This section includes two muscle chains which are your flexion chain and your lateral chain. Both of these chains make up most of the muscles in what is commonly referred to as the core of the body.
Your flexion, or anterior chain, includes all of the muscles on the front side of your body that flex you forward. The primary muscles are the abdominals and hip flexors, but also include your quads, shins and the muscle on the top of your feet. The front of the neck is also part of your flexion chain.
Your lateral chain is comprised of the muscles that run up the sides of your body. These include your obliques, lats, shoulders, spinal erectors and the muscles on the side of your legs. Most of these muscles are already worked through other chains, but lateral chain exercises make the muscles on your side work together as a complete unit.
Popular flexion chain exercises include the leg raise, sit-up, and plank variations. Sit-ups and leg raise work your flexion chain in a dynamic way while using tension through a large range of motion. Planks use your flexion chain to stabilize your body through an isometric contraction. Another popular exercise is roll-outs which are basically holding a plank while extending your arms out.
The two most popular lateral chain exercises are the side plank and human flag. Both of these techniques are typically done as an isometric, but you can perform them for reps.
The core is a pretty big deal in our fitness culture and for good reason. The muscles in the middle of your body connect your upper and lower body muscle chains and allow strength to transfer from head to toe. This ability to connect the top to bottom and the front to back of your body can play a significant role in improving performance, health, and posture while reducing stress on your joints.
A strong and well-defined mid-section is also a popular pursuit for aesthetic reasons. The coveted six-pack is one of the most sought-after symbols of health and fitness. While a toned set of abs isn’t everything, and there’s more to them than just training, proper core training certainly does play a role.
Core Training Tips
Popular core training routines tend to use a lot of volume and repetition. It’s not uncommon to find routines which hundreds of reps or holding a position for minutes at a time.
As impressive as these feats are, training your core isn’t any different than any other muscle group. Focusing on high rep workouts is great for endurance, but it does little for brute strength and building muscle. That’s why it’s important to focus on progressing the amount of tension in the core muscles you’re working so you can only do a handful of reps or hold a position for 20-30 seconds at a time.
The core, and especially the abs, are also one of those muscle groups a lot of people have trouble engaging. “Sleepy abs” make is difficult to get enough tension in the muscles even while doing the best core exercises with perfect form. The hollow body hold will help wake up your abs and improve tension control. Improving that tension control will greatly improve the quality of all core exercises.
Check out the video on the left to learn more about waking up sleepy core muscles to improve every core exercise you do. As always, Convict Conditioning and Diamond Cut Abs are two books I recommend to learn more about effective core training. Convict Conditioning 2 also has a comprehensive approach to human flag training.Videos on Core Chain Exercises