Amber from Firstwave Fitness returns to follow up on part one of her ‘core’ focused article, here she gives us an insight into how to practically apply the theory behind ‘core-strength’ into your training.

Text by Amber Johnson | Firstwave Fitness | Images by Witsup


In our previous article we looked at how the core is far more than the superficial muscles we identify with having “good abs”. In addition to the superficial layer and deep cylinder of the core – your back, shoulders, lats and glutes all play pivotal roles

We explored how true core control is the ability to achieve and maintain neutral spine, throughout movement. How it works as the central hub of our body to generate force and deliver it to our extremities, and its importance in making us a stronger, more durable, less injury prone athlete.


Train Movement Not Muscles

The term “functional movement” is thrown around a lot these days, but what exactly does it mean? Functional movement training is about restoring proper movement quality by teaching the body the correct inter-muscular coordination and control through multiple planes of motion.

So, in English now….

Teaching the body which muscles are needed, in which sequence, at what intensity, based on the given situation/stimulus to generate movement in the most efficient way.  To be able to demonstrate stability and control of our bodies as we move forward and back, side to side, rotate left to right and move from the floor to standing and back down again.

Knowing that the core is the central hub of stability and force production you will always hear me refer back to “throughout movement” when referencing core control, as it is from here that all movement is driven, and our bodies are far more interconnected than we give them credit for.



“We don’t move through life as stiff boards, our bodies shift and rotate through different planes of movement so it is important that your training reflects this.”                                                                                                                                          Firstwave Fitness



The fundamentals of core training should never be overlooked. It is SO important that you firstly learn how to turn things on in the most stable/safe position for the body, which is why lying on the floor is often the first step, as the floor provides a base of stability to learn these initial activations. After all, if you can’t turn things on effectively here, what hope do you have through movement? However, once we have learnt how to activate the muscles it is important to progress to integrated, full body dynamic movements for the best cross over to our sport.


Mobility underpins all movement

A quick reminder before moving into strength and stability work. Restoring full range of motion to inhibited muscles is a pivotal first step before retraining the stability pattern. When core stability is lacking, the body will grab stability from wherever it can in order to feel safe for the movement demand, which is what often leads to chronically tight hips, hamstrings, backs or necks.


Building a Strong Core

So what does all of this look like?

When it comes to building a strong core, and thus the most resilient athlete, I have included my “go-to“ movements below. Though some of these movements may look easy at first glance, when performed with the correct technique and with proper breathing they are very challenging.

Take the plank for example, a great anti-extension core exercise that establishes a good base level of control in that it teaches you to create and maintain tension in a static position. But, more often than not, it is performed poorly. A good hold includes packing your shoulders down to the ribcage, and the real secret is in engaging your glutes!


Resisted Rock

The resisted rock is a great drill that links the relationship of the core connection right from your hips through to your shoulders. I really like to use this drill as a part of my warm ups, much like an “on button” that links the body together and encourages stabilisation from the full core unit before moving into bigger movement demands. I like to use the Swiss ball as external feedback/pressure for engaging the cylinder of the core. You may also wish to use a foam roller, lengthways across the hips as another form of feedback to ensure form.



Dead Bug

The dead bug, like the plank is another good anti-extension drill, however it introduces the concept of movement at the hips and shoulders whilst maintaining a neutral spine. Another great warm up drill as it ties together the cross relationship of the arm and opposing leg. Here the floor acts to provide stability for the movement whilst learning cross body coordination and control. The floor will give you instant feedback if your lower back arches off the ground and you will quickly notice any imbalances that may exist from one side to the other.

The cross coordination learnt in the dead bug leads directly into our next step, crawling, where we remove the floor as a support base and start to translate these learnt patterns into more dynamic movements.




As the saying goes, “we must learn to crawl before we can walk”

Crawling is the foundation of how we first learn to move as infants (before we go and stuff it all up as adults!). It encourages the hips and shoulders to work together and our core to work as a unit to stabilise the spine through movement. Ticking all the boxes here!

Our movement on all fours has a direct correlation to what’s happening with your body as you walk or run. Compensations that we see here; hips swaying side to side, rounding through the upper back, knees pointing out to the side or trouble coordinating the leg and opposing arm lift simultaneously, tell us a lot about how someone is moving outside of the gym.

