While the “core” is a critical area of the body, the term itself is sometimes mis-applied and allows a lot of unqualified people to market themselves. If you run into anyone who “trains the core” and you see crunches, bike twists, and supermans, be wary of the program and the person selling it. These exercises are not beneficial and can even be harmful. That said, here are a few exercises we really like, in no particular order:
- Anti-rotation press. I introduce this in a tall kneeling position first. One you are proficient, move to standing and then split standing or with the cable overhead. Lots of variation, it encourages symmetry, and really hits the right notes.
- Farmer’s walk. Try to use kettlebells or another item where the weight is centered under your hand. Dumbbells are good but they tend to teeter at high weights so if you’re serious about farmer walks, try to avoid them. Keep the chest up and out and let the arms hang from the shoulder sockets. This is a terrific exercise for hip stability as well. A 5-minute farmer’s walk (with untimed breaks) is a deceptively effective choice for a quick workout.
- Lunges and rear-foot elevated squats. These exercises can make you sore but for all the right reasons. I like to introduce these goblet-style, where you hold just one weight with both hands against your chest. Progressing to 2 weights, a barbell on the back, offset (only weight in 1 hand) and/or holding the weight overhead are serious challenges for anyone. There is a learning curve but with hard work one can reach high external loads very safely.
- Push-ups. An old stand-by and for good reason. If you can’t do full push-ups then I recommend you put your hands on a bench or box so that you’re at an incline. Always try to get the chest to hand–level rather than doing partial push-ups. If you get stuck, bracing and gripping the fingers really helps. Elevating the feet or adding weight on your back will challenge anyone.
- Inverted Rows. Basically this is a reverse push-up and a truly wonderful exercise. For those who might struggle, raise the height of the bar. For those who find these easy, put your feet up on a box or bench, use a weight vest and/or have a spotter put weight plates on your stomach. I would like to plug the Turkish get-up at #5 but it requires technical precision and absolutely needs professional instruction. If you can find a qualified kettlebell instructor, go for it.
Come to think of it, the above 5 exercises make a darn good workout. Add in some hamstring/glute work and you’re way ahead of the average gym user’s routine.
By: Max Prokopy
Editor: Kate Sweeney
Disclaimer: Each individual is different. If you are new to these exercises, it may be best to consult a certified trainer. No attempt has been made to promote one particular fitness gym or performer. No financial benefit is associated with any of the above recommendations.