There is a popular perception that performing full bodied compound movements will strengthen the trunk. While I do not disagree with this sentiment, without further follow through, it can also be interpreted as “performing full bodied compound movements will be sufficient trunk strengtheners”. And if your goal is to push the limits of your genetic potential, this statement can fall short for you pretty fast.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Do you have difficultly recovering out of your overhead squat or snatch?
2. Do you fold or get soft when you pull a weight off the floor?
3. Do you round your upper back when you back or front squat?
4. Do you over extend in your low or mid back when you push a weight overhead?
5. Does your trunk shake like Shikara’s when you exert effort during motion?
6. Have you been stuck at a certain number in your lifts and wonder what it’ll take to start seeing gains again?
If your answer was ‘yes’ to any of the above, then you are probably candidate for some additional trunk work on top of your current regiment.
Here at FuBarbell, we view the body as a vehicle with the hips being the engine and the trunk being the transmission. And just like any transmission, if there is a kink in that gear box, then speed and force will be diminished during transfer from it’s power source. What does that mean exactly? That means that as you are driving your legs through the platform, the instability experienced in the trunk will cause energy to be dissipated as you move. Less stability equals less energy up to the bar equals PR lost. Bummer.
Fortunately for you, the solve for this situation is quite simple. Let’s explore how.
The Body Moves In a Wave From Core To Extremity
To effectively use our arms and legs, we must have a stable base. Without delving too deeply into joint and muscle anatomy (snore), muscles contract/pull but have no control over which end of the attachments move. So in order to move our arms and legs, we have to anchor the trunk down, contract our muscles, and then the limbs will move closer towards the body. Now because the muscles that control the arms and legs also insert at the shoulder blades and pelvis, taking a deeper look at trunk stability also leads to a focus on how to stabilize these parts.
Why is Mo’ Stable (In Neutral) Mo’ Better?
“Okay, all that sounds fine, but what does that mean to me?” Fair question. Because, in the end, if it doesn’t improve you as a human being and as an athlete then who really cares? Yes, one of my goals in teaching weightlifting is to not only improve your performance on the platform but also to see you function as a higher and more enlightened individual. Lofty goal? Perhaps, but only time will tell.
Anyways, I digress.
So there’s this funny little thing that happens when the joints are all stacked and lined up in proper relationship to one another, the nerves that innervate and pass through these channels are open thus allowing them to operate at their most optimal level. Very cool especially when you consider that weightlifting is a central nervous system (CNS) driven sport. Now, when these channels get shut down or even slightly collapsed (such as when the low back over extends), the joint experiences shear forces that will tell the brain to react by shutting the body down as a compensatory measure for safety. And since muscles control joints, you can see why having a stronger and more stable trunk will lead to better speed and force transfer from one end of the body to the other.
Should we flex? Should we extend? Should we rotate? Oh my…
The short answer is yes — do it all. To get stronger we want to build up the muscle integrity and thickness around the trunk. And in deciding which movements to perform, we simply look at the actions that the trunk has the ability to go through and we challenge those ranges of motion. Pretty simple. If you stuck with this strategy of “do it all,” it’ll probably get you pretty far; and for the most part, aim you in the right direction.
The longer answer is that strength is specific. And if we look at what we need the trunk to do while weightlifting, then we know we need to trunk to be able to brace fully in extension (staying long) and hedge against any flexion (bending forward) or rotation that might occur. So to train specificity in weightlifting, we prioritize isometric loading — challenging the trunk to be able to stay braced and stiff under stress — and then create complimentary exercises around those main pieces.
So a typical week might look something like this:
Weighted Planks x30s x3
Weighted Bridges x30s x3
*Goal is to achieve a 30s weighted bridge and plank while keeping the butt squeezed and the trunk connected. If you feel the trunk start to over extend or experience any change in connection, terminate the round and log the score.
Glute-ham Developer Sit-Ups Until Happy
Glute-Ham Developer Raises Until Sad
*”Until Happy and Until Sad” translated means do a lot/enough until you feel done. Don’t over think it.
Weighted Side Plank Left x30s x3Weighted Side Plank Right x30s x3
*Goal is to achieve a 30s weighted side plank on both the left and right side while keeping the butt squeezed and the trunk connected. If you feel the trunk start to bow or experience any change in connection, terminate the round and log the score.
Side Bends x 10 Left / 10 Right x3
*Using a single dumbbell or kettlebell, reach down to the side until you reach your natural limit or until the DB/KB reaches the level of the knee. Keep the body square and prevent any rotation from occuring.
Land Mines x 8 Left / 8 Right x3
*The key with this exercise is to rotate through the trunk, staying engaged, and avoid passively swinging/rotating the weight back and forth. Here’s a video for clarification: http://youtu.be/5eLr2BSBpA4
These exercises represent a typical week at FuBarbell, but they are not set in stone and will change depending on the training cycle we are on and can even change by the week. As a coach, I’m always programming with volume and intensity in mind. The trunk work will go down as the group leads towards a peak because going nuts on trunk work can add a lot of hidden volume setting athletes back just as much as it can help push them forward. Use trunk work as the secret ingredient in a robust and well rounded program. Add it in to address deficiencies and pull it back out to allow for adaptation towards increased performances. Like any recipe, a little more of this and a little less of that will slightly alter the flavor of the dish; but leaving the ingredient out all together can really make the dish go flat.
* If you would like further your FU education, find out more at Diane Fu http://fubarbell.com/blog