15 Core Strengthening Exercises for Athletes

STACK Expert Andrew Meyers offers 15 exercises that build core strength and endurance and that specifically benefit athletes.


When it comes to core exercises, too much focus is placed on the abs and not enough on the back, pelvic and diaphragm muscles, which are essential for strength and stability. Here are 15 core strenghtening exercises that work all of these areas. They will improve your balance, stability and dynamic neuromuscular control, so you can move more deftly and efficiently and generate power when playing your sport.

RELATED: Research Discovers the Best Type of Core Exercise

1. Plank to Push-Up

Adding movement to the classic Plank requires additional strength to maintain balance.

How to Perform:

  1. Get into a standard plank position, contract your core and glutes and maintain a straight back.
  2. From the plank position, transition to a push-up position by lifting one forearm off the ground and placing that hand on the ground, followed by the other hand.
  3. After you place both hands on the ground in a push-up position, transition back into the original plank position by lifting first one hand then the other off the ground and placing your forearms back the ground. That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x20

2. Plank Step-Ups

This core variation also incorporates movement but requires you to recruit more muscles to push them up the step. This one increases strength in both the core and triceps muscles, which is ideal for football players (linemen) who have to push off the ground.

How to Perform:

  1. Get into a standard push-up position with a step-up board in front of you, adjusted to your level of strength.
  2. While maintaining a tight core and back, lift one hand off the ground onto the board, followed by the other hand.
  3. After both hands are on the board, lift the first hand off the board and place it back on the ground followed by the other hand. That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x20

3. Alternating Shoulder Tap Plank

This exercise places you in a push-up position, activating more of your triceps muscles in addition to your core muscles. The movement requires a strong core to help stabilize your body.

How to Perform:

  1. Get into a standard push-up position.
  2. Lift one hand and reach it across your body. Tap your opposite shoulder then place your hand back on the floor.
  3. Perform the same motion with the opposite hand. That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x30

RELATED: The Navy Seal Core Workout

4. Barbell Roll-Outs

This is an alternate take on the classic Ab Wheel Roll-Out, forcing you to use your core strength in a stretched position. It also increases lower back and shoulder strength, which is very beneficial in most sports, because athletes are required to stretch their bodies to perform certain motions. A strong core helps prevent injury during these motions while assisting in producing force.

How to Perform:

  1. Get on your knees with a barbell on the floor in front of you and a 25-pound plate on each side.
  2. Grasp the bar with both hands about shoulder-width apart.
  3. While maintaining a neutral spine, slowly roll the barbell out in front of you until you are almost parallel to the floor.
  4. Using your core, slowly roll the barbell backwards until you return to the starting position. That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x15

5. Stability Ball Stir The Pot

This core exercise is similar to the Roll-Out, but it requires you to move in a circular motion instead of forward and back. This is beneficial because it works all angles of the core, including the obliques.

How to Perform:

  1. Get into a standard plank position with your forearms on a stability ball.
  2. While maintaining a strong core, use your forearms to rotate the ball in a circular motion until you reach your original starting point. Then rotate the ball in the other direction. That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x15

6. Landmine Rotations

The Landmine Rotation builds great core strength, primarily in the obliques, while strengthening the shoulder muscles, making it an ideal exercise for athletes in sports involving rotational movements, such as baseball and golf.

How to Perform:

  1. Set up a landmine station by placing one end of a barbell on the ground underneath a heavy dumbbell in a corner.
  2. With both hands, lift the opposite end of the barbell and hold it in front of you with your arms fully extended.
  3. With your knees slightly bent, rotate the bar to one side while maintaining straight arms.
  4. Rotate back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. That is one repetition.
  5. Adjust the weight based on your level of strength.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

RELATED: Basic Core Exercises for Beginners

7. Stability Ball V-Up Transfers

This variation increases core strength, primarily in the lower abdominal muscles. Adding a stability ball requires coordination, and you must contract your quadriceps and adductor muscles.

How to Perform:

  1. Lie on your back with your arms and legs straight and a stability ball between your legs.
  2. Grasp the stability ball with both legs.
  3. Simultaneously lift the ball with your legs and lift your arms, forming a "V" shape with your body.
  4. Grasp the ball with your hands and simultaneously lower the ball and your legs to the ground without actually touching the ground.
  5. Perform the same motion in reverse, transferring the ball from your hands to your legs. That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

8. Lateral V-Ups

Lateral V-Ups focus on the oblique muscles. A good variation to normal V-Ups, they require coordination and train your core muscles to activate simultaneously.

