Why Your Core Matters When Weight Training

Published by Sara on

Having a strong core is important for a number of reasons for general health and wellbeing, especially as a female. In weight training it is even more so. Lets look at a few reasons why:

What does the Core do?

Having a strong core is a much deeper and more important issue than simply having a super sexy six-pack. The ‘core’ is a group of muscles and tendons that support the spine, hips and provide stability to these all important structures when we run, walk, swim and lift objects; weight training. These deep stabiliser muscles allow us to move efficiently and pain free and prevent unnecessary compression of the spine and hip complex. 

Signs of a weak Core?

  • Lower back pain– a stronger core helps with vertebrae & disc support
  • Poor posture– your spine and hips are held and supported by the core, both in the upper torso as well as the lower or lumbar thoracic. When the core is weak we have trouble ‘holding ourselves up’
  • Tiredness– Similar to the above, when the core is weak we use more energy to move around, we generally slump our shoulders forward, so collapsing the torso and not being able to breathe full deep breaths. This makes us tired very quickly. A strong core allows us to stand with an aligned spine, move efficiently and control the breath depth and rate more effectively.
  • Poor balance– When our core is weak we have a greater chance of having poor balance, which can lead to injuries from falls or strains from twisting or jarring the limbs. 

How does it become weaker?

Office posture or sitting for long periods, lack of general exercise ( especially strength training) and being post natal, all can have impacts on your core strength, especially the pelvic floor (which is important in women and men).  Chronic stress and trauma can also create shifts in pelvic tilt, tightening hip flexors and impacting posture which can create over activation and weakness in the core and diaphragm, so management of stress and breath are all vitally important to look at before commencing a high intensity training program. 

What can we do to strengthen it? Especially if you HATE crunches.

As a former pro-bodybuilder of over a decade and many championship titles, core training was one of the key focus areas to help prevent injury as well as hone that much desired ripped abs look. I hated doing it, so had to come up with some nifty ways to make sure I included it in my program.

One thing to remember is that you can’t ‘spot reduce fat’ on any area of the body, but you can ‘target condition’ muscle groups, creating that all important lactic acid burn in a ‘zone of muscle’ like your core is a great way to accelerate fat burning and conditioning for strength. 

Your abdominals are a group of muscles that work very hard in your day to day, just moving around, so when weight training, they work even harder to support your spine and lift that extra load. Especially if you are combining functional (multi-joint movement) exercises like:  side lunges into overhead weighted press, or squats into overhead weighted press. Traditional ‘body-builder’ training does not necessarily condition the body and the core as effectively as the ‘functional weight training’ because we need to move the hips and spine through space with the load in order to create an environment for change or strength gain. 

So if you hate working abs doing boring crunches then functional weight training is a great way to condition, tone and strengthen the core and hip complex.  Just 20min, 3 times a week will do wonders and 3-7kg depending on your level is all you need. 

Checkout the video Workout here: https://youtu.be/0RXrbvvgkaA

Here are some other ways:

  • Grab a fit ball and play with balance work;  pikes, hip bridges, planks and balance kneeling on the ball are fun and killer on the core.
  • Invest in a TRX– if you only do the purpose designed core sessions to complete a strength workout, or set a block of sessions (periodise your program) to include this simple fun and brutal contraption, you will notice strength, balance and stability improvements in a matter of a few sessions. Designed by NavySeals to use when a gym was not handy and being injury free of greatest importance, this is a wonderful tool to work core and full body alike and you can take it in your suitcase on holiday.
  • Try a Barre class or mat pilates class with a more dynamic focus, even 1 session a week of targeted sweaty core work, that has a high repetition, low resistance combination of both deep core (the support muscles) and superficial (show muscles) that is fast paced but controlled will teach you about breathe control and condition the area while keeping you engaged. 
  • Little but often: If you find doing core work really tedious, another great way to break the boredom is to make core work a game. 
    • Set you alarm to go off every hour of work and do 4 sets of 20 flutter kicks: 
      • lay on your back with your hands under your pelvis 
      • lift your head and shoulders off the floor lift both legs off the floor on a 45degree angle, flutter kick your legs counting how many you do. As your conditioning improves you will do more with ease. 
    • Every ad break on TV hold a low plant for the length of the ads, depending on how much Tv you watch you will end up getting multiples of 3-5 minutes of plank conditioning for the core.

What impact having a stronger core will have on your lifting?

Having a stronger core is so important for injury prevention and maintaining technique integrity while training. If you are just starting a weight training program, focusing on your core conditioning early will mean that you not only stay safe, but you will progress much faster with your weight lifting and strength gains. As you lift heavier, you will naturally work the core more, so maintaining a deep core conditioning focus means that your efficiency and effectiveness with your lifting will also improve. You will maintain a focus on both the larger muscle groups that move larger lands, but also the smaller support muscles and tissue tat maintain the integrity and alignment of the support structures. This builds a more effective ‘kinetic chain of movement’ making you more efficient, injury free and strong, and if you train simply to look great naked, then thats a guarantee also.

Known as ‘The Figure Genie’, Sara Picken-Brown has over 20 years fitness industry experience. A former professional ballerina, injury forced a career shift toward fitness.  A decade of professional bodybuilding;  23x championship titles, 3x IFBB Australian National Champion, IFBB 5th in the World’s. A shift in focus and passion for greater challenges saw the participation in a 30 day Leadership Intensive with USANavy SEALs over 3 years and a 50hr (3 days no sleep) BUDS Hell Week experience, of which Sara was the only female to complete alongside 24 from the 50 starters. Sara has Coached Olympians, Commonwealth Games champions, helped a number of amateur physique and bodybuilding athletes turn professional, mentored personal trainers to business success. Currently living & working in London.


Sara Picken-Brown has 20 years of Holistic Coaching expertise working with a global client base to transform mind & body. Through specialised yoga, pilates, nutrition & lifestyle planning you with Build self belief | Improve skills in self planning & emotional management | Boost confidence |To heal from injury and/or emotional trauma | Create space for personal growth| London based Coach


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