Regardless of your fitness level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced) having a structure that you can rely on for all of your workouts really helps optimize your training.
When creating a core workout routine, you need a basic design model. This design model can be used as a template for a variety of exercises and programs that best suit your individual needs and preferences.
A core routine has four design components you need to consider:
- Moving in all directions
- Isolation holds
- Inner core work
- Exercises for all the major muscles
The following template provides an easy fill-in-the-blank format.
DESIGN FORMAT TEMPLATE: Your routine should contain at least one exercise for each of the five areas.
- Flexion movements
- Extension movements
- Crossing and rotation movements
- Glute and hip movements
- Combo moves: moves that involve more than one area
BUILDING A ROUTINE
To build a routine, you need to think about how you want to shape and strengthen your core area. This will depend on your individual needs and goals:
- Weak areas
- The look you want to achieve
- Sport-specific goals, and so forth
This can get tricky if you’re training for a specific sport. You may need to emphasize certain moves for your sport. This does not mean, that you neglect training any area outlined in the design model. This would eventually lead to an imbalance.
The following principles will help you make smart design choices.
Your routine needs to work the important core muscles and train your body in all directions. If you have strong areas, keep training them but emphasize the weak areas, bringing them into balance. When one muscle or muscle group becomes considerably stronger than another, the potential for injury is greatly increased.
Train your weak areas first, when you are fresh. Also, shuffle the template order. For example, don’t always work forward (flexion) and backward (extension) movements first.
The simplest way to think about intensity is, “How quickly do I reach failure in an exercise?” The faster you reach failure, the greater the intensity. Let’s look at an example using the squat. On your first set, you do 20 reps with 40 pounds. On your second set, you do 5 reps with 100 pounds. This second set has greater intensity, using 100 pounds. You reach failure much quicker. There are three main ways to increase intensity:
- Difficulty level of an exercise;
- Amount of resistance or weights used in the exercise;
- Increasing or decreasing the amount of rest time between exercises and sets,
Volume is the combination of the total number of repetitions and sets. You don’t want to increase volume and intensity at the same time. When you increase intensity, your volume needs to decrease, and vice versa. For example, you would not want to add a difficult exercise, like Supermans with Rotation, and increase your number of sets in your routines. Just add one challenging element at a time.
Variety is the most neglected training principle. Training needs to be varied to:
- Prevent overtraining through receptive body use;
- Minimize training plateaus;
- Alleviate the boredom and monotony.
When you first start working your core, it’s easier to shock your muscles an cause positive adaptations. As you become more advanced, you will need to change your workouts more frequently.
The two basic ways to create variety and adaption are intensity and volume. We discussed the three main factors for adjusting intensity. Now let’s look for ways to increase volume. You add volume by:
- Increasing the number of reps
- Increasing the number of sets
- Increasing the number exercises
Adjusting intensity and volume causes your body to adapt positively to the new stimuli.
GUIDELINE FOR USING INTENSITY AND VOLUME
There are number of ways to work with intensity and volume to add variety to your workouts. As a general rule of thumb, you want to employ these tools judiciously and you want your choices to fit your goals and training needs.
Here are some guidelines:
Add only one variation element at a time. For example, don’t increase weight on an exercise and decrease your rest time at the same time; this would be adding two intensity elements at once. By doing either one of these moves, you challenge your body to adapt and grow stronger. By adding both, you overstress your body and give away all your tricks at once. You want slow, steady progress, not burnout or injury.
Fit your choices to your needs. If you’re training for a sport that requires explosive movements with rest time between efforts, like golf, then you don’t need to do a lot of high-volume work. This doesn’t mean you don’t do any high-volume work, but you emphasize explosive rotational movements.
Trying for a variety of energy systems. You need to train your full range of energy systems, from explosive to endurance. This means mixing your workouts between high-intensity days, medium-intensity days, and high-volume days. Variety should always be focused to serve your goals, not added simply for its own sake. With all these energy systems you work to a breakdown in technique. The only difference is that on high-intensity days you reach this breakdown faster than on high-volume days. Here is a general repetition scheme for the different energy systems:
- Explosive: 1 to 5 reps
- Medium: 5 to 10 reps
- Endurance: 10 to 30 reps (and beyond)
In the second part of this two-part series, we’ll build on what we’ve just covered.