The best core exercises work more than your core. It's possible to strengthen your abs, obliques, lower back and other core muscles while simultaneously developing full-body strength, stability and endurance.
Below are five of the top 10 core exercises I recommend for athletes. (See the other five here.) They will prepare your body for the rigors of competition, improve your performance and even carve a Greek God-like physique.
Choose two or three exercises to perform during your core workout. Start with two to three sets of eight to 10 reps, and increase the number of reps as your strength improves.
The Kettlebell Windmill unevenly loads your torso, forcing your core muscles to engage and support your spine. This is particularly beneficial for wrestlers, MMA fighters and other combat sport athletes, because they must be able to push and pull on one side of their body without losing balance or control of their body. Holding a kettlebell overhead also increases shoulder stability and mobility, helping reduce the risk of injury.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips and hold a kettlebell overhead with your arm locked out and your elbow behind your ear.
- Turn your feet out at a 45-degree angle opposite your overhead arm; e.g., if the kettlebell is in your left hand, turn both feet 45 degrees to the right.
- Hinge at your hips and reach down with your opposite hand as far as flexibility allows. Keep your eyes locked on the kettlebell.
- Stand up to return to the starting position.
- Tip: Hold a kettlebell with your other hand (as shown below) to increase the challenge.
Stability Ball Pot Mixers
This is an exercise you will love to hate...or perhaps just hate. It drastically increases the difficulty of a traditional plank because you must balance on the physioball while moving your elbows in a circle. You'll particularly notice that your abs burn when your elbows reach the 12-o'clock position.
- Assume plank position with your elbows on a physioball.
- Move your elbows in a clockwise circle for the specified reps. Do not let your hips sag.
- Repeat in the opposite direction.
Dead Bug Wall Pushes
You'll get the same burning sensation as you would from performing a bunch of Crunches, without the stress associated with repeatedly flexing your spine. It's a great exercise to help prevent an injury, recover from an injury or simply mix up your core training. You may feel like someone stomped on you when you're done.
- Lie on your back with your head about a foot away from a wall (the distance may change based on your height or arm length).
- Lift both arms overhead and press your hands against the wall.
- Important: keep your low back in contact with the ground.
- Lift your legs so your thighs are perpendicular to the ground and your knees are at a 90-degree angle. This is the starting position.
- Extend one leg and lower it until your heel is 6 inches above the ground. Pause for one count.
- Return your leg to the starting position and repeat with your opposite leg.
The Pull-Up is one of the best upper-body strength exercises. However, you can add a core element and increase the difficulty by adding static leg raises, which will strengthen your back and abs at the same time.
- Grasp a pull-up bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Raise your legs to a 90-degree angle to your body. Hold this position throughout the exercise.
- Perform a Pull-Up, keeping your legs straight.
Renegade Man Makers
The Man Maker is absolutely brutal (hence the name). It combines a Burpee with an Overhead Press and Dumbbell Row. It's incredibly athletic, because you must brace your core while moving weight through various planes of motion. Your heart rate will skyrocket since you're working your entire body, improving your conditioning and testing your mental toughness.
- Assume a push-up position, holding lightweight dumbbells with your palms facing together.
- Perform a Single-Arm Row with your left arm, then another with your right arm.
- Hop your feet forward and stand up as if performing a Burpee.
- Curl the dumbbells to your shoulders and press them overhead.
- Lower the dumbbells, squat down and return to the starting position.
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