Knocking out sit-ups like it’s your job isn’t necessarily a bad thing — anything for progress, right? But it’s not the best way to build core strength and function, either. “Most guys focus on flexion-based movements like sit-ups because they want the ‘six-pack’ abs they believe these moves offer,” says Jeff Richter, a strength and conditioning coach at St. Vincent Sports Performance.
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“They want the ‘show’ muscles, but in the process, they may be neglecting the ‘go’ that core-stability training can offer.” By changing your core routine to focus on movements that limit excessive and unwanted movement of the spine, you can enhance your overall performance both in and out of the gym. Try some of these unsung core moves to get stronger, and more stable, without all of the incessant crunches.
High Threshold Single-Arm Plank
Sure, the plank isn’t “underrated,” but it’s a great exercise for building baseline core stability. “If you can’t maintain a neutral spine while performing a plank, you’ll most certainly compromise your positioning when under the load of a barbell,” Richter says.
Once you’ve mastered the basic forearm plank, try adding the high threshold single-arm plank suggested by Mark Demchak, MS, ATC, PES, an athletic trainer with Northwestern Medicine Athletic Training and Sports Performance Clinic in Illinois.
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- Start in a modified knee push-up position with arms extended under shoulders, core tight and body straight from head to knees.
- Lift right hand from the ground, touch opposite shoulder.
- Lift both knees off the ground into single-arm plank position. Hold for three to five seconds, then lower knees back to the floor, followed by hand.
- Repeat on the opposite side, and continue alternating, completing a total of two to three sets of five repetitions per side.
“Deadbugs don’t just improve your core stability, but your neuromuscular coordination, too,” says Betina Gozo, Nike Master Trainer. “They ensure your brain is ready and core is activated for your workout, so when you’re ready for a heavy lift, you can concentrate on multiple parts of your body to keep the movement safe and effective.”
- Lie on back, bending hips and knees so both are at 90-degree angles, knees aligned with hips.
- Extend arms directly over shoulders, engage core, and ensure lower back is in contact with the ground.
- Slowly extend left leg, never letting it touch the floor. Simultaneously reach right arm backward overhead.
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- Torso should remain stable, lower back in contact with the ground.
- When you’ve reached your arm and leg as far as you can with good form, bring them back to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- Perform three sets of 10 repetitions per side.
Landmine Squat to 1-Arm Twist and Press
“Both the landmine squat and the landmine overhead press require the core muscles to create stability,” says Dr. Jason Park, PT, DPT, a physical therapist and performance specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s Performance Therapy in Santa Monica. “Using the twist and press variation taps into the core’s function for rotational strength. This exercise is a mainstay for developing rotational strength and core control while also working explosive leg and arm strength.”
- Stand, hips and shoulders parallel to a loaded landmine bar, left shoulder closest to the bar’s fixed end.
- Hold the weight in right arm at shoulder height with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Squat down, using proper squat form.
- Return to standing, turning body to the left, pressing the weight overhead.
- Turn back to center as you lower the weight.
- Repeat, performing four sets of six with heavier weight, or three sets of 12 to 15 reps with lighter weight.
Dani Singer, NASM-certified trainer and the Director of Fit2Go Personal Training, says the pallof press is like the plank of oblique exercises, forcing you to resist movement of the spine (specifically rotation), developing stability and strength through this often-overlooked area of the core.
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- Set a cable pulley at shoulder height and stand a couple feet away, with right shoulder closest to the pulley, feet hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent.
- Grab the pulley handle and pull it to the center of your chest, elbows bent at sides, hands clasped at sternum.
- Tighten core and keep hips and shoulders square and forward-facing.
- Press arms straight out from chest, resisting any twisting motion through hips or core. Steadily bring hands back to chest. Perform 10 controlled reps before switching sides.