Core strength plays a pivotal role in athletic performance.
It acts as the link between your upper and lower extremities, the linchpin you need to reach your full movement potential. Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce might've said it best: "As an athlete, your core is like the friggin' engine. It triggers everything, it gets everything going. [People] can be as big as they want in the limbs, but if they're weak in the core, they're not going to be good [athletes]," Kelce told STACK.
Besides its critical role in athletic performance, a strong, shredded core is a point of pride. Who doesn't want a six pack?
If you think you've got an iron-strong core, we've got a challenge for you. The following five exercises are incredible tests of core strength, endurance and stability. If you can conquer all of them, your core is truly the stuff of legend.
1. Hanging Straight Leg Windshield Wipers
Hanging Straight Leg Windshield Wipers are very tough. In addition to great grip strength, they require a serious amount of rotational core strength, stability and endurance. Watch Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison ace this move:
- Hang from a pull-up bar with a neutral grip.
- With your legs straight and together, raise them up toward your hands, leaning almost all the way back until you're parallel to the ground.
- Keeping your legs straight, slowly rotate to one side, then to the other side. That's one repetition. If this is too difficult, perform the exercise with bent knees.
2. Standing Ab Rollouts
Ab Rollouts are like Planks on steroids. Typically performed from a kneeling position, they require you to use your core to prevent yourself from going into extension. They're an excellent way to engage a huge area of your core and to create stronger, more defined abdominal muscles.
Plenty of athletes can perform traditional Ab Rollouts. Standing Ab Rollouts, on the other hand? Well, they are a different story entirely. Standing Ab Rollouts are similar to traditional Ab Rollouts, but instead of being performed from a kneeling position, they're performed from a standing position. This requires a greater degree of strength and flexibility, because your core must battle against your entire body weight. Watch elite strength coach Ben Bruno, who trains the likes of Roy Hibbert and Kate Upton, perform a Standing Ab Rollout while wearing an 80-pound weighted vest:
If you've already mastered the traditional Ab Rollout, feel free to give Standing Ab Rollouts a shot.
- Stand with your feet together, bend at the waist and grasp the ab wheel handles.
- Keeping your back straight and your abs tight, roll the wheel forward until your arms are overhead and your body is in a straight line.
- Roll the wheel back toward your feet as you bend your hips to return to the starting position.
3. Rotary Stability Test
The Rotary Stability Test is one of the movements included in Functional Movement Screen, a 10-minute evaluation meant to expose underlying issues within an athlete's movement patterns. Each movement in the FMS is graded on a scale of 0-3 (3 being the highest), and 3s are extremely rare on the Rotary Stability Test.
That might came as a surprise when you see how simple the movement is. Here's what a 3 on the Rotary Stability Test looks like:
Easy, right? That's what everyone thinks until they give it a shot. The Rotary Stability Test is actually insanely challenging, and many pro athletes are incapable of perfecting the movement. So why is it so hard?
Andy Haley, Performance Director at STACK, explains that just one point of dysfunction can lead to you to fail. The move integrates core stability and joint function, whereas a traditional core strength test (such as a Plank) mainly measures the ability to stabilize your trunk. If your core is weak or your joints don't have the needed stability or mobility, you'll lose your center of gravity and fail the test. That's why so many people with good overall core strength and stability often fail. If everything in your body cannot work smoothly together, you're toast.
How To: If you'd like to try the Rotary Stability test, all you need is a 2x4 board.
- Get on all fours straddling the board with your hips directly over your knees and your hands directly under your shoulders. Your thumbs, knees and toes should be touching the side of the board.
- Now try to extend an arm and a leg on the same side at the same time. If you can do it, then touch your elbow to your knee, extend back out and return to the starting position. This video offers a great demonstration of what a 3 looks like.
Sets/Reps: 3x5 each side
4. Dragon Flags
Dragon Flags are a core move made famous by Bruce Lee, a master of bodyweight fitness. Dragon Flags require a superb amount of raw core strength, but they also ask a lot in terms of core stability and endurance. In particular, they require immense strength in the tranverse abdominus (the deepest layer of abdominal muscles), obliques, glutes and hips. Here's Jeff Cavaliere, trainer and physical therapist, explaining the move in more detail:
Here's Lindsey Vonn showing off her Dragon Flag:
How To: To try the move, lie back on a bench and grab the edge behind your head with your hands. Brace your arms and shoulders and tighten your core, then lift your legs in a straight line, like you would in a Reverse Crunch. Engage your glutes and raise your hips to create a straight line with your whole lower body. Slowly lower your hips and legs, maintaining that straight line. Ideally, your lower back does not touch the bench between reps.
5. Human Flag
The Human Flag might be the ultimate test of core strength known to man. If you can pull it off, congratulations—your core ranks among the strongest in the world.
The Human Flag is as physically challenging as it is visually impressive. It requires true full-body strength and an astoundingly strong core. If you can do this one, you'll be the envy of every gym rat in town.
The all-time record for holding a Human Flag is only one minute and five seconds. That's measly, especially when compared to the all-time record for the Plank (four hours and 26 minutes). Body type definitely plays a role in performing this exercise. No matter how fit you are, if you have a certain physique or body type, the Human Flag might not be possible. The exercise is actually extremely simple from a technique standpoint.
How To: Find a strong, sturdy pole that you can get a good grip on. Grab the pole using a mixed grip (one hand overhand, one hand underhand). Usually, the bottom hand takes the underhand grip and the top hand uses the overhand grip. The distance between your hands will likely be wide. Grabbing and pushing off the pole for support, swing your body into a horizontal position. A perfect Human Flag has your full body extended and parallel to the ground.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock