All Strength Training Core Challenge July

July Challenge: The Core Challenge

As easy as it is to write off “core training” as just another trendy way to get personal trainers to add another certification to their wall and a few extra letters on their business cards, it’s also not enough to treat core training as another name for abdominal training.  Also, while we often hear that big exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses are great for developing core strength (and they are), that only works if you know how to use your core muscles during those types of lifts.

For our purposes, we’re going to define “the core” as anything responsible for stabilizing the lower spine, the hips, and the pelvis.  More than just the visible abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, if you’re fancy), it also includes the external obliques, the transverse abdominis (the deep abdominals that you can’t see), your erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and the glutes – medius, minimus, and maximus.

Why Should You Do Core Training?

The primary benefits we’re going to be aiming for during the Core Challenge are going to be:

  • Improved breathing patterns, including better use of the diaphragm
  • Better posture
  • Reduction in back and hip pain or discomfort
  • Stronger glutes and abdominals
  • Better integration of the core into larger lifts such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses

What Is the Core Challenge?

The Core Challenge involves training these muscles 6 days per week, with one full day of rest, using short workouts and steady progressions.  Instead of doing longer workouts less often, training muscles that you struggle to use well allows you to practice more often and retain the patterns better, no differently than practicing a golf swing, playing an instrument, or learning a new language.

Want to get started? Download the Core Challenge program here.

You can find the video demonstrations for each movement on our YouTube page on our Core Challenge playlist.  Videos will be added one week at a time.



Are You the Person I’m Looking For?

This went out to all of our newsletter subscribers and clients a few days ago, and now I’m opening it up to all of our social media readers. I am writing this because I have something special to share. If you’re reading this, I think it COULD apply to you. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but I would rather let you make that decision instead of me, as I have been wrong more than once. As some of you may or may not know, I recently began competing in Physique competitions (which I have been thoroughly enjoying, by the way). But this isn’t about me. 52544-zach-trowbridge-11_final It IS about the fact that I am looking for TWO people with similar interests. I am looking to take two people to the stage within the next 12 months. Why? Because it isn’t enough for me to do it myself – if I can’t reproduce the results then it doesn’t really help me continue to grow even more as a coach. So, who am I looking for? I am looking for one client to work with one on one with me personally, as a private client, 4 days per week, for an hour at a time. This person, male or female, should be highly motivated to get into more than just good shape – they need to want something more. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re already a client at All Strength Training or not – it’s open to anybody! I am also looking for one person to work with remotely. This person probably won’t live close enough to train with me one on one, but you’ll get the next best thing. Customized nutrition, programming, and weekly Skype consult, and more. Now, the good part. I am not going into this with a particular set cost in mind. I would rather have the right people who will do what’s needed, rather than just those with the most disposable income. So I’m not putting a price tag on it yet – if you’re the person for the job, we can work that out later. 12 week transformation So what do I get out of it? 1. Promotion. Yes, I will use you to promote our services. On our website, through social media, in print, etc. Consider it a trade for offering this at well below what I would typically charge. 2. Data. You’re a beta tester for all of my nutrition, training, and supplementation protocols. So we will keep lots of records together, you and I. Workouts, pictures, measurements, consistently and regularly. How Do You Apply? Reply to this e-mail or send an e-mail to me personally at In about 500 words (a few paragraphs), describe what you want from me. How you want to look, what competition you would like to do, who you would like to look like, and tell me why I should pick you. Please, also specify if you want to be considered for one on one or remote training. Lastly, tell me what inspires you. People, places, activities, anything. I want to know what drives you to be a better person and motivates you to get out of bed each day. If you read this and think this isn’t for you, I understand. Not everyone wants or needs to go to the level I’m asking for this project. I would ask, however, that if you know someone who fits the bill, that you share this with them so that they might have the opportunity to be considered. Until Next Time, Zach Trowbridge

Training for MMA Fighters: Using the Grappler

With mixed martial arts fighting being arguably one of the most popular sports in the world right now, and definitely one of the fastest-growing, there is still very little available on strength training programs for the MMA athlete.  With that in mind, over the next couple of weeks I will be putting up a couple of different articles directed specifically at that group.  This article will primarily focus on what I believe to be the most important variable for both stand-up and ground fighting – core training.

