Core is a popular topic in martial arts. If you didn’t already know this, the core is the source of power. The better your spine is stabilized with strong core muscles, the faster and more forceful your movements and strikes can be. However, core training has frequently been limited to abdominal training and usually involve only planks or crunches. In this article, I discuss the importance of a strong core and the many ways to train it. But first things first:
What is the Core?
Many people mistakenly associate the core with just the abdominal muscles. Abs and core are often used interchangeably but there is a lot more to the core than just the six-pack. Besides the abs, core muscles also include the obliques, lower back, glutes and hips. In order to have a strong core, every muscle that makes up the core cannot be neglected.
The core muscles stabilize, move and rotate the spine. The cores muscles provide support, strength and flexibility for the spine. Without strong core muscles, the spine can be injured due to poor posture or body mechanics, particularly in activities involving heavy loads or fast movements.
Importance of a Strong Core
Maybe all you want is just a set of shredded six pack but there are also plenty of other reasons to build up your core strength. Especially as a martial artist, you simply cannot do without a strong core. Here are some benefits of core training:
Backache is a modern epidemic that is experienced by most people at some point in their lives. Some of the causes of backache include bad walking/sitting posture, high heels, exercise-induced strain, poor sleeping posture, and lifting heavy objects. The root cause, however, stems from having a weak core. If you are prone to lower backache from training Muay Thai, this can be attributed to inadequate core strength. This benefit alone should have you running to start your core training right away!
Improves Stability and Balance
A poor form in balance is a disadvantage as you can lose your footing easily from a poorly executed kick and get thrown down easily in a clinch. Losing your balance after landing or missing a strike can lead you to a potentially vulnerable position in a fight or spar. A stable core implies better balance which can lead to faster and stronger kicks, quicker counter-attack and not falling on your ass that easily. That’s already half the battle won.
Effective Powerful Strikes
Without sufficient core strength and stability, your energy simply will not translate to powerful strikes. The power of a cross or a roundhouse kick originates from the core, using the rotational force of the body, transferring that force towards the limb and ultimately the opponent. Just having strong arms and legs is not enough. In order to dish out strikes with knockout power, you will need to work on your core.
Taking a punch in the liver, or getting knees to your abdominals is part and parcel of many striking combat sports like Muay Thai and MMA. You can imagine how poorly a weak and unconditioned torso would fare in competitive fights. A stabbing knee to the guts has reduced many fighters crumbling to the floor. With proper conditioning, a hard core section will be able to better withstand against body shots.
Top 10 Core Exercises for Muay Thai
Besides the popular plank exercises, there is a multitude of exercises you can do for core training. From bodyweight training to specialised equipments, here is a list of the best core training methods:
Crunches and sit-ups used to be the primary exercises for targeting the abs. But according to body mechanics studies, the flex movement of the spine in these 2 exercises put an unhealthy strain on the back. Planks has since taken over as the flavor exercise of the moment, and is often recommended as the de facto workout for achieving shredded abs of steel. There is a saying that “abs are made in the kitchen”. In order to get centrefold-worthy six packs, it has more to do with diet than merely doing planks. That said, planks and side planks are great exercises for training core stability, as they activate the abs, lower back, the obliques and the glutes for an almost complete core muscle workout. Go beyond the regular plank with decline planks, one-legged planks, one-armed planks, and superman planks for progression.
If you want rock hard abs, you can’t go wrong training with the abs wheel. The abs wheel is basically a wheel (sometimes two) with a stick through it with handles to hold on to. Simple as it sounds, it is a lot harder than it looks, especially when you first try it. Abs wheel exercises target not only the abs but also the lower back in order to maintain a stable posture and spine position. If want a quick abs workout, 3 sets of 8-12 solid fully extended reps may be all you need.
