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.

diastasis recti exercises
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!”
Ugh.
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.
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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!
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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.
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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.
Coaching Notes:
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
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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.
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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.
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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:
  1. Removing points of contact with the ground/railing
  2. Manipulating gravity’s effect on the body by elevating the feet on the railing
  3. Movement of the limbs through the frontal and sagittal plane on a stable core and upper body.
Coaching Notes:
  • 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.
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Lindsay Bloom, BA, FMS-1 Owner www.drjohnrusin.com-3 Way Plank
Description: The 3-Way Plank is one of our go-to “catch-all” core training exercises as it truly works to train the shoulders, hips, and core together as a functional unit. Many times it’s not a lack of “strength” that holds back the look or function of the athlete, but rather a lack of stability and activation. That’s the reason why each of these three positions needs to be executed with maximal effort for only 8-10 seconds at a time. Tapping into full body tension also allows the body to learn to link up multiple segments, that plays a huge role in injury prevention and performance enhancement. Use this sequence in either the dynamic warm-up to activate the pillar before training with 2-3 rounds of each position, or as a metabolic-finisher with 5-8 rounds at the tail end of your training day. This is a core-training method that I use in our 12-week training FHT method- https://drjohnrusin.com/fht-program/
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Lori Lindsey, Badass soccer performance coach-SB Stir the Pot
A great anti-extension core exercise that is a more challenging version of a traditional plank. To get set-up, assume a plank position on a stability ball. Brace your abs, squeeze your glutes and perform controlled, circular motions with your forearms while keeping your hips and shoulders in a straight line. Widen your stance if you need to make this exercise a bit easier at first and then narrower your stance to progress as you master the position. Perform 3-4 rotations each way.
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Meghan Callaway, Strength Coach-Prone Sled Crawl
The prone sled crawl strengthens the muscles of the upper body and core. This deceptively tough exercise trains the body to resist extension. I also added in some knee tucks, but this is totally optional.
If I am performing this exercise correctly, my entire body, aside from my arms, will remain in a fixed position and in proper alignment (neutral spine) for the duration of the exercise, and will remain in a straight line from my head to heels. This is accomplished by squeezing my glutes, actively tucking my rib cage towards my hips, and keeping my anterior core braced. Throughout the duration of the exercise, I will take deep breaths into my belly through my nose, and will exhale through my mouth. I will also make sure that my shoulders remain packed. When most people perform this (or other crawling variations), their bodies will twist like a slinky. This is a sign of poor lumbo-pelvic stability.
The sled weighs 25 lbs. You can make this exercise more challenging by adding extra weight. I have done 125 lbs, which was brutal, but using just the sled is often challenging enough.
If you don't have a sled, using slider pads work, and if you have access to a wooden floor, using a towel or your socks also works.
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Michael Mash, DPT, CSCS, FMS-Barbell Squat
While there are certainly numerous isolation core stability exercises out there, you can’t forget about the basics. So you can do a deadbug and “stabilize” your spine while lying down, but can you maintain a rigid core with a heavy barbell on your back? This is why the low-bar squat represents a simple, yet excellent example of a core stability exercise. It can be classified as an “anti-flexion” core stability drill, as one must fight diligently to prevent excessive flexion of the spine under load. Furthermore, by placing the bar lower on the back, this also promotes more of a forward torso angle, further increasing the demand on the low back and core. If you’re looking to train the core, don’t forget your staple movements such as the low-bar squat!
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Travis Pollen, MS, Personal Trainer, Author, and Athlete-Ab Wheel Rollout
The ab wheel rollout is an old school core exercise that will never go out of style. Not only does it get your abs ready for beach season, but it also builds incredible anti-extension strength through the trunk. This strength is crucial for just about every full body movement, including push-ups, overhead press, pull-ups, squats, and deadlifts. From a technique standpoint, the most important thing to remember during the rollout is to avoid hyperextension of the low back. The two easiest ways to do this are to maintain a slightly piked hip position or to squeeze your butt muscles violently to create a posterior pelvic tilt, as shown in the video. The video also shows three positions, in order of increasing difficulty: (1) the hands raised higher than the knees (similar to an incline push-up), (2) flat, and (3) the knees raised higher than the hands (similar to a decline push-up). Other ways to increase or decrease the challenge include using a band for assistance or added resistance (depending on the direction of the anchor) and performing rollouts from the feet as opposed to the knees.
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Dr. Zach Long, DPT-The Anti Extension Dead Bug
The anti-extension dead bug is a great anterior core exercise, specifically for those with difficulty controlling pelvic positioning. By getting the back flat on the ground, with the entire spine slightly flexed, athletes can build strength in this slightly posteriorly rotated position. Adding in lower body movement further challenges their ability to maintain this position. For any athletes with an over-extended / anteriorly rotated pelvis posture, this is one of my main go-to exercises for positional control and strength.
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Dr. Sarah Duvall, DPT, PT, CPT-Great Posture
I love basically all core exercises, hard, easy and crazy alike, but the best core exercise in my book is having great posture all day. It pains me to see people work their abs off, then walk out the door and slouch. Our core muscles are meant to work ALL DAY LONG, not just for the time at the gym.
A common posture mistake is letting your hips shift forward. This creates strain on your low back, neck, hips and pelvic floor. To get in a great core workout all day, simply shift your hips back a pinch. This will help align your spine and work your abs all day.
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