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Core stability training

The core training menu system IV

Menus 9 to 10 of Raphael Brandon’s trunk strengthening regime that sustains challenge and beats boredom

The core training menu system enables athletes to follow a prophylactic or rehabilitative core stability and strengthening programme, using a wide variety of movements to maximise adaptations and muscle groups trained.

The system is designed to overcome two widespread problems that sports support professionals encounter in setting core stability training regimes for their clients.

The first is behavioural. Core stability exercises can quickly become ‘bore stability’. It takes self-discipline to do 20 to 30 minutes of the same exercises three or more times a week over a long period. As a consequence, adherence can be an issue.

The second problem is physiological. The principles of specificity and progression apply to core work as for any other body training. In my experience it is quite common for an athlete to perform the same core routine over a long period and get very good at four or five movements or ‘holds’. But teach that athlete a new core exercise and they will find it difficult, simply because it’s a new stimulus.

Progression and variety are key to optimising benefits of a strengthening programme. Overall the menus are aimed at athletes who have developed basic transversus recruitment skills and are familiar with a number of core exercises. The scheme offers a challenging programme, which covers all the trunk and pelvic muscles and runs from basic recruitment to very advanced strength movements.

The system contains 10 exercise menus, each using a single piece of training apparatus. The first two menus (SIB 54) dealt with floor work, static and dynamic. Menus 3 and 4, in SIB 55, covered Swiss ball exercises, static and dynamic. Menus 5 to 8 appeared in SIB 56, covering work with the weighted pulley machine and weighted medicine balls.

The two final menus, 9 and 10, are superadvanced ‘high force’ trunk exercise and will not be appropriate for all athletes, if they lack the necessary core conditioning and strength. They are aimed at athletes who want to develop advanced strength – but only as part of a broader (and generally lower-level) regime: you simply cannot sustain working your trunk muscles at such intensity over an extended period.

Coaches, therapists and athletes should set the number of sets and repetitions for each exercise according to the usual principles. The therapist or coach should select the most relevant menus for the athlete to use in rotation. Thus, if the athlete is using eight menus and doing four units of core training per week, over the course of a fortnight they will perform each menu once. This will ensure that the athlete works all the muscles in a variety of ways, using different pieces of equipment.

Menu 9: Resistance-based

The aim of these three exercises is to progress the loading in order to build high-level trunk muscle strength. These exercises can be performed in the 5- to 10- repetition range with a suitably difficult weight for this number of reps. As the athlete gets stronger the progression should prioritise an increase in weight rather than an increase in the number of reps. Overall, these exercises are very advanced

Crunch with weight


Overview: The standard isolated abdominal exercise with increased load

Level Advanced

Muscles targeted: Abdominals

Technique: Perform the crunch in the usual way: knees bent, low back flat, head up and looking forward. Curl the shoulders up and down using just the abdominals. The weight (medicine ball, dumbbell or barbell weight plate) should be held above or behind the head. Arms are fixed, all they do is hold the weight in place. Do not use arms to move the weight relative to head as the crunch is performed. Keeping the elbows out helps to achieve this Perform 5 to 10 reps, 2 to 3 sets

Progression: Increase weight, maintaining the range of 5 to 10 reps per set

Reverse hypers

Overview: An excellent hip and back extension exercise to which it is very simple to add load

Level: Advanced

Muscles targeted: Erector spinae Gluteals

Technique: Lie on your front on a horizontal bench, with hips just off the end of the bench. Grasp bench legs firmly for support. Your legs should be straight with a dumbbell between the ankles for resistance. Squeezing the gluteals, extend hips and lift legs and the dumbbell off the floor. Stop when your back is slightly hyper-extended and hips are fully extended. Lower slowly until feet are just off the floor and continue Perform 8 to 10 reps, 2 to 3 sets

Progression: Increase weight, maintaining the range of 8-10 reps per set

Reverse crunch with weight


Overview: This is a great exercise, as it requires good coordination and strength. EMG research shows that the obliques as well as the abdominals work very hard during this exercise, making it excellent value

Level: Advanced

Muscles targeted: Abdominals Obliques

Technique: Lie on back with hands behind head and elbows out to the sides. Knees should be bent and heels close to buttocks. Hold weight between your legs. Initiate the movement by curling the pelvis upwards (flattening the back into the floor) and then continue to use the abs to pull the low back and pelvis off the floor. This is the bit that requires good coordination, as the temptation is to kick with the legs and pull the hips up with the hip flexors. Learn to focus on the abs before you add weight, as if you do this strictly it is very tough, especially for women (whose pelvises are relatively heavier) Perform 5 to 10 reps, 2 to 3 sets

Progression: Increase weight, maintaining the range of 5 to 10 reps per set

Menu 10: Hanging bar

The aim of these two exercises is to work the abdominals as hard as possible with very advanced, gymnastic-style movements. Reasonable upper body strength is required for these exercises

Hanging leg lifts

Overview: This exercise requires the athlete to lift the full weight of their legs and (if possible) their pelvis, while hanging from a bar. Anyone who can perform these movements well through a good range of motion has achieved good strength

Level: Advanced

Muscles targeted: Abdominals Obliques Hip flexors

Technique: Hang from a bar with arms straight. Lift knees, bringing them up as high as possible. At the top of the movement the knees should be near the chest and pelvis should be curled upwards (low back flexed). This extra curl of the pelvis ensures that the abdominals are working maximally. Do not kick legs up or swing the body excessively. Simply draw up knees, crunching as you lift. It is important to feel that the abdominals are doing the lion’s share of the work rather than the hip flexors or quads

Perform 5 to 10 reps, 2 to 3 sets

Progression: Perform the same exercise with straight legs, lifting them up to 90 degrees in front of you, curling the pelvis at the top of the movement

Windscreen wipers

Overview: The ultimate abs-buster. Anyone who can do 10 reps of this exercise with good technique has a very strong core!

Level: Super advanced

Muscles targeted: Abdominals Obliques Hip flexors

Technique: Hang from bar with arms straight. Lift legs up in the air until feet are at approx head height. Maintaining the height of the lift, take the legs from side to side in an arc. The movement will look like a windscreen wiper, moving from side to side. Aim for at least 45 degrees of movement to each side

Perform 5 to 10 reps, 2 to 3 sets

Progression: The straighter the legs, the harder the exercise. Increasing the range of movement to each side also makes it tougher


Overview: Another beauty! Lots of strength required to control this movement, only for the very strong

Level: Super advanced

Muscles targeted: Abdominals Obliques Hip flexors

Technique: Lie flat and raise yourself up to a shoulder stand position, holding on to a bench/table leg/partner’s leg with your hands above your head. Establish a fully extended hip and leg position and then begin to lower your body down slowly to the floor. The body should move in an arc as a single unit (no sagging in the back, or bending at the hips or knees), lowering under control from vertical to just above horizontal.

Gripping firmly for stability, lift your body back up into shoulder stand, again keeping everything straight and aligned in a single unit.

Slow and controlled movement on the way down will help, and a maximal contraction of everything will get you back up.

Perform 3 to 5 reps, 2 to 3 sets

Progression:  I think that’s tough enough

Core stability training