Top Fitness and Rehab Experts Talk Favorite Core Exercises
Are you wasting time with your current core training routine?
Find out below as these 14 experts weigh in.
The new year is upon us! It’s a chance to start over, to right the wrongs, to finally take up folk-dancing.
And for many people, it’s also when they resolve to get in shape. They search for quick-fix diets and workouts offering insane results -- and spend the first week of the new year doing crazy, counterproductive things.
You’ve seen those workouts: “1,000 Crunches For a Belly Flatter Than Kansas!”
Now, don’t get me wrong; crunches can be useful in certain situations. But they’re not the best way to create those strong, sexy abs you’re looking for! In fact, instead of helping, too many crunches can cause imbalances and a bulging belly that keeps getting bigger.
Not what you were going for?
An amazing core is built through purpose. Use exercises that work not only the rectus abdominals (front ab muscle), but also your obliques (side abs), transverse abdominals (deep abs), glutes, and lats, as well as many others. The "core" is so much more than crunches!!!
To create strong abs, protect your back from injury, and look smokin’ hot, you need to stop wasting your time with endless crunches and listen to what these Rehab and Fitness experts recommend to build well-rounded strength! With these great ideas and amazing coaching notes, out of shape abs will be a thing of the past.
Charles Staley-Med-Ball Slams
Medicine balls are perhaps the most under-appreciated, and hence, under-utilized tool for abdominal training. Because you’re (for most drills) throwing something, there’s a built-in athletic-development component, and this also adds to the enjoyment of doing these drills.
One of my favorite medicine ball drills is the floor slam. In essence, you’ll pick up the ball with both hands, reach up over your head, and finally, aggressively slam the ball into the floor directly in front of your feet. This explosive moment places strong demands not only on your abdominal muscles but also on your lats and hip flexors.
Note: you’ll need a durable “low” or “no” bounce ball for this drill (or, as another alternative, a sandbag can work well also).
Coaching note: This movement must be done H-A-R-D in order to be effective — these lift me right off my feet when I do them, just to give you a visual.
Here’s a nice video from my friends at Critical Bench.
Daniel Pope DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF L1- Lateral Crawl
Crawl variations are some of my favorite core exercises. Shown below is the lateral crawl. You just get so much bang for your buck with this exercise. For one, you're working the core in a diagonal fashion as the opposite arm and leg are lifted. It's a great advancement to the generic bird dog in this way. You're also getting a ton of strength and endurance in the shoulder musculature. Lastly, you're working on moving through the hips while keeping the spine in a braced neutral position, something most athletes can benefit from. If you aren't using crawl patterns for yourself or your clients then you're missing out!
Eric Bach, BS, CSCS, Pn1-The Half Kneeling Pallof Press
The half kneeling pallof press is one of those movements that looks confusing but is actually incredibly simple and beneficial for giving you a strong and injury-resilient core. You see the problem with “old school” core training is the belief that you need 1,000’s of crunches for a strong core. The truth is different—you need a core that’s strong enough to resist movement and transfer strength through your limbs. In this case anti-movements, such as planks and the pallof press reign king.
During the half kneeling pallof press your core musculature works to resist rotation, forcing you to fire obliques, abs, lower back, glutes, and hips to concurrently stabilize your spine and transfer strength through your arms. This movement builds real-world transferable strength and stability to build a strong and injury-proof core.
How to: Begin by kneeling perpendicular to a cable column or structural support beam. With your inside leg down, hold a band with both hands at shoulder height. Squeeze your glutes to set your hips and stabilize your body while bringing the band close to your chest, preventing the pulling forces from taking you off track, before pressing in front of you.
Dr. Erson Religioso III, DPT, MS, MTC, CertMDT, CFC, FMT, CSCS, FAAOMPT-Single Leg Bridge
Single leg bridge shows you not only deficits in your core strength, but single leg glute strength as well. It's a great way to figure out which hip is weaker! The glutes play a major role in overall core strength and stability.