For core work in general, I have found most conventional ab training exercises to be rather useless – things like situps, crunches and bicycle twists done for absurdly high reps does little to develop strength and at best will develop the slow-twitch, endurance muscle fibers in the abs and core, as opposed to the more powerful fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Instead, I prefer to see a mix of both compound (multi-joint) traditional strength movements that can be done with a heavy load (such as squats and deadlifts) that include a significant core component, and direct work done with heavy weight for low- to moderate-rep ranges.  To get the best of both, I suggest using movements based around The Grappler.

The Grappler is a device invented by Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio.  Louie is arguably the greatest coach in powerlifting history, but he has also worked extensively with both fighters and track & field athletes and produced great results.  One of his methods is using the Grappler, which is essentially an anchor point for two barbells so that they can be held one in each hand to mimic various barbell and dumbbell movements while increasing the workload coming from the trunk.

Below are a few of my favorite Grappler exercises.  If you don’t have access to a Grappler or something like it, you can get the same effect by wedging two barbells into the frame of a power rack or in the corner of a wall.  Just add a moderately heavy dumbbell or plate over the end to anchor the bar down and you’ll do just fine.

#1: Landmines

Odds are pretty good you’ve seen somebody doing this exercise or something similar already – it’s by far the most popular movement using the leveraged barbell concept.  My favorite way to do it is to use two barbells, as it incorporates the rotational work of a regular landmine with an extra gripping requirement, since you have to hold onto the sleeve of the bars with each hand throughout.

#2: Standing Flyes

This is pretty similar to the landmine, but with the resistance moving in the opposite direction.  It also adds in some upper chest and anterior deltoid work, which can aid in punching power.

#3: Standing Military Presses

Again, you may have seen this one before with one barbell, but I like the 2-barbell version both from a time-efficiency standpoint and from a difficulty standpoint – I think the two-bar version is significantly harder than the 1-arm because you can’t twist and turn to cheat the weight up.  You can do it both arms at a time, or alternating, and can do strict presses or push presses.

#4: Bent-Over Rows

This is kind of like a T-bar row with a better range of motion.  You can do it as shown in the video, or face the other way and grab the bar sleeve to add some extra gripping work.

#5: Floor Presses

Even though these can be a pain in the ass to get into without a partner, I like these as an alternative to regular barbell or dumbbell floor presses because the bars tend to get pretty unpredictable with their movement and therefore has some good carryover to being on the bottom of a guard or mount position.

Try out a few of these different movements and figure out which ones work the best for you.  Keep the reps in the low-to-moderate range (as low 3 reps, all the way up to 12) and keep the technique clean.

Strength Training for Endurance Athletes

Although the idea of strength training to support recreational sports and activities is not new, there are still those who buy into several long-standing myths about training with weights.  At the top of the list are endurance athletes.  We work with many marathon runners and triathletes at AST, and have seen our athletes make tremendous improvements in performance with the right program.

Designing a Program

The first step is choosing the right program.  The biggest mistake we see made is taking a program designed for another sport or activity and trying to apply it to endurance work.  For example, taking random routines from fitness magazines that are designed for the masses and trying to apply it to a niche activity is a recipe for disaster.  A good endurance program should be designed to cover the following aspects:

  • developing muscular endurance in the primary muscles used
  • strengthening weak and neglected muscles to maintain structural balance
  • increasing mobility in tight muscles brought on by overuse
  • developing strength endurance through the core and trunk musculature
  • decreasing non-essential bodyweight to improve performance

Training Guidelines

There are, for the most part, two different types of muscles in the body – fast-twitch and slow-twitch.  In simple terms, fast-twitch muscles are very powerful but fatigue very quickly, and are slower to recover, while slow-twitch muscles have greater endurance capabilities and recover more quickly, but have less potential for power and strength.  Knowing which muscles tend to skew toward which type makes it easier to make the right adjustments to your training plan.

Common Fast-Twitch Muscles

  • Lats
  • Triceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Upper calf (gastrocnemius)
  • Surface abdominals (rectus femoris, obliques)

Common Slow-Twitch Muscles

  • Chest
  • Upper back
  • Shoulders
  • Biceps
  • Quads
  • Lower back
  • Deep abdominals (transverse abdominis)

Now, this list is by no means perfect – fiber type can vary based on the individual.  This is just what we have found to be true in the majority of individuals that we work with.

So, what does this information mean?  It gives a better indication of how to train those muscles correctly.  Look at the slow-twitch muscles – those tend to be the areas most heavily involved in most endurance sports – running, swimming, and biking.  The fast-twitch muscles tend to be neglected by endurance athletes and are vulnerable to injury if left unaddressed.

