Build a Strong Functional Core with These 3 Exercises

You can usually tell the shape someone is in by looking at one area of their body. The health benefits of a strong, functional core go well beyond simply aesthetics. A strong, functional core makes life in the gym much easier. It also improves posture, decreases the chances of having back issues, makes activities more enjoyable and improves balance and stability.

“Sports and other pleasurable activities, (like) golf, tennis or other racquet sports, biking, running, swimming, baseball, volleyball, kayaking, rowing and many other athletic activities are powered by a strong core.”

Harvard Medical School

Working to Develop a Stronger, Functional Core

Let’s look beyond diet for a moment. Good nutrition is key if a 6-pack is a goal. It is important to work the various movement patterns that the core – not just your abs – can perform. Speaking of movement patterns, the body has seven basic movement patterns. These are pull, push, squat, lunge, hinge, rotation and gait.

It is important to work these specific movement patterns as you train the core. The core is made up of 29 different muscle groups. The goal is to work the core from various angles, incorporating those specific muscle groups. These muscle groups are responsible for spinal flexion, extension, rotational movements, lateral flexion and finally core stabilization.

What is Core Stabilization?

Core stability is the ability to maintain equilibrium and control of your spine and pelvic region during movement. When the word stabilization first comes to mind, you may render up a vision of a plank exercise. Yes, performing a plank with its various progressions, will improve core stabilization. There are other great exercises that also require maintaining a stable core as you execute the exercise. Two such movements are Pallof Press and Dead Bug. Each one will help you to develop a stronger more functional core.

Pallof Press

The Pallof Press is considered an anti-rotational exercise. This is because you ‘re trying to prevent the body from rotating as you perform the movement. When you do this exercise, you end up working the deep core stabilizers, as you engage the core. The exercise can be done from either a standing, kneeling or half-kneeling position. The exercise is typically performed off a cable machine. You can also use exercise bands or tubing but the exercise may not be as challenging. The Jefit app offers a progression to this great exercise, called Cable Pallof Press with Rotation.

Dead Bug

The same core stabilizers needed for this exercise are also used for the other exercises mentioned here. The difference is you’re supine and do not need any exercise equipment. Core stabilization exercises should be part of any exercise plan. They get even better whenever you add movement to them, like this Dead Bug exercise seen on Jefit Instagram.

Do Abdominal Rollouts for a Stronger More Functional Core

One thing is for sure, ab rollouts, will definitely challenge your core. Use an ab wheel or substitute with a barbell or EZ-curl bar (with a pair of weight plates). It is important to keep a neutral pelvis during this and all the exercises mentioned. To get the most out of this exercise and its variations, perform the rollout in a slow, controlled manner. At the end of the rollout, pause for 1-2 seconds before pulling back in. The Jefit app offers this exercise in the form of a Barbell Rollout (kneeling) or standing.

Final Thoughts

There are many different core exercises available to you on the Jefit app. Finding the specific exercises that work for your needs and the activities you do can be challenging. Moving forward, try to choose core exercises that involve the different movement patterns discussed here. Finally, adding one or all three of these core exercises will help build a stronger more functional core.

Use Jefit App to Record & Track All Your Exercises

Try Jefit app, named best app for 2020 and 2021 by PC MagazineMen’s HealthThe Manual and the Greatist. The app comes equipped with a customizable workout planner and training log. The app also has ability to track data, offer audio cues, and has a feature to share workouts with friends. Take advantage of Jefit’s exercise database for your strength workouts. Visit our members-only Facebook group. Connect with like-minded people, share tips, and advice to help get closer to reaching your fitness goals. Try one of the new interval-based workouts and add it to your weekly training schedule. Stay strong with Jefit as you live your fitness lifestyle.

5 Squat Variations to Improve Your Training

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Squats should be a staple in every gym goer’s training plan. They are an ideal lower body exercise that can also work your core and other parts of your body if performed correctly. There are many squat variations that you can try, that each has their own benefits. Whether you are a beginner squatter or seasoned veteran, here are some of the squat variations to add to your routine.

