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Dozens of exercises available to athletes can boost strength, but if your core muscles are weak, not only will your sports performance suffer but strains, sprains and other injuries may result. For example, strong core muscles, particularly in the abdomen and groin areas, may prevent sports hernias. So, to stay healthy and insure peak game performance, give as much attention to training your core muscles as you give to your chest and biceps.
Try the following core strengthening exercises in your sports conditioning program. You can either substitute a medicine ball or use a machine with adjustable cable heights and light to moderate resistance for some movements. A bench can used for other exercises.
Adjustable Cable Machine and Medicine Ball Exercises
1. Side Chops
These strengthens the oblique and transverse abdominal muscles as well as the legs, hips, upper, middle and lower back and arm muscles. Assume athletic stance facing away from cable machine. Set cable pin about a foot above left ear and use light to moderate resistance. Grab cable handle with both hands and explosively drive across body diagonally downward toward right ankle while contracting abdominal muscles. Slowly return to start position and repeat for 10 repetitions without resting; repeat on other side.
2. Reverse Chops
Similar to positioning for Side Chops, except cable pin is set at ankle height. Reverse Chops will strengthen your abdominal, leg, hip and upper, middle and lower back and arm muscles. Grab cable handle at left ankle and, keeping abdominal muscles tight, quickly drive upward across body to above right ear. Slowly return to start and repeat 10 reps. Repeat on other side.
3. Alternate Cable Chops
You can perform this exercise with a medicine ball by forcefully bouncing it from side to side in 30 to 45 seconds. Alternate Cable Chops and medicine ball bounces engage abdominal, hip, leg, back, and arm muscles. Assume athletic position one to two feet in front of cable handle. Set cable pin about six inches above head. Using a rope handle, grab both ends and rapidly drive down toward right ankle while slightly twisting. Slowly return to start and chop to left ankle. Alternate to each side as many times as you can in 30-45 seconds.
4. Cable Side Twists
This is an excellent exercise for strengthening the obliques and lower back. Assume athletic stance one to two feet away from and facing sideways from cable machine. Set cable pin about waist high. Grab cable handle with both hands and quickly drive across body at waist level, rotating torso. Slowly return to beginning and repeat for as many twists as you can do in 30-45 seconds, both directions.
Medicine Ball Core Exercises
1. Russian Twists
A terrific lower abdominal/oblique strengthening exercise. Sit on a mat with knees bent and feet off floor. Rapidly bounce a medicine ball on floor toward right hip, then toward left hip. Do as many alternating bounces as you can in 30-45 seconds.
2. Side Lunge and Twist
This works to strengthen the leg and hip muscles, middle and lower back and arms, and abdominal muscles, particularly the obliques. Assume athletic stance with medicine ball at chest height, arms extended. Lunge to the right while simultaneously turning ball to the right. Bring left foot to right foot and continue lunging/twisting ball to the right for about 10 yards. Repeat with left side lunges and ball twists back to start position.
3. Woodchopper and Twist
A wonderful upper and lower body strengthening exercise that effectively targets the lower and middle back and abdominal muscles. From an athletic stance with feet spread about shoulder-width, hold ball overhead and explosively drive ball through legs. Bring ball back to chest level and, with arms extended, twist from side to side. Repeat movement 10 times.
4. Medicine Ball Prone Plank
Planks are great abdominal, middle and lower back and shoulder muscle strengtheners. Contract your abdominal muscles and keep your back straight, without letting your lower back sag. Assume the prone plank position (similar to push-up position except resting forearms on ground). Place one foot with toes on a medicine ball and raise the opposite leg off floor. Hold position for 30 seconds, then switch feet/toes on ball and other leg airborne for 30 seconds. Advanced version: Place both feet/toes on ball in plank position and hold 30-60 seconds.
Core Exercises Using a Bench
Feet-Elevated Prone and Side Planks
Prone and side planks work the oblique and transverse abdominals, lower and middle back and shoulder muscles. Assume plank position with both feet/toes on a bench. Raise left foot off bench and hold position 30 seconds. Repeat with right foot airborne for 30 seconds. Without resting, rotate to left side of body and raise hips off floor with right forearm on floor and left arm extended overhead. Hold 30 seconds, rotate to right side and repeat.
photo credit: menshealth.com