Crawling comes in many different forms, with the ‘baby bear’ being one of my favourites. First learning the sequencing with moving diagonal pairs and then once good control is demonstrated traveling forward.



Pallof Press

The Pallof Press is another one that ticks all the boxes – in terms of training the core as it is intended. This anti-rotation drill, encourages the core to work as a stabiliser whilst resisting rotation from the pull of the cable or band, and transfers force as you extend your arms out in front of you.

Again there are many variations to this drill and it can be completed from tall kneeling (on both knees), half kneeling (one knee up) or athletic stance (featured here, with feet set hip width apart).

The Pallof is another drill that can highlight a great deal of compensations that might exist in someone when their core stability is lacking. Like, shoulders creeping up and forward, holding their breath, uneven weight distribution in stance, pushing the hips forward or bending to one side. The body will always choose the path of less resistance, it’s thinking – “how can I make this easier?” and it will come up with all kinds of weird and wonderful ways to make it happen when the pillars of core stability are not present.



Half Kneeling Chop & Lift

Once you have learnt the skill of resisting rotation it’s important to translate this skill into controlling rotational force. We don’t move through life as stiff boards, our bodies shift and rotate through different planes of movement so it is important that your training reflects this.

This movement sequence requires you to maintain posture and demonstrate core stability as you transport force across the body. Much like the Pallof Press, the chop can be done from various positions; tall kneeling, half kneeling and once the skill can be demonstrated with fluid control it can be progressed into more power based movements like the wood-chop or using stimulus like a medicine ball or ViPR (training tool).

The chop can be done from low to high or high to low, and the prescription of this and the body position will largely be determined through how an athletes’ movement presents in their initial screening.



Renegade Row

Similar to plank and crawling patterns the Renegade Row is a great anti-rotation drill that progresses the role of the shoulders beyond just stability, and requires the scapular to retract engaging the mid back. Like crawling, it marries the relationship between the hip and opposing shoulder whilst the core works to maintain hip stability and spinal alignment throughout.

It’s important to first master the foundational core drills before progressing to movements like the Renegade Row. Stability should always be demonstrated first before you begin to build strength or power. Think of it like building a house, you wouldn’t go building on top of unstable ground, you’d lay the proper foundations first, otherwise at some point it’d likely fall apart.




Turkish Get Up

The Turkish Get Up is the pièce de résistance of full body movement. Popularised by Gray Cook and Mike Boyle, this beauty has a way of uncovering all the bodies hidden cheats and compensations.

The Get Up works the body through multiple planes of movement and postures; from lying, rolling, crawling, kneeling, single leg stance and double leg stance. It includes rotational and anti-rotational components, shoulder stability, hip mobility, links the upper and lower extremities and distributes force from your central core to your extremities. If we were on family feud the board would be lighting up with top responses on how amazing this exercise is!

I like to use the Get Up in a few different ways; at the end of a dynamic warm up to marry the activation work together through full body multi-directional movement ready for the workout, at the end of the workout to tie together everything that we have done, or as an assessment for the progression of an athlete’s movement quality and control. It can quickly demonstrate if the motor control and sequencing work you have been working on is being unconsciously transferred into full body movements both in the gym and out.




The above is not intended as an exercise prescription. I would encourage you to seek out a ‘movement screening’ to help identify how your body is moving, what compensations or imbalances may exist and what the best corrective plan is for you, to get you moving as efficiently as possible.

When undertaking a functional strength program, its role should be to improve your movement quality and efficiency. It should not only complement your training outside of the gym, it should be focused on preparing you for your sport and building you into a stronger, more resilient athlete who is less prone to injury. It plays a pivotal role both throughout your race season and during off-season, and like your race build the intensity and focus will adapt based on your race schedule and the individual requirements of your body.

Remember, real core strength can be characterised when you can unconsciously own the movement, not in isolating a muscle.

“First Move Well, And Then Move Often” – Gray Cook




About The Author

Amber Johnson
Strength and Conditioning Expert

Business owner/operator and Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at First Wave Fitness.
Amber specialises in functional strength and rehab for endurance sports, with a focus on building solid foundations of movement for a stronger, more efficient and resilient athlete.

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