5 Core Exercises Young Athletes Should Be Using Instead of Sit-Ups

These five core drills will improve young athletes' performance, reduce their chance of injury, and provide some fun and variety to their training.

This much I know—core exercises for youth athletes are butchered all the time.

Whether this is because trainers are not teaching them well enough or because athletes are performing them with a lack of control, proper core training is a rare sight.

Core training for youth athletes often amounts to little more than kids performing hundreds of Sit-Ups. This can lead to a hinder in performance as well as an increase in chance of low-back injury.

The functional anatomy of the core is a multitude of muscle groups working together to transfer force (whether that force involve changing direction, throwing, kicking, etc.) or resist force (holding off opponent, decelerating safely, etc.). Very rarely are sport-specific actions done with the core moving into as much flexion as a Sit-Up.

With that said, the best core exercise we can offer young athletes will help them train their core musculature to better transfer and resist force in ways applicable to sport and training.

Doing so will lead to several benefits:

  • Improved posture
  • Improved running mechanics and speed
  • Increased ability to change direction
  • Increased resilience from external force (contact sports)
  • Improved technique of bigger lifts (Squats, Deadlifts, Push-Ups, Pull-Ups)
  • Increased total body strength

As you can see, core training is the nucleus of almost every athletic and sport-specific movement, so we must show our youth exercises that have carryover.

This article is intended to help you learn how to teach better core training to kids through simple cues and fun drills. The onus is on us coaches to teach kids proper form and integrate good movement patterns.

Below are five core-centric drills you can utilize with your youth athletes that enhance performance, reduce chance of injury, and even encourage fun.

1. Plank

Ever heard a young athlete say, "I can hold a plank for 5 minutes"?


I don't care.

This may sound harsh, but I get skeptical anytime a kid holds a Plank for such a long time. The kids who can hold Planks for a long period of time often say it doesn't even feel like they are working out. What's the better odds—that this kid was born as a fitness superhero, or that they're utilizing crummy form?

Done correctly, Planks should be challenging to hold for even 15-30 seconds, leaving the entirety of the body straining to maintain stability. There must be full body tension in the fists, arms, glutes and quadriceps. Since the core is a multi-faceted piece of the human body, it is in our athlete's best interest to engage the surrounding muscles.

Above is a video tutorial that will help you to teach this essential core exercise more effectively.

Once your athletes have mastered this, you can challenge them with a long-arm Plank, which adds more challenge on the anterior core:

2. Athletic-Stance Chaos Drill

The "athletic stance" is a crucial component of athletic performance. It calls for athletes to lower their center of gravity (think soft knee bend, hips back), and get into a position that allows them to react and move in any direction quickly. Adding onto that, a proper athletic stance recruits the hamstrings and gluteals, which are the muscles we want being prime movers in agility execution.

The athletic stance is also the base of many strength movements done in the weight room—from Pallof Presses, to Deadlifts, to Good Mornings.

The above core exercise will not only reinforce a good athletic stance, but will also provide tremendous anterior core activation. The athlete must brace their core and attempt to stay in a good athletic position despite the external forces being transferred into the ball. Extending the ball out from their body will further the challenge, as will using a lightly-weighted medicine ball.

3. Hollow Hold

The Hollow Hold is one of the most challenging core exercises for youth athletes. The good news is that it's also one of the easiest to teach.

The Hollow Hold provides a tremendous amount of anterior core activation, and unlike the plank, kids feel like they are truly working their cores and getting that "six-pack ab" workout that burns the next day.

4. Bird Dog

I have been a big fan of Bird Dog variations for several reasons:

  • They improve core stability.
  • They activate the gluteals.
  • They increase motor learning due to their contralateral (opposite arm, opposite leg) nature.

Above is a video of the most simple Bird Dog variation that will jumpstart your youth athletes.

Once your athletes are ready to up the ante, here is a fun progression to try with a partner:

5. Groin Roll

Since the core is made up of more than just the abdominals, it is wise to incorporate exercises that also incorporate hip strength. I love this Groin Roll exercise because it touches on an often ignored muscle group: the hip adductors. They play a major role in a plethora of athletic movements, from accelerating, to decelerating, to changing direction.

Adding these five core drills to a youth athlete's program will improve their performance, reduce their chance of injury, and provide some fun and variety to their training. But remember, the move is only as valuable as its execution. Prioritize proper form. Ask your athletes where they're feeling certain exercises. six high-quality reps are a world better than ten crummy-quality reps.