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Five Strategies for an Iron Core

By Josh Henkin

Core training is the cool term, from athletes to grandmothers, it seems everyone seems to know about the term, core training. Yet, very few have a true understanding that the core is more than just simple abdominal training. Proper core training can fit into the scheme of real functional training without crazy circus tricks, it can be scientific and hardcore at the same time!

Let’s first examine the challenge of training the abdominal area correctly. Most fail to realize the abdominal muscles have nine nerve innervations. To put this in perspective, most muscles have two nerve innervations. By having so many nerves running to the abdominal area it gives it a lot of freedom of movement. Just simply think about all the different patterns and movements that abdominals can produce in many different ranges of motion.

In relationship to training this means we have to train the body in many different patterns and challenge the coordination of the trunk. This will be why we see exercises that create rotation, some that resist movement, and then some that cause flexion (or forward bending of the body).

Too many people forget that the core also includes the glutes. While not quite as flashy or popular as abdominal training the glutes are essential in proper back health. Often back pain that people experience is related to instability and damage to the sacroiliac joint (SI). Because the glutes control a lot of pelvic movements, having strength in this area will help prevent damage to the SI joint by increasing stability.

The glutes additionally take away stress from the low back by being the power center of most explosive movements. When fast, dynamic, explosive movements such as kicking, punching, and throwing are performed the glutes are largely the bridge that helps create the force but is the bridge to the trunk from the lower body as well.

Jungle Gym Fallouts:

Fallouts represent stabilization training of the core. Having the arms extend in front of the body increases stress on the core to maintain posture while the stress increases. This requires the entire core area to tighten to keep alignment as leverage inceases.


Begin in a push-up position with the shoulders directly over the hands. Hold the shoulders in a packed position with tension in the underarm. Press the toes into the ground and actively squeeze the glutes. Take a deep breathe and hold tension through the abdominal area, slowly extend the arms overhead. Only take the arms out in front as far as there is no change in spinal alignment.

Sandbag Shoveling:

Shoveling is a very dynamic rotational movement that must have proper pivoting of the feet to have the glutes assist the trunk rotational muscles. Relying solely on the trunk places unnecessary stress on the spine so activating and taking advantage of power in the hips is needed to prevent any back injuries during rotation. Sandbag Shoveling is unique because you can only perform the drill well if you learn how to produce and retransmit force, something that most rotational drills fail to teach.


Begin with the sandbag in front of the body with knees bent slightly. With light force, begin to swing the bag from right to left. As the speed and amplitude of bag starts to build increase the amount of pivoting at the feet.

Kettlebell Front Squats

This exercise truly allows just about anybody to benefit from front squatting. Front squatting is often known as one of the best core exercises because it is a challenge for the core to resist the forward pull of the weigh as well as moving in a great range of motion with the whole body. Unfortunately, many can not perform the classic front squat because of flexibility restrictions. Kettlebells remove this problem and allow many lifters experience the strength of core training through front squats.


With bells in the rack position perform a deep as possible front squat. Keep elbows tucked during the entire movement, maintain weight on the heels.

Jungle Gym Side Plank

Lateral stability is often overlooked in performance and fitness training. Learning to utilize the glutes and obliques is critical in prevention of injuries and improved performance. Placing one in a position where they MUST use these muscles and cheating is almost impossible makes this movement a staple.


Begin by lying on side with feet suspended in Jungle Gym straps. Place elbow underneath the shoulder and press through the hip closest to the ground and feet. Perform a brief pause at the top of the bridge and actively squeeze the glutes.

Sandbag Shoulder to Shoulder Press

Pressing weight above head has always been a staple of the world’s strongest lifters. Only recently was the bench press even a thought in strength tests. Because overhead pressing requires the whole body to be an integrated unit, this is truly a whole body lift.

You can press any number of tools above one’s head, but the shoulder to shoulder press is unique. In the shoulder to shoulder press one arm tends to produce the force while the other will receive and decelerate the weight. In addition, there is a constant change in the center of mass for the lifter making one learn how to stabilize more efficiently and effectively.


Hold the bag on one shoulder, gripping in the middle of the sandbag. By pressing through the heels, squeezing the glutes, and tensing the lats, press the bag up and over the crown of the head to the opposing shoulder. As the weight begins to come down to the other shoulder pull the weight down.

Kettlebell Renegade Row

This drill has quickly become a favorite of many coaches and lifters because you can really feel the core working even at lower loads. However, many overlook the fact that it is a great indicator of underactive glutes and a weak abdominal area. When the butt hikes up in the air or the foot starts to rise off the ground this means proper stabilization and integration has been lost.


Begin the kettlebells underneath the shoulders and the handles slightly facing each other. Dig into the toes of the feet (wider base makes it easier), lock the legs to squeeze the glutes, keep the body in one straight line. Pack the shoulders by holding them down and back, press one arm into the handle of the bell while bracing the abdominals for the pull with the opposing arm. Do not let butt hike upwards or the feet leave the ground.

I guarantee that if you consistently implement a minimum of two or more of these drills into your routines you will find that you do develop that iron clad core. This will result in less back injuries and greater performance in your chosen sport, even if it is kettlebell training!

Josh Henkin, CSCS is the creator of Sandbag Fitness Systems and “The Ultimate Sandbag”. He can be reached at


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