Stabilization of the core musculature is a big deal. A solid midsection will help resist forces to the spine and alleviate a lot of stress that gets placed on the lumbar discs of the low back. If we lack core strength, we are making ourselves more vulnerable to compensations in other areas of the body, which may eventually result in pain or injury.
I’m a big fan of getting people stronger through compound lifts executed with great form, and there’s no doubting that these types of exercises require core strength and stability in order to be performed correctly. By performing things like full squats, push presses, deadlifts, and bent over rows, we certainly use the abdominals, obliques, and low back a great deal.
That being said, it is definitely a good idea to include some more targeted core work in your programming to boost progress in the big lifts while simultaneously protecting yourself from bad positions and compensations that could hurt you. The stronger the core is, the easier it will be to maintain a neutral spine during more technique-heavy lifts.
I like to utilize a large variety of moves in my core training arsenal, including many plank variations and all the “anti’s” (anti-flexion, anti-extension, and anti-rotation). It’s important to address the core from all angles, you want to be strong all around. A super strong low back combined with subpar anterior core strength will make you want to be in lumbar hyperextension all the time, which we don’t want to happen. On the other hand, if you grew up doing thousands of crunches and situps before bed and combine that with a weak back, you’ll tend to compensate for the lack of strength by rounding into lumbar flexion, which we also don’t want to happen.
These are some effective and challenging moves to target the core that will hopefully make “abs” a bit more tolerable and interesting.
Valside Pushup and Reach/Fly Combo
Valslides are an outstanding training tool. I use them quite frequently for sliding fallouts, body saws, sliding lunges (reverse and lateral), and hamstring curls. When you do pushups on them, you can slide your hands anywhere and play around with a lot of different variables.
The pushup and reach is cool because you’re able to work on a ton of anterior core strength while also targeting some unilateral pressing (it’s like an assisted one arm pushup), which will work on shoulder stability. The pushup and fly is the same move except you move one hand to your side rather than straight above. Here’s what it looks like:
The goal is to perform each rep with good control and to avoid letting the low back arch too much (lumbar hyperextension). When doing the pushup-fly combo, avoid tilting to either side and force yourself to keep a flat back. Once you master these on the ground, try elevating your feet for an added challenge.
The Half Getup
Nothing more than half of a Turkish getup (TGU), I really like this exercise for abdominal strength and shoulder stability. Part of what makes the half getup so effective is how much control it takes to lower yourself back down to the ground, since you obviously can’t just lift your arm and let your back and head fall to the floor while holding a kettlebell. Check it out:
Start off reasonably light with these, they’re harder than they look!
Dumbbell Plank Row
There’s plenty of ways to do planks, and there’s plenty of ways to do rows. However, things start to get super fun when you do planks while rowing at the same time, like so:
The row in this exercise isn’t a huge deal, so use a reasonably light weight. Focus on keeping your back flat with as little rotation as possible, which is very hard to do when a load is pulling you to one side. And again, avoid excessive arching in the low back and control the speed of the movement.
To make things easier, eliminate one of the benches and perform them with your feet on the ground. You can also do them without any benches, by using two dumbbells on the ground and alternating each row from side to side (also known as a “renegade row”).
Don’t neglect the most important section of your body. Even though it’s not as fun or flashy as pulling massive weights off the floor or sprinting at full speed, targeted core training can only advance you toward your fitness goals, all while keeping you healthier in the long term. I hope you enjoy the exercises!