Strengthen Your Core By Moving It Less With These 7 Great Ab Exercises

best core strengthening exercises

Unsplash / Ayo Ogunseinde

The benefits of core exercises don’t begin and end with a six-pack. Building a strong core is important for so many other (arguably more important) reasons. It’s is essential for stabilizing your body, improving your balance and for allowing you to perform all other exercises with proper form, to a new a few. And believe it or not, popular ab workouts like crunches and sit-ups aren’t the most effective for building a stronger, more powerful core.

Surprisingly, core exercises that require less movement through your midsection are often more effective at strengthening your abs, obliques and lower back. These exercises involve anti-rotation, anti-flexion and anti-extension. The difficulty of them lies in the fact that they require you to engage all of the muscles in your torso to the max in order to keep it from moving. Believe it or not, keeping your core still might be the best way to exercise it! Below are seven anti-rotation, anti-lateral flexion (or anti-side-bending) and anti-extension core exercises worth incorporating into your workout routine.

1. Bird Dog

This core exercise will challenge your stability while working your abs, back, butt and hips. It’s a great warmup move that fires up your core before you tackle the rest of your workout. Start by getting on all fours on an exercise mat so that your hands are directly underneath your shoulders and your knees are in line with your hips and hip-width apart. Engage your abs, pulling them toward your spine. Keeping your back and pelvis stable, reach your right arm forward and your left leg back simultaneously. Keeping your core engaged, slowly bring your right elbow to touch your left knee. Pause for a few seconds and then extend your right arm and left leg out again. This is one rep. Do 10 reps before switching sides and repeating.

2. Pallof Press

The Pallof press, also known as cable anti-rotation, is a great exercise for building a stable core. It also helps you perform strength exercises like squats and deadlifts with more power and better form since these exercises require a lot of core stability. To do this exercise, you need a cable machine that can be found at most commercial gyms. Your cable machine should be loaded with a weight that makes it semi-difficult for you to stand upright but not so difficult that it makes you lean to one side.

Start by standing parallel to the cable machine, clasping the handle with both of your hands. Stand a few feet away from the cable machine so that there’s some tension in the cable. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Rest the handle on your belly button, brace your entire core and press the cable out directly in front of you, extending your arms completely. Hold for a few seconds, resisting the urge to let your body lean toward the cable. Return to the starting position and repeat for eight to 12 repetitions. Switch sides and repeat.

3. Renegade Row

The renegade row is a great exercise for working your middle back and biceps, but it’s also a killer on your core. You have to engage your abs entirely in order to keep your torso from rotating as you lift the dumbbells. Begin by placing two dumbbells on the floor about shoulder-width apart. Position yourself in a high plank, gripping one dumbbell with each hand. Place your feet slightly farther than hip-width apart to help keep your torso stable.

Maintaining this position, push your left hand into the floor as you perform a dumbbell row on your right side, retracting your right shoulder blade and flexing your elbow, making sure that you’re not allowing your torso to twist to the right side. Lower the dumbbell back to the starting position and perform the same movement on your left side. This is one rep. Perform eight to 12 reps on each side.

4. Dead Bugs

The dead bug is one of those exercises that can feel super easy if you’re doing it wrong, but it can leave your abs shaking if you do use the correct form. This core exercise is especially great for runners because it helps you learn how to maintain core stability while all of your limbs are moving.

Start by lying on your back on an exercise mat. Extend your arms toward the ceiling so that your hands are in line with your shoulders and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle so that your calves are parallel to the floor. Keeping your shoulders glued to the floor and your feet flexed, engage your core and extend your right arm and left leg away from you. Hold this position for a couple of seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side to perform one rep. Complete 10 to 12 reps on each side.

5. Single Arm Suitcase Carry

This anti-lateral flexion core exercise is great because it mimics a movement that we often perform in everyday life: carrying a bag of groceries or (as its name implies) a suitcase. The exercise challenges your obliques to stay strong and stable while simultaneously strengthening your forearms, deltoids and trapezius muscles, not to mention helping you develop a super-strong grip.

Grab a heavy dumbbell (try at least 20 pounds) and hold it in one hand like you would when carrying a suitcase or a shopping bag. Keep your shoulders square and upright, forcing your torso to stay straight. Maintain this position and your grip on the dumbbell as you walk ahead for 40 to 100 yards. Then put the dumbbell down, pick it up with your other hand and walk back in the opposite direction. This counts as one lap, perform the exercise for three laps.

6. Superman Holds

Build superhero-like abs with the superman exercise. It’s great for toning your midsection and glutes and strengthening your lower back. It also doesn’t require any equipment so you can do it anywhere at any time. Lie on your stomach with your arms and legs extended away from your torso. Keep your head in a neutral position with your gaze towards the floor. Tighten your abs as you lift your legs and arms several inches off of the floor, keeping your torso stationary and squeezing your butt. Hold this position for two to five seconds before slowly lowering your limbs back to the floor. That’s one rep. Complete 12 reps.

7. Bear Crawl

This unique exercise allows you to work on improving your mobility while strengthening your entire body (especially your core) all in one go. Start in a high plank position with your hands and feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and push the toes of your left foot into the floor, squeezing your right thigh and glute. Move your left hand and your right leg forward to start crawling. Keep your back straight and your hips and shoulders parallel, engaging your core the entire time. Crawl for 40 to 50 yards in each direction to complete a lap. Perform three laps.

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