When most people think of the core, the first thing they automatically think of are the superficially located ‘’six-pack’’ muscles. After all, infomercials, magazine covers, many social media fitness “pros” and other media sources absolutely glorify the six-pack.
If you’re not looking beyond six-pack abs, I have news for you: there’s a lot more to the core.
The core consists of almost all of the muscles in the human body aside from the limbs. As a unit, your core is largely responsible for stabilizing the spine and providing your body with the ‘’stiffness’’ necessary to limit excessive movement and protect you from injuries — movements including extension, rotation, and lateral flexion.
Don’t underestimate the importance of having a strong core. Many people falsely believe that the best way to train the core is to perform endless rounds of crunches or sit-ups. In reality, these types of exercises don’t result in as much core strength development as many are led to believe.
Let's be honest, “core strength and stability training” is just not as marketable or appealing. It may not be “sexy,” but having a strong and bulletproof core will improve your performance in the gym and in your athletic endeavors, and will allow you to thrive in everyday life.
Core training includes core stability and core mobility. The following are four of my favorite exercises that address core stability. While the main goal of these exercises is to target the musculature of the anterior core (including the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and the internal and external obliques) all of them also challenge other important core muscles.
Note: Before you attempt any of these exercises, be sure to watch each video and read the cues carefully. If you’re unable to perform an exercise as demonstrated and described, do the regression first and work your way toward the next variation as you build up your strength and stability. If you’ve mastered the regression and the demonstrated exercise, give the progressions a try.
For those of you not familiar with a renegade row, the standard version of this exercise involves performing a dumbbell row from a push-up position. This innovative variation targets the muscles of the anterior core. Due to the lateral band attachment, it challenges the oblique muscles significantly more than the standard version. This exercise also strengthens the muscles of the back, arms, and glutes.
You will need a resistance band and a secure post, column, or rack on which to fasten the band. The thicker the band, the more challenging the exercise will be.
Perform a standard renegade row without the resistance band.
Use a band with more tension, or add chain or other weight resistance across your mid to lower back region. You can also elevate your feet. Avoid placing anything on your shoulder blades as it will interfere with proper scapular movement.
This extremely challenging exercise most notably targets the obliques. It also strengthens the glutes and develops shoulder stability.
You just need your own bodyweight and a wall to perform this exercise.
Perform this variation of the side plank, without the leg abduction, holding for time.
Add a dumbbell hold or a bottoms-up kettlebell hold with the top arm.
This fantastic big-bang-for-your-buck exercise strengthens the anterior core muscles, and trains the body to resist both extension and lateral flexion. It also targets the muscles of the shoulders, chest, back, and arms and is great for strengthening the shoulder stabilizers. As if that’s not enough, this exercise also strengthens the glutes.
You will need a kettlebell to perform this exercise.
Perform this exercise using a kettlebell starting in a normal rack position instead of bottoms-up, or using a dumbbell. To regress this exercise even more, instead of half-kneeling, you can start from a standing position, or from a seated position (with no back support).
When you’re ready to make this exercise more challenging, you can try one of two things: increase the weight, or keep the same weight but perform negative repetitions, taking three to five seconds to lower the weight each time.
Has the bird dog become too easy? If so, allow me to introduce the ipsilateral bird dog with single-arm row (with thanks to Dr. Joel Seedman of Advanced Human Performance for putting this on my radar!). This exercise is a great progression of the bird dog and really challenges all of the core muscles. This variation prevents you from “cheating” with momentum — if you do, you will topple right over! It really forces your rowing form to be spot-on.
You will need a bench and a dumbbell to perform this challenging, full-body exercise.
Perform this exercise using the basic bird dog variation stance, placing opposite hand and leg on the bench. To further regress this exercise, perform it from the floor instead of a bench, touching or resting the weight on the floor at the bottom of each repetition.
This is about as challenging as it gets, but you can work toward increasing the weight you use for this exercise.
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