Hold arms straight up toward ceiling, palms together
Tight core, straighten out one leg, lift and hold bridge
Note the difference between sides, paying attention to your hands drifting from side to side
Dr. James Spencer, DC, ATC, FIAMA-Paddleboarding
Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is one of the lowest impact and most liberating core workouts you will come across. It does not matter your age or skill set, everyone can enjoy paddleboarding. You can progress from a Tall Kneeling position (on your knees) to a Standing position based on your comfort, balance and skill set. SUP is such a beneficial core workout due to its common nature of being reactive or reflexive to the water, waves, and paddling. The number one problem I see when I take my client's paddleboarding is that they don’t understand the concept of pillar pressure, meaning, they try to paddle the board with their arms and not their core or “pillar.” This VIDEO displays a Rad way to enjoy some Family time while concurrently getting a killer core workout.
Dr. Joel Seedman, PhD, Exercise Physiologist, Athletic Performance Specialist and owner of Advanced Human Performance-Single Arm Plank
If you could only choose one exercise to crush your core, the single arm plank and variations thereof would be it.
The single arm plank is a difficult but highly effective drill for targeting the core, hips, shoulder stabilizers, triceps, chest, lats, and more. Not only are you resisting lumbar and hip extension which taxes the anterior core and transverse abs but you're also resisting rotational forces. This activates the smaller stabilizers of the core and spine including the internal obliques, external obliques, and quadratus lumborum. As a result of recruiting all available stabilizers around the core, hips, and groin, the single arm plank is one of the single most effective drills for bulletproofing your spine and reducing the risk for injury to the lumbo-pelvic hip complex.
The single arm plank also has incredible transfer to athletic performance and sprinting via contralateral arm and hip activation (opposite arm and leg working together). In fact, contralateral activities make up the foundation of many human movements and athletic skills including rotational movements, kicking, throwing, punching, and even various aspects of speed and agility training. Sprinting and running work in a similar fashion as the cross-crawl pattern of the human gait requires the opposite arm and leg to work in unison to create rhythmic and coordinated movement.
Unfortunately many individuals never fully optimize these contralateral movement patterns thereby sacrificing function, performance, and joint health. The single arm plank is one of the single most effective drills you can perform to help re-wire this contralateral activation pattern thereby enhancing force production, power output and quality of movement. In fact, once you begin performing single arm planks you’ll notice that the opposite arm and hip must work together to bear a majority of the load not only through intense intramuscular tension but through coordinated and rhythmic contractions. As a result, your athletic performance, lifting strength, and daily functional activities will receive a tremendous boost.
The single arm plank is also highly adaptable to a number of fitness levels as the movement can be performed with the forearm on the bench as a simple regression or with the hand on a ring or unstable surface. Here’s one of my athletes Ben Lai demonstrating a very difficult variation of the weighted single arm plank.
Dr. Laura Miranda DPT, MSPT- 3 INVERTED CORE MOVEMENT PATTERNS
The inverted position forces an integration of the upper extremity and core musculature in a way that takes any quadruped "plank based" exercise to a whole new level. These, of course, are progressions and should be added in once you max out on reps in the traditional positions, and your brain is slowly going numb from boredom.
Movement 1: Lateral Swipes
Movement 2: Anterior Swipes
Movement 3: Mountain Climbers
The tweaks used to increase the intensity of these bodyweight core movements:
Removing points of contact with the ground/railing
Manipulating gravity’s effect on the body by elevating the feet on the railing
Movement of the limbs through the frontal and sagittal plane on a stable core and upper body.
Perform these movements slowly for maximal training effect and to minimize compensations.
These are anti-rotation and anti-lateral flexion movements. The goal is to minimize lateral shifting or rotation of the trunk and pelvis once you drop from 4 points of contact to 3. Do so by activating the anterior core and maximally contracting quads and glutes.
Maintain depressed scapula and the “anti-shrugged” position throughout.