In general, here are some straightforward guidelines for strength training for fiber type:

Fast-twitch – low reps (3-8), longer rest times and a higher number of sets per exercise

Slow-twitch – higher reps (12-30), short rest intervals and a low number of sets

Flexibility, Mobility and Recovery

Another important component is maintaining mobility.  Any muscle that is heavily recruited during a given activity will tend to become short and tight, and the opposing muscles will tend to become weak and lengthened.  For example, a cyclist will develop tight pecs and lats because of the time spent slouched over the bike handles, and the upper back muscles will become weak from being left in a stretched position for long periods of time.  So you would stretch and peform self-myofascial release (or foam rolling) for the tight area before training the weak area.

Here’s a good rule – if you can see it in a mirror, it’s probably tight.  If you can’t, it’s probably weak.  Prioritize your training and mobility programs around that axiom and it’s hard to go wrong.

Training the Core

There are two types of abdominal and core muscles – surface muscles, such as the rectus femoris (abdominal wall) and the obliques, lower back and glutes; and deep muscles, speficically the transverse (deep) abdominis.  It’s appropriate to train both, but not the same way.

Surface muscles can be trained more conventionally – moderately heavy weights through a full range of motion, with the reps and loads varying depending on fiber type (see above).  The transverse abdominis, however, is more of a stabilization muscle and does the job of bracing the trunk while you’re performing other activities, such as running or swimming.  As such, you want to use movements that require you to hold the abs tight isometrically while performing other work.

Good Surface Muscle Exercises

  • Leg raises (lying or hanging from a pullup bar)
  • Crunch variations through a full range of motion (no swinging or flailing)
  • Weighted side bends
  • Back extensions and reverse hyperextensions
  • Glute bridges

All of the above lifts can be trained with a reasonable amount of resistance for lower reps, without sacrificing technique.

Good Deep Core Exercises

  • Front planks
  • Side planks
  • Inverted planks
  • Plank to pushup
  • Palloff press
  • Plank knee-in
  • Twisting plank
  • Ab wheel

All of the above exercises should be performed for high reps or held for as long as possible.  Planks are useful up to about 60 seconds, and side planks about 30 seconds.  Once you can hold that long you should choose more challenging progressions such as the other exercises listed.

Controlling Body Composition

Last, but certainly not least, a good strength training program should prioritize increasing muscle mass and decreasing bodyfat.  After all, would you be faster with 75lbs of bodyfat, or 15lbs of bodyfat?  A male athlete should strive to stay under 10%, and a female under 18%.  Anything else serves no purpose but to slow you down.  And what good will that do?

Fat Loss Complex – Dumbbell Hell

My favorite way to use this complex is in a challenge-style setting. It helps if you have a small group of 3-4 people to compete against, but if not, competing against the stopwatch will do just fine.

Dumbbell Hell Challenge
Dumbbell Hell – 3×10 (15-20lbs for women, 35-45lbs for men)
100 reps jump rope
Repeat 3x

The fastest any of my clients has ever finished the above workout in was 9:09. The average is about 16 minutes. Give it a shot and let me know how you stack up.

Learning to Squat

Here’s the bottom line: you need to learn how to squat. Period. No machine or fancy device is going to reproduce the physical benefits of a full free-standing squat, and there is no greater test of one’s physical prowess. So squat, and squat well.

Now, you might be saying, “I want to squat, I just can’t do it right.” Well, after reading the rest of this article you can just throw that excuse right out the window, because what follows is a series of 4 videos designed to take a rank beginner through some essential tips and tricks to make you a better squatter before you even try to climb under a barbell for the first time.

The goal here is to make sure that you’re capable of performing each step before moving on to the next. Until you’re proficient at step 1, there’s no need to work on step 2, as it’s probably just going to result in you practicing wrong and developing bad habits. So don’t do that.

Step 1: Face-the-Wall Squats

A note: I’ve seen many people who thought they knew how to squat and seen them fail miserably at the face-the-wall squat. It’s not to be underestimated.

Step 2: The Box Squat

Another note: I like to use box squats as a teaching aid, but for the most part I no longer condone using them as a replacement for the traditional squat for the general population due to the lack of carryover to the squat and due to a lesser degree of muscle hypertrophy. They’re useful for competitive powerlifters and maybe for those with extensive knee injuries, but other than that, don’t ditch free squats for box squats entirely.

