151106 – Core, Abs, and Functional Movement

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I’m a stickler for terminology.  Differences in the definition of certain terms tends to lead to confusion.  Specifically the oly lift terminology tends to leave many people befuddled (is that even a word?).  I’ve attempted to clarify the terms “Power” and “Hang” in reference to starting and catching positions HERE , also I’ve also condemned the terms “squat clean” and “squat snatch”… it nauseates me just typing it… which I’d also like to add to that list.  There are two overused terms in the fitness industry I feel have run their course and should be removed from our vocabulary altogether… the terms “core” and “abs”.  These words are thrown around like some mysterious thing we’re all striving for to attain great fitness.  Using these terms in the CF circle is as embarrassing as the terms “leg day”, or “back and bi day” in my opinion… it’s like we’re isolating the body into parts.  This is not a rant, but merely my perspective on a couple of overemphasized pieces of the fitness-puzzle.  Hopefully my perspective is a legitimate analysis and not some subconscious bitterness that I don’t have my ultra-runner’s six-pack anymore… well, it’s still there, it’s just covered up with a 6-pack of Outlaw recovery beers, some bloody ribeyes, and some multiple PRs in lifting.

To begin with, the “core” and the “abs” are NOT the same thing.  Many trainers misuse the term “core” when specifically meaning the “abs”.  When trainers speak of said “core” they are, or should be referring to the torso… everything besides your arms, legs, and head (the extremities).  These being your spinal erectors (both internal and external), all four layers of the abdominal musculature (not just the rectus abdominus…aka 6 pack), the diaphragm, iliopsoas, the glutes, lats, traps, rhomboids, serratus anterior, pecs, and the multitude of muscles in the shoulder girdle.  These muscles work together to stabilize the spine, scapula, and limbs during multidimensional complex movements.  I’m not talking about Russian obliques, ab-master, or any of the other ridiculous so-called tummy-flattening nonsense.   The movements I’m referring to are NOT isolated to one or two particular muscle groups, and they may have to change the position of the body many times in one movement… this is why having a strong torso is so important… it’s your base for force exertion.  For example… the TGU is considered by some a “core” exercise (if done properly that is).  It is true, the abs are involved, but this movement requires the athlete to function as ONE PIECE… coordinating many muscle groups starting from the torso and radiating outward to the extremities through very technical and specific dimensions while manipulating an external weight.  Functional yes, but you aren’t going to get a 6-pack doing a butt load of TGUs.  BTW, people with well developed muscular torso usually have thicker midsections than the 6 pack wielding ones.

Secondly, a tiny waist with ripped “abs”, no matter how sexy you might think they are, for the majority of us non-elite Froning-wanna-bes are at best indicative of either… 1) an underfed athlete, or 2) an athlete who does chronic cardio… I should know, I had an awesome 6 pack when I was running 80-100miles/week… while simultaneously accumulating more injuries in a few years than the rest of my athletic life combined I might add.  Both of these examples are descriptions of the accident-prone and over-trained athlete.  Oh, if your main goal is to have a 6 pack, you aren’t going to get it doing 1000 crunches a day.  “Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.”  A. Hughes

Just like we should be striving to blur the distinction between strength training and cardio, we should be striving to find balance in our body composition and the body “parts” we train.  Stop focussing on isolating movements to what body part it trains… instead, use the olympic lifts and gymnastics to not only strengthen your entire body as unit, but to also train coordination and agility.  Stop worrying about calories, saturated fat, and the bathroom scale… instead, keep your diet simple… eat as clean as conveniently possible, no sugar, and earn your carbs.  You have to find a doable regimen of diet and exercise that we’ll actually stick to… making it too demanding is a sure fire way to fall off the wagon.

Most newcomers to CF are shocked when during a week there are two, three, or even five workouts in a row with some form of squatting involved… but usually the type of squatting is mixed up.  “What?  We’re squatting again?  We did legs yesterday… and the day before!”  Or they may freak out when they see a trainer (ie. me) eating a Whataburger and drinking chocolate milk.  We have to get out of the old Muscle and Fitness magazine mindset.  Although the 80’s brought about great leaps and bounds placing fitness as a priority to the general population, the Joe Weider/Swarzenegger-era left its indelible imprint on how we should be “doing fitness”.  The 80’s (where many of us learned how to workout) was characterized by the typical body-building protocol of a bulking period where overfeeding, alternated isolated muscle exercises, and then a cutting-phase of underfeeding and training to failure to produce a pumped-up muscular yet lean (and often weak) physique.  What most people don’t understand is this type of training does not necessarily produce a strong, fit, or even healthy athlete.

Whew, sorry… to wrap this up, we should start thinking of the body as ONE PIECE instead of isolated parts.  Life and nature makes no distinction… escaping a bear doesn’t require isolating muscle groups. We should be training for LIFE.  GPP… general physical preparedness… being ready to pick up your kids and run out of a burning building, carrying in all your groceries in one trip, climbing 5 flights of stairs, ready to push your buddy’s dead car off the road, ready to unload a pickup load of horse-feed, or pull your wife out of the way of a car that jumped the curb.  Learn and master lifts that require complex movements… and then get strong in them… and then do them faster.  Feed your body when its hungry with quality food… who cares what the bathroom scales say.  And if your waist or thigh size increases an inch during a squat cycle who TF cares?  “Last year’s baggy pants are this year’s skinny-jeans.” A. Wilson.  Or as Cornelius (aka TD) says in Fight Club looking at a Calvin Klein underwear model on a billboard… “Is that what a real man looks like?”


1) Snatch from knee
1×5@50%, 1×5@60%, 1×5@65%, 2×5@70%

2) Split jerk
1×5@50%, 1×5@60%, 1×5@65%, 2×5@70%


1) Clean grip lift off
1×5@50%, 1×5@60%, 1×5@70%, 1×5@75%, 1×5@80%

2) Back squat
1×5@50%, 1×5@60%, 1×5@65%, 2×5@70%




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