Medicine balls can be used in a diverse range of fitness applications to improve agility, speed, coordination, reflex, balance, strength, and of course, explosive power. It is a simple and yet very versatile training equipment indeed. When done with a medicine ball, exercises like sit-ups, russian twists, and v crunches will engage all muscles of the core for a very effective strengthening workout. The classic overhead ball slam that is used for developing explosive power is also an effective core exercise. Need an equipment for training every part of your body? Balls to you! Medicine balls, of course.
For more information on medicine balls, read this article: “Medicine Ball for Muay Thai”.
Balls again? Looks like I’m on a roll! Also known as a Swiss ball, physio ball or exercise ball, the stability ball is another simple but useful tool for improving core strength and developing balance. The stability ball is used in a wide range of sports from gymnastics to pilates to yoga but is most often used in physical therapy, and even athletic training. The ball is used for simple exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, planks and many others but more muscles are engaged in order to stay balanced while working out on it. Over time, these muscles become stronger, especially the abdominal muscles. With the right exercises, other core muscles can also be engaged and strengthened. Talk about rolling good times.
Leave no man behind. The hips must be the most neglected core muscles simply because most people don’t think of them as part of the core. Hips are responsible for lifting the legs and are involved in stabilizing the spine. Clamshell and side step exercises are 2 of the best ways to strengthen the hips and glutes and even better when coupled with a mini band (resistance band). The mini band will give your hips and glutes a sore-inducing workout you have not experienced in a long time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I love street workouts. Bar exercises are my favorite for upper body strengthening. Besides working the arms, shoulders, and back, both the pull-up bar and parallel bars can be used for core training. Some of the bar exercises (for strengthening core) include hanging knee raises, hanging leg raises, hanging side raises, parallel bar leg raise and the ultra challenging windshield wipers. Bars are the simplest workout equipment but bar exercises are definitely not the easiest. They will really work those core muscles. If you can find them in a park nearby like I do, then you have free 24/7 access to an outdoor gym Otherwise, you can invest in a pull-up bar and/or parallel bars that can be easily installed at home. If you have the space for it, a power tower will also do the trick.
Kettlebell workouts are slowly becoming a staple in both fitness and fight gyms. Kettlebell exercises like swings, goblet squats, windmill and many others will work your muscles to the core. The movements of kettlebell workouts -that aim to throw you off balance- train the stability of the core and often engage all the core muscles. And how effective are kettlebell workouts? Let’s just say that after my first kettlebell training, my entire body ached like a road roller ran over me.
Although Yoga is usually associated with its wild contorted poses for improving flexibility, many calisthenics strengthening exercises have their roots in Yoga poses. Some of the core exercises such as v-hold, superman, bridge, bird dog are based on Yoga postures. The benefits are plenty and they extend outside of improving your Muay Thai performance but also physical and mental health.
For more information on Yoga, read this article: “Yoga for Muay Thai”.
TRX stands for Total Resistance eXercise and is form of suspension training using equipment developed by former U.S . Navy Seal, Randy Hetrick. It is a form of bodyweight training that develops strength, balance, flexibility and importantly, core stability. It is a very mobile set of equipment and the suspension bands can be attached to bars, poles, trees so they are good for both indoor or outdoor usage. Due to its effectiveness, TRX is now widely used in gyms, by pro athletes and remains a training staple in the US military.
This is how the professional boxers and Muay Thai fighters condition their core. Getting punched and kicked repeatedly by their coaches or training partners. The objective is to condition a fighter’s mid-section to withstand body kicks or punches. This training method is pretty hardcore so make sure to start light. The objective is to make you feel discomfort and not pain. So if it gets excrutiating, you need to tell whoever is dishing out the strikes to tone it down a few notches.
Core strengthening and conditioning is an important aspect of Muay Thai training. There are many benefits in having a strong core as highlighted in the article. These benefits also extend outside of Muay Thai practice. If you have been training your core doing only plank exercises, it’s time to add other workouts for a more rounded routine. It’s time to get ripped!