By Kathleen Trotter, FIS, PTS

Planks, side planks, V holds, bird dogs — all are excellent functional core exercises. The problem is, on the millionth repetition, even the most amazing move can feel dead boring, and in my experience, boredom is the kiss of workout death.

I am not suggesting you let your clients off the “core hook”; planks and bird dogs are their “broccoli,” and it is your job to make them eat their broccoli, but it is also your job to program appropriately. If you know a basic plank is what a client needs, great, stick with that. But when you KNOW a client can handle an extra push or thrives on variety, it is your job to find an appropriate challenge. My suggestion? Try the pyramid add-on.

When I do add-on sets, I pick a base exercise and a rest exercise. The rest exercise isn’t easy, it just doesn’t work the same muscles as the base exercise. To do the workout you simply alternate the base exercise with the rest exercise. Each time you do
the base move, you add on a variation. To make the add-on set a core challenge, the base exercise should (obviously) primarily work the core.

Below is my favourite add-on core extravaganza. Send me a note after you try it — let me know how many eye rolls and dirty looks came your way!

Programming details

I have used a 10-second front plank as my base (other options include a side plank or a V hold) and a 15 second squat hold as my rest exercise (other options include a plié hold or cardio exercises such as jumping jacks or high knees). Once your client can do the full routine with perfect form, try the sequence doing a longer plank hold, 2 or 3 repetitions of each add-on, and/or a 20 to 60 second squat hold.

Core pyramid extravaganza!

Start standing. Bend over to walk your hands forward into a plank. Hold for 10 seconds. This is the base exercise.

Now, walk your hands back toward your feet and, without standing all the way up, hold a squat. Keep your chest out, core engaged, knees in line with your middle toes, and lower back neutral. This is your rest exercise. (Note, after each add on you hold a squat for 15 seconds before walking forward into the plank to start the sequence again.)

Add on 1. Walk-outs: After holding the basic plank for 10 seconds, add on walk-outs. In a plank position walk your right hand in front of you, then your left. Then place your right hand back to its starting position underneath you, then your left. Repeat starting with your left hand.

Walk your hands back toward your feet. Hold your low squat for 15 seconds.

Add on 2. Shoulder taps: Walk forward into a plank. Hold for 10 seconds. Do one walk-out starting with each hand.

Then add on shoulder taps. Keep your hips stable as you touch your right hand to your left shoulder and then your left hand to your right shoulder.

Walk your hands back toward your feet. Hold your low squat.

Add on 3. Leg extensions: Repeat the above sequence. Then, holding your plank — core engaged and pelvis stable — engage your right glute muscle to lift your right leg off the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat with your left leg.

Walk your hands back toward your feet. Hold your low squat.

Add on 4. Leg abductions: Repeat the sequence. Then do one leg abduction with each leg. Holding your plank — core engaged and pelvis stable — engage your right glute muscle to lift your right leg off the floor and out to the side. Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat with your left leg.

Walk your hands back toward your feet. Hold your low squat.

Add-on 5. Knee tucks: This is your final add on. Repeat the entire sequence then do one knee tuck with each leg. Hold your plank as you bring one knee into your chest. Count to five. Repeat with the other leg.

Walk your hands back toward your feet. Hold your low squat.

Push your client through one cardio Tabata set (4 minutes of alternating 20 seconds of hard cardio with 10 seconds of rest). If appropriate, walk your client through the entire core sequence again.

For more “out of the box” workouts, check out my most recent book, Your Fittest Future Self!

Final note

Add-on sets are not for newbies. Inherent to this method of training is adding on to a base move. Your client needs to have mastered the base move — with perfect form — before you add anything on. So, for example, before trying the above workout, make sure your client has mastered the basic plank first.

Basic plank: Balance on hands and toes — shoulders, hips, and feet should form a straight line. Lower back stays neutral. If you put a foam roller lengthwise along your client’s back, the roller should touch the back of their skull, upper back, and sacrum. There should be a small space between the roll and the lower back and cervical spine. Make sure your client keeps their core engaged the entire time; lower abdominals pull “wide to the hip bones” as if pulling taffy across the pelvis.

About Kathleen Trotter

Kathleen Trotter holds a masters in Exercise Science, is the author of two books including the new book Your Fittest Future Self, and is a Personal trainer, Nutritionist, Pilates Specialist and Life Coach. Visit her at KathleenTrotter.com

Twitter: @FITbyKathleenT

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