All core exercises have value, but they don't all target the same muscles. Different areas of your midsection have different functions, and you should choose your exercises accordingly.
For example, when you carry a 30- or 40-pound suitcase on one side of your body, you're working your oblique muscles on the other side. Bending sideways is called lateral flexion. To counteract that, your internal and external obliques contract to create intra-abdominal pressure,which keeps your body upright and allows you to walk without falling over.
The suitcase walk itself is an anti-lateral flexion exercise, because your muscles provide resistance as your body bends sideways.
You want to train core stability in as many ways as possible—resisting extension, flexion and rotation. These exercises are called anti-extension (anterior core), anti-flexion (posterior core) and anti-rotation (rotary core).
Some exercises, like Deadlifts and Overhead Presses, train all of them simultaneously.
Here are four exercises to get you started:
Anti-Extension (Anterior Core): Hollow Body Position
The Hollow Body Position teaches you how to engage your anterior core. Notice that before I initiate the hold, I press my lower back into the floor, and my ribcage sinks down a bit. You should maintain this position throughout the duration of the set. As you get stronger, you'll be able to hold your arms and legs closer to the ground.
Start with sets of 20-30 seconds while ensuring your back is pressed into the floor. Take slow and controlled breaths without letting your ribcage flare upward.
Anti-Extension (Anterior Core): Deadbug
The Deadbug is a step up from the Hollow Body Position. You focus on the same cues—lower back through the floor and ribs down—but this exercise adds another level of difficulty by challenging coordination and motor control.
To start, flex both hips at 90 degrees with your arms pointed at the ceiling. From there, simultaneously lower one arm and the opposite leg to the floor. As you rise, take in air through your nose, then forcefully exhale as you lower again. You should be out of air before you reverse the movement again, which implies that this exercise is slow and controlled. Five reps on each side work well.
Anti-Rotation (Rotary Core): TRX Single-Arm Row
This one is much more challenging for the core than it is for the back and arms. Most importantly, your shoulders should remain squared straight ahead, and your torso should not rotate at all throughout the movement as you row with a controlled tempo. Ideally, your body should stay in a straight line from top to bottom. I like to use 6-10 reps per side.
Remember to modify the position of your feet depending on your level of strength. More advanced trainees will be able to lean back at a sharper angle, whereas those less experienced will remain more vertical. Find a resistance that makes the movement challenging but not incredibly difficult.
Anti-Rotation (Rotary Core): Banded Pallof Press
Walk out until you feel some good tension on the band, and then hold it right in the middle of your sternum. With your glutes squeezed and your feet secure, press straight out and hold for one count. If you want an extra challenge, hold the band in the out position for longer periods of time. I also like 6-10 reps per side here.
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