts are no joke. They rely on many Olympic-style lifts that can easily cause harm when performed incorrectly. A strong core ensures your body is able to bare the load and stabilize during these exercises.
HOW TO IMPROVE CORE STRENGTH
You can identify all of the muscles of your core, and you know why it’s so important to put core as a top priority during your workouts. So how can you improve your core strength?
Emphasize the Pause and Contraction: Although CrossFit is fast-paced, when you are performing a core workout, you should emphasize the pause and contraction phases of the exercise. For example, take your time lowering your body or a weight and feel the tension across the core muscles. When you get to the isometric portion or pausing part of the lift, stop and squeeze the core muscles, then return to the starting point.
Use Twisting Exercises: One of the best ways to strengthen your core is to perform exercises that involve going through the transverse plane of motion. This means incorporating twisting exercises into your routine such as the woodchopper, which begins above the shoulders and twists across to the other side of the lower body. Not only does this strengthen your core, but it improves functional movement patterns in your daily life such as reaching for a box on a top shelf and twisting to hand it to someone behind you.
Think Beyond Your Abs: As we discussed above, the core is more than just your abs. You want to expand your idea of what you think of as the “core” and include muscles that are just outside this zone. For example, the hip flexors, lower back, and glutes. Incorporating these muscles into your core workouts will help to balance out strength and stability.
BEST CORE STRENGTH EXERCISES
Speaking of core exercises, here are five movements that work the entire core musculature. What’s more, they span across a range of tempos, intensity, and volume.
This silly-named exercise activates almost of the core musculature, and it’s a test of your strength as much as your endurance. Lay on your back with your arms out to your sides and hands firmly on the ground. Bring your feet together and raise your legs straight up towards the sky. Your body will form an “L” shape. Keeping your legs in this position, twist them to the side until they almost touch the floor. Contract the core to bring the legs to the other side. Moving the legs to the left then to the right is one repetition.
The bridge exercise focuses on the glutes, hip flexors, and lower back; however, it still requires the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis. To perform the bridge exercise, lie flat on the floor with your knees bent. Your arms should be at your sides. Tighten your core muscles as you lift your hips toward the sky. Squeeze the glutes to accentuate the lift. Pause at the top of the movement then slowly lower your hips. Do not let your butt touch the ground; instead, go into the next repetition.
An exercise referenced above, the woodchopper takes you through the transverse plane of motion, strengthening your core while improving motor control. Set a cable pulley at high as it will go. Grab the handle with both hands and turn so that your body is side to side with the pulley. Slowly, take the handle across the front of your body and downward. Once your hands reach the opposite side of the lower body, pause and contract the core. Slowly, return to the starting position.
A true test of core strength, stability, and endurance, the plank exercise is intense, but requires no movement. In fact, the last thing you want to do is move. Go into a push-up position with your feet extended behind you. Your upper body should be resting on your forearms. Elevate your hips slightly and focus the contraction in the core. Now hold this pose. Do not let your hips drop; once this happens the exercise is over.
A CrossFit favorite, the burpee combines several movements into one. It’s excellent for improving functional movement patterns in the entire body and it’s great for strengthening the core. From a standing position, kneel down and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Kick your feet back so that you are in a push-up position. Complete one push-up, jump and bring your feet to your hands. Back in a kneeling position, explode from the ground into the air with raised arms. Land softly on your feet. That’s one repetition.
Save this exercise for last when using it in a core workout. Take a seat on the ground or a comfortable chair. Sit up straight with your shoulders back. Take a deep breath from the belly, then exhale as much as you possibly can. Continue exhaling even if it feels like you have nothing left. While you are doing this, pull your belly button in and towards your spine. You’ll feel a tight muscle contraction deep in your core. Focus on this contraction and try to emphasize it even more. Eventually, you’ll run out of breath, and that will conclude one repetition.
CORE STRENGTH WORKOUT
Outside of your CrossFit workouts, try this core strengthening workout:
- Dead Bug: 3 sets of 15 repetitions
- Bridge: 3 x 15
- Woodchopper: 3 x 12
- Plank: 2 x 60 seconds
- Burpees: 2 x 5
- Seated Vacuum: 1 x Failure
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE CORE EXERCISES?
Do you prefer fast-paced core workouts such as the burpee? Or you like tests of endurance and will like the plank? Tell us about it on our Facebook!