Today, we’re going to change how you look at core exercise. It’s not just about situps, crunches, and leg raises. Believe it or not, core exercise is just as specific as training for the rest of your body. The easiest way to approach it is to break it down into four categories: anti-extension, anti-flexion, anti-lateral flexion, and anti-rotation. Use the two workouts below – or mix and match – to make sure you’re hitting all the major points of core training.
Anti-Extension / Anti-Flexion
1) TRX Plank, 3 sets at moderate/high difficulty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao8MpEWBk70
If you don’t have access to a TRX, just start with a normal plank. From a pushup position, drop to your elbows – that’s the start. Brace your core and don’t let your hips sag towards the floor. That’s the extension you’re trying to avoid.
Progress to TRX Body Saw, 3 sets at moderate/high difficulty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8QwySflzLQ
Start in a normal plank position with feet in the TRX. Instead of holding in place, push your body backwards, then slowly pull back to the start. During the motion, keep your core braced and don’t allow your lumbar spine to extend.
2) Ball Rollout, 3x12: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgSXIDIRDFE
This is another great anti-extension movement that will teach you to use your hips. Kneel down in front of a stability ball, hands on top. Using your hips, push forward until you feel like you’re lower back is going to collapse, then return to the start.
Progress to Barbell Rollout, 3x8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s9rcrCS28k
The barbell rollout brings you closer to the ground and allows for a bigger range of motion. Otherwise, it’s the same movement. Just pay extra attention as you push forward – don’t let your lumbar spine hyperextend.
3) KB Goblet Squat, 3x12: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLD6KQOHNhU
With the weight in front of your body, the goblet squat makes it even more difficult to prevent lumbar flexion, or forward lean. Set up in a squat stance holding a KB at your chest. Start the movement with your hips, hit parallel, and explode upward.
Progress to Barbell Front Squat, 3-4x6: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1t8dIWKk_A
The front squat is another movement that emphasizes anti-flexion. Choose a comfortable grip, set up in a close stance, and drop deep.
4) Single Leg Raise, 3x8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxSUHXKjlZ0
It might seem too easy at first, but wait to pass judgment. Lay flat on the floor with both legs extended. Now, press your lower back into the floor as hard as you can. The goal is to raise one leg all the way up – keeping it as straight as possible – without letting your lower back lose contact with the floor.
Progress to Weighted Dead Bug, 3x8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkFG-78x3NE&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1
Start in the same position as the single leg raise. This time, you’re going to simultaneously raise one leg and the opposite hand at the same time. The same goal stands: don’t let your lower back pull away from the floor.
Anti-Rotation / Anti-Lateral Flexion
1) Single Leg Supine Bridge, 3x8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0kbmbf6BF0
Even if this feels too easy, use it a few times to work on glute activation. Lay on your back on the floor with one knee bent. Hold the other at a slight angle in the air. Now, squeeze your glutes and raise your hips off the floor. Don’t let your hips tilt in either direction.
Progress to Single Leg Hip Thrust, 3-4x6-8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPRDpxgNgHU
On to the next step, the hip thrust. Position your upper back against a low box and set up in the single leg bridge position. It’s the same movement, so pay attention to the same details. And, if you’re feeling up to it, start loading it with a barbell or dumbbell across your hips.
2) Single Arm Farmer’s Walk, 3 sets at moderate/high difficulty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6npFKmvhmas
This is a fun variation of a movement you’ve probably seen in Strongman competition. With weight in only one hand, you’re going to want to bend that way – that’s lateral flexion. Don’t let it happen. As you walk, stay as straight as possible.
Progress to Single Arm KB Bottoms up Walk, 3 sets at moderate/high difficulty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkSSED3NxFU
This progression takes some of the anti-lateral flexion demand away, but replaces it with anti-rotation. Hold a KB by the handle – this creates the “bottoms up” – just in front of your shoulder. Now, similar to the farmer’s walk, walk forward. Don’t let your body bend to the side or twist.
3) Standing Pallof Press, 3x8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFspBRHke4w
This simple but effective anti-rotation movement starts with you standing next to a cable machine. Grab a D-handle and turn 45 degrees so you’re not directly facing the machine. Set a strong stance, hold the handle at your chest, and press forward. As you do this, you’ll feel a pull from the cable machine – resist the rotation.
Progress to Pallof Press from Lunge, 3x8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzPIwVUEGuA
This variation takes away your base of support – the lower body. Start from a lunge position and follow the same rules as the standing pallof press.
4) Side Bridge, 3x8-12: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKglcf6r7Gw
You’re already familiar with the standard bridge, so this will be easy. This time, start on your side in a plank position. Let your bottom hip drop to the floor, then return to the start and hold for a second or two. During the hold, be sure to keep your body in a straight line.
Progress to TRX T-Pushup, 3 sets at Progressmoderate/high difficulty:
Start in a pushup position, but with only one foot in the TRX foot cradles. Now, perform a pushup. As you reach the start position once again, twist to the side. You’ll find yourself in a side plank position. Hold for a second or two and be careful not to let your hip drop. Return to the pushup position and repeat.