It’s a common question a lot of lifters have.
How should I train my core while on a bulk?
It’s much easier to set up a core road map while shredding.
After all, a major point of emphasis while on a cut is to walk away from it all with a visible 6 pack.
But while you’re bulking things can be a little different.
You might not walk away from this period of being in a calorie surplus with a visible 6 pack.
And that’s ok.
Because as your normal workout routine has probably changed while trying to build lean muscle mass, your core training needs to change as well.
That’s where this article comes in handy. Let these 3 tips serve as your “road map” to answer your core bulk training questions once and for all.
1. Determine Your Core Bulking Goals
The first tip I want to discuss when it comes to training your core while on a bulk is determining your overall goal while on this bulk.
Your main goal of what you’re hoping to accomplish during this year’s bulk will greatly affect how you’ll approach your core training for the next couple of months.
Core Training with Strength Bulking Goals
Is your goal to increase your strength and crush your personal records while in a calorie surplus? If so, then you should probably focus on training the big movements (squats, deadlifts, etc), which will target your core indirectly.
In addition to training the big movements, you’ll sprinkle in some core stabilization exercises as accessory movements to train your trunk to completely stabilize your spine during these big movements.
Core Training with Lean Mass Bulking Goals
Is your goal to build lean muscle mass? If you’re training for hypertrophy, your whole workout program will be different than someone’s whose goal is centered around building maximum strength. You’ll likely still work the core through compound exercises, but you’ll also be performing several isolation movements that take your core slightly out of the equation.
With a goal to build lean muscle mass, you’ll want to add in some additional core exercises to your split. These will include a good mix of stability exercises and some flexion based exercises. Isolating various parts of your core as part of your complete split, especially while utilizing a hypertrophy rep range, will enable you to better build your core muscles.
Core Training with Ripped Bulking Goals
Is your goal to get ripped enough to see your abs? Well my friend, you’ve come to the wrong article. If you had visible abs at the beginning of your bulk, you may or may not by the end of your bulk depending on your starting and ending body fat percentage.
But it’s ok! Your goal with a bulk is to add strength or build muscle. It’s nearly impossible to do all 3 of those things at once. Pick one of the 1st two goals while bulking and stick to it.
2. Pick the Right Core Exercises
Tip number two is make sure you pick the right core exercises depending on your core training goals.
We briefly touched on how your bulking goal will affect your core training, and in this section, we’ll cover some of the best exercises for each of those goals.
For obvious reasons, we’ll skip over the ripped bulking core exercises. If you’re going to commit to a bulk, commit to a logical bulking goal. You’ll be spinning your wheels and wasting your time if you’re eating in a calorie surplus and freaking out about gaining a couple pounds of body fat.
Core Exercises with Strength Bulking Goals
If your bulking goal is to add strength, you’re likely going to be training heavy and performing a number of compound lifts and their many variations. This can be enough core training in of itself.
But for some, they want a little more.
That’s where these exercises can be beneficial for those looking to crush their PRs this bulking season.
The plank is a crucial stabilization exercise. However, a lot of people butcher it by letting their hips sag too low or butt come up too high.
Instead, you should focus on keeping a straight line from the top of your head (kept in a neutral position) all the way to your heels.
You may think you need to perform planks for minutes on end. But you don’t. Instead, focus on holding your core tight for 20-30 seconds at a time. If that seems too easy, try engaging your core even more by remaining as tight as possible or adding in an additional task such as moving a small pile of 2.5lb plates from one side of your body to the other (shout out to Lee Boyce for that tip!).
2. Pallof Presses
These are far from sexy, but if you’re looking to build a stronger core, they’re a must.
Hook up a “D” handle cable attachment to a cable pulley and select the desired weight you’d like to use. Then taking a full kneeling or half kneeling position to the side of the cable, grasp the handle with both hands, brace your core and push the weight from your chest until your arms are fully extended. Return to the starting position.
Perform 2-3 sets of these for 12-15 repetitions.
3. Barbell Hip Thrusts
The posterior chain is an often overlooked part of the core, but it needs to be trained. And if your goal is to increase your strength, it’s even more important to do so.
The barbell hip thrust targets your glutes like no other. The carry over will positively affect your deadlift and squat numbers.
Set up with a barbell in front of a bench. Position your upper back onto the bench and roll the barbell onto your hips to get into starting position. Then, contract the glutes to press the weight up towards the sky.
Perform anywhere between 2-3 sets of 4-8 reps here.
Core Exercises with Lean Mass Bulking Goals
Now let’s cover exercises you may want to incorporate into your core training with a goal of building lean muscle mass during your bulk.
Your core will be trained indirectly during most hypertrophy programs. However, if you want to isolate your core after your workouts, then these following exercises are great options. Of course, you should incorporate the exercises listed above into your split as well for a well-rounded and functional core.
1. Hanging Leg Raises
The hanging leg raise is a great ab isolation movement. While most ab flexion exercises put pressure on the spine, the hanging during the hanging leg raise allows the spine to decompress.
Perform 2-3 sets of this exercise in the 12-15 rep range.
2. Weighted Crunch Machine
While not a popular choice among most coaches, the weighted crunch machine is a great option for those seeking to build abdominal muscle mass.
Why? Because it is one of the few loaded ab exercises one can safely get into position for and perform that provides constant tension during the entire range of motion.
Perform 2-3 sets of this exercise in the 10-15 rep range.
The third and final exercise I wanted to cover within this section is the hyperextension. Hyperextensions are another excellent choice for isolating the posterior chain. You can also perform these loaded or unloaded.
Depending on where you place the emphasis on this exercise, you can train the lower back or your glutes.
Perform 2-3 sets of this exercise in the 12-15 rep range.
3. Have Realistic Expectations
The third and final tip on training your core while on a bulk is to have realistic expectations.
Just like I’ve mentioned, you’re going to be spinning your wheels if you plan on developing or maintaining a visible 6 pack while on a bulk. While it is doable if starting at a very low body fat percentage, you will gain some body fat.
The goal should be to limit the amount of bodyfat you gain while putting on lean mass, and to utilize your core training to either build strength or muscle mass.
At the end of the day, if you focus on building your strength or increasing your muscle size, when you begin to cut this spring, you’ll be a lot happier with your results than if you were to completely maintain your physique for the next several months.
Do you have any core training tips you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments section below for everyone to read!