5 Beginner to Advanced Squat Variations

1. Prisoner Squat

The prisoner squat is one of the simplest squat variations because it just uses your bodyweight. It is a great staple exercise for anyone to add to their regime, especially for beginners starting out. It is a lower body workout that not only strengthens your legs and glutes but can also work your core and shoulders.

Prisoner squats can also be done anywhere as you are only using your bodyweight! So you can fit them in during an ad break, or even at work.

To prisoner squat, make sure that your feet are planted firmly on the ground, hip-width apart. Your weight should be distributed evenly between them. Engage your core as you pull your shoulder blades slightly together.

Bend at the knees and lower yourself to the ground as if you are sitting on a chair. Remember to keep your torso upright. Keep lowering yourself until you are parallel to the ground, and if you can, go beyond that parallel line. Make sure that your knees do not drop inward as you do so; keep your knees rotated out.

Stand up again by straightening your legs. And repeat.

To make the standard prisoner squat more challenging, try holding the lower squat position and pulsing. Now you can really feel that burn!

2. Goblet Squat

Another great squat variation is the goblet squat. This is similar to the prisoner squat but with added weight. You can use a dumbbell or kettlebell.

Hold the dumbbell or kettlebell up close to your chest as you squat. If you are starting out, start with a lighter weight, just to get used to the movement. Then keep increasing your weight as you progress.

This squat will not only work that lower body but it can really work that core strength. It can also help prepare you for the front squat, which we will talk about soon!

3. High Bar Back Squat

This is the classic squat that people tend to gravitate towards. It is a comfortable place for people to hold the bar.This squat variation uses a barbell that is placed across your back on the trapezius muscles on top of the shoulders.

During the high bar back squat, make sure that the bar remains aligned with your midfoot. Your torso needs to remain as upright as possible to keep the weight from shifting forward.

The high bar back squat is a squat variation that places emphasis on the quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and glutes. There is less reliance on the hamstrings. However, compared to other squat variations, such as the low bar squat, you won’t be able to squat as heavy.

If you want to make it harder, then try pausing for a couple of seconds at the bottom of the squat before coming up. The high bar squat is also great to help those who do weightlifting (the snatch and clean & jerk).

4. Low Bar Back Squat

Another squat variation is the low bar back squat. This squat places the barbell on lower on the upper back than the high bar back squat position—on the posterior deltoid. It is only a slight shift in position of the bar but it does result in different body parts being used in the movement.

In this position, your torso should lean forward even more. This offloads some of the weight on your back and to help keep you balanced. It also means that you will be able to squat heavier than the high bar squat. You have less range of motion because your torso will be more horizontal.

Your feet should be wider than that of a high bar squat, as well as your hands. To help lean your chest forward, your hips will also be pushed back.

This version of the squat works the hamstrings and glutes. It also places more emphasis on the posterior chain. If you have knee problems, then the low bar is a good option as there is less stress on the knees.

5. Front Squat

The front squat works the anterior aspect of your body, emphasizing the quads and core. It uses the barbell but instead of placing it on your back, it is placed in front of you, resting on your front deltoids and collarbone. Your arms can be in two different positions:

Classic Grip: Place your right-hand fingertips under the bar on your right side, and do the same for the left. The number of fingertips you use to hold the bar depends on your preference. Keep your elbows up so your upper arms are parallel to the ground. This position can be difficult for those with limited wrist mobility.
Cross Grip: Your right hand can hold the bar on your left shoulder and vice versa. Your arms will be in a cross position, touching opposite hands to shoulders. If you have limited wrist mobility, you may prefer this grip.

As you squat, try to keep your elbows in and up and your knees out.

The squat is a really great move to include in your training. With these squat variations ranging from beginner to advanced, you can pick and choose which ones suit your fitness goal and level so you are not missing out on these great benefits.

Track Your Squats With Jefit

Jefit is a workout log app that has an extensive library. With the ability to mix and match your training, including different kinds of squats, you can really maximize your gym workouts and make the most of them. These are just 5 of the many kinds of squats you can do—check out Jefit’s squat library here to find more!