How to Perform:

  1. Lie on your side with one leg on top of the other in a straight line.
  2. Place the hand of your bottom arm out in front of you for leverage.
  3. Extend your other arm straight over your head.
  4. Simultaneously lift both legs and your arm toward each other to form a "V" shape.
  5. Slowly lower yourself to the original starting position. That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x15

9. Weighted Plate Russian Twists

The Weighted Plate Russian Twist also focuses on the oblique muscles by requiring rotation. The added weight from the plate requires more muscle activation, building more strength.

How to Perform:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
  2. Slightly lean back and lift your legs off the ground.
  3. With a weighted plate in your hands, rotate to one side, then rotate to the other side. That is one repetition.
  4. Adjust the weight based on your level of strength.

Sets/Reps: 3x15

10. Crunchy Frogs

Crunchy Frogs require you to bring your knees up, crunching your lower abdominal muscles, rather than bringing your head up and crunching your upper abdominal muscles. They also require both legs and the back off the ground, requiring you to balance, which recruits your core stabilizer muscles.

How to Perform:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
  2. Slightly lean back and lift your legs off the ground.
  3. Bend your knees and lift your arms out to the sides about chest high.
  4. Simultaneously bring your knees to your chest and your hands forward and toward each other over your knees.
  5. Simultaneously separate your arms and extend your knees to the original starting position. That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x30

WATCH: Build Complete Core Strength With One Exercise

11. Bicycle Crunches

This exercise increases strength and endurance, incorporating rotation in the crunch position and targeting the upper abdominal and oblique muscles. Obviously, this variation benefits cyclists the most.

How to Perform:

  1. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head and your legs fully extended.
  2. Perform a Crunch, lifting your head off the ground towards your chest and maintaining that position.
  3. Simultaneously lift one knee up toward your chest and rotate your upper body so your opposite elbow makes contact with your raised knee.
  4. Simultaneously extend your knee and elbow back to the starting position.
  5. Without stopping, repeat with the opposite knee and elbow. That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x30

12. Sprinter Sit-Ups

As its name indicates, this exercise is most beneficial to track sprinters and athletes in sports requiring explosive speed. It mimics the sprinting motion, helping to train your core muscles to activate in the correct pattern to enhance your running mechanics.

How to Perform:

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms at your sides.
  2. Simultaneously sit up and bring one knee up toward your chest.
  3. Extend the arm behind you on the same side as your raised knee.
  4. At the same time, bring your opposite arm forward, bent at a 90-degree angle.
  5. After you reach the top of your Sit-Up, lie back down, extend your leg and place both arms back by your sides.
  6. Repeat with the opposite leg. That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x15

13. BOSU Ball Mountain Climbers

This core variation is similar to the Sprinter Sit-Up, except you are in a push-up position. Placing your hands on a BOSU ball requires balance, increasing the challenge to your core stabilizer muscles.

How to Perform:

  1. Get into a standard push-up position with your hands grasping the side handles of a BOSU ball, flat side up.
  2. Maintaining a straight back, bring one knee up to your chest.
  3. Extend your knee back to its starting position while simultaneously bringing your opposite knee up to your chest (for a brief moment, both feet are off the ground). That is one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x30

14. Hanging Straight Leg Raises

Probably one of the best tests of a strong core, the Hanging Straight Leg Raise requires great strength in the lower abdominal muscles, hip flexors and lower back.

How to Perform:

  1. Hang from a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands about shoulder-width apart.
  2. With your legs straight and together, raise them up toward your hands slightly as you lean backwards.
  3. Slowly lower your legs all the way back down to the original starting position. That is one repetition.
  4. If this is too difficult, perform the exercise with bent knees.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

15. Hanging Straight Leg Windshield Wipers

These are Hanging Straight Leg Raises with rotation. Adding rotation increases core strength and endurance, specifically the obliques.

How to Perform:

Hang from a pull-up bar with a neutral grip

  1. With your legs straight and together, raise them up toward your hands, leaning almost all the way back so you are parallel to the ground.
  2. Keeping your legs straight, slowly rotate to one side, then to the other side. That is one repetition.
  3. If this is too difficult, perform the exercise with bent knees.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

RELATED: Build a Stronger Core With Perturbations


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: CORE | CHEST | EXERCISE | BARBELL | CRUNCH | STABILITY BALL