Step 3: The Bodyweight Squat

There’s no point in trying to add weight to your squat until you can do it well without weight. I’d suggest being able to do 10-12 clean bodyweight squats to parallel or lower before introducing a barbell.

Step 4: The Barbell Squat

A final note: don’t be a bitch and do half-squats. Go all the way down or the weight is too heavy. Period.

5 Tips to a Stronger Midsection

Odds are, if you’ve actually taken the first step of going to the gym, one of your goals is probably to improve your midsection. You might want a nice little six-pack to take to the beach with you this summer, you might be an athlete who needs more core strength, or maybe you’re just a weekend warrior with some back problems. No matter what your goal, there are certain principles that everyone should follow when it comes to torso training:

Tip #1: Train Your Midsection.
This might sound like the most obvious thing in the world for an article about core training, but you’d be surprised how many people completely skip abdominal training altogether, let alone obliques, transverse abs, and lower back training. If you think these muscles are getting enough work in your regular workouts, you’re wrong.

Tip #2: Train Your Hip Flexors.
Somewhere in the last 30 years, it became en vogue to “isolate the abs” (thank you, Flex Magazine). Pick up a fitness magazine today and odds are it’ll have an article on how to do just that. What’s the problem with that? Everything. The abdominals and hip flexors are designed to be used together. If you try to exclude them from all your core training, then they’ll shut off, and won’t be able to fire properly when you need them most.

Here’s a simple test: Lay flat on a bench, with your feet flat on the floor slightly in front of you and your arms crossed over your chest. From this position, sit all the way up without letting your feet come up off the floor. If you can’t do it, you need to start training your hips, and you need to start yesterday. If you normally do crunches, do situps. If you normally do knee raises, do straight leg raises. There are a lot more ways to train the hip flexors than that, but those will get you started on the right track.

Tip #3: Train Your Midsection While Standing.
A lot of people miss this one, and it’s a shame. Think about it: does it make sense to practice your tennis serve while sitting in a chair? When’s the last time you saw a guy pull a 500lb deadlift while laying on his back? Practice how you play. One of the best standing ab and hip movements is the standing cable crunch. Attach a rope to a lat pulldown station and pull it down to your neck. With your legs straight, flex your abs and hips to bend over about parallel to the floor, then return to a full upright position. Wide foot placement adds more hip focus, and using a split stance (one foot in front of the other) includes the obliques to a greater degree.

Tip #4: Twist & Turn.
Especially if you’re an athlete, you need to do more than just train with crunches and leg raises. There are very few sports that don’t require any torso rotation. Twisting oblique movements should make up at least one out of three core movements, if not more. Medicine ball rotational work is great if you have access to a partner or a masonry wall. If not, here’s a good replacement: take an Olympic bar and wedge it in the corner of a wall, and lift the other end up with both hands, arms extended at about face level. Let the bar drop to the side toward one hip, then, keeping the arms relatively straight and leading by twisting the waist, raise the bar back up to the starting position. You can do all reps to one side at once, or alternate side-to-side. Don’t be afraid to go heavy on these at least once in a while.

Tip #5: Don’t Neglect Your Lower Back.
Probably 2 out of every 3 clients I get describe symptoms of lower back pain when they first begin training with me. When I ask them what they’ve done to help rehab it they typically tell me that they’ve been excluding any movements that involve the lower back. This is extremely backwards. When a child has difficulty learning to walk, is your solution to carry them everywhere instead? Of course not. So why would you deliberately neglect a weak area? How will that make it any better?

One problem is that most people can’t distinguish between muscle soreness and joint injury, and general practitioners don’t take the time to help patients understand. So when someone goes to their family doc with a sore lower back from, say, helping a friend move, the doctor’s prescription is usually the same: “stay off it for a while.” It’s never “you should train your lower back so it won’t get sore the next time you help someone move.”

For every direct abdominal movement you do (crunches, leg raises, situps, etc.), I would suggest an equivalent number of movements to develop the lower back. Planks, 45-degree back raises, good mornings, bridges, Supermans, etc. are all good choices. If you don’t know the proper execution of any of these movements, consult a good trainer and learn (if you don’t know if your trainer is good, ask around. If nobody knows if he’s good or not, odds are he isn’t).

You can’t build a skyscraper without a strong foundation, and you can’t build the body you want without a strong core. Treat these muscles with the time and respect that they deserve, and they will pay you back tenfold with a healthy, strong, injury-free midsection.