Have you tried any of these different kinds of squats? Which ones do you like? Let us know in the comments, we would love to know!

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Want to Get Stronger in the Gym? Develop Core Stability

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One of the leading back experts in the world is Stuart McGill, PhD. He has spent his career, spanning more than 30-years, researching spinal biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada. His core stability program, known as the Big 3, is one of the most often performed core exercise programs. His routine is so good, we are going to show you what’s involved.

What is Core Stability Anyway?

When the body is inactive, muscle weakness occurs along with joint laxity which can lead to instability according to Dr. McGill. Core stability is the ability of the stabilizers in the lumbar-pelvic area to maintain the correct trunk and hip posture during static and dynamic movement. The stabilizers refer to the following muscle groups that make-up this important area. These are the transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, and lumbar multifidus. Also playing a critical role are the spinal erectors and rectus abdominis. The key muscle in terms of spine stabilization, however, is the deep transverse abdominis. Why is all this important? Simply stated, if the area is strong, you move better. In essence, when the body has a stable base for the four extremities to perform from, the nervous system allows for greater force development to occur.

What is the McGill Big 3?

Through his research, Dr. McGill determined the combination of the following three exercises were most beneficial for developing core stability. Understand we’re talking muscle endurance here (not strength). The three exercises in his program include the side bridge, a version of the curl-up and a bird dog exercise. Each of the exercises are performed from their basic or beginner level before progressing, over time, to more advanced versions of the exercise. The key to each exercise is locking in with abdominal “bracing” prior to the start of each exercise and maintaining it throughout. Dr. McGill explains that the abdominal brace “enhances stability.” This is done by placing two fingers on both sides of the navel. Your fingers should be a few inches away from the navel, resting on the obliques. Now tighten the abdominal area and you should feel the fingers raise up a bit.

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Side Bridge
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McGill Curl Up
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Bird Dog
SIDE BRIDGE

The bridge or called a side plank by some, is a basic core exercise and is ideal for developing endurance in the core stabilizers like the internal and external obliques. It is also a great exercise to help strengthen the quadratus lumborum, an exercise that helps not only with low back pain but is important for pelvic stabilization too. The side bridge pictured above is considered more of a progression from a basic side bridge performed with knees bent and the arm positioned on hip not raised as seen in the picture. Lift hips off the floor and pause for 10-seconds and repeat for desired repetitions.

CURL UP

The idea behind this type of curl up is to protect the lumbar spine by keep that area flat. This is done by placing the hands under the lumbar curve. Begin by performing abdominal bracing. Once the scapula clear the floor pause for 10-seconds and return to the starting position. Look up towards the ceiling at all times not down at your feet.

BIRD DOG

This is one exercise you may have done while in yoga class. The starting position for the McGill version is to actually not raise the arm. First, perform abdominal bracing. Begin by just raising the extended leg only. The opposite arm can be raised over time as you advance to the next progression. When this becomes easy to do, bring the extended arm down touching the knee of the opposite leg. Hold arm and leg extension for 10-seconds, return and repeat. Perform on both sides.

How Does all this Build Core Stability and Get You Stronger in the Gym?

The easiest way to start thinking about all this is in the vein of “transferring” power throughout the body when training. An underdeveloped or weak core will create a “leak” or an escape of stored energy via the trunk during exercise. We want to utilize 100 percent of this stored energy. An example would be lifting a barbell, dumbbell, medicine ball or kettlebell off the floor and pressing it overhead. When the core stabilizers are not up to par, and abdominal bracing is not utilized, these types of movements become extremely difficult to perform. Further, even if somehow you’re able to perform such an exercise, lacking core integrity, you’ll likely end up using poor body mechanics and a future injury is likely. Stay Strong and try the Big 3 as either a new core routine or as a warm-up prior to strength training.

Exercise Prescription

Exercise Sets & Reps.
1A. Side Bridge 6, 4, 2
1B. Curl Up6, 4, 2
1C. Bird Dog 6, 4, 2
*Perform in a circuit format – 1A, 1B, 1C – for 6 repetitions per set followed by 4, 2 repetitions for subsequent sets.

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