In recent years, athletes from a wide variety of sports have accepted the importance of good core strength. Maintaining a stable base from your hips to your torso allows more efficient movement and lessens your risk of injury. Working to build a strong core is especially important for people who are mostly sedentary when not working out.
When most people think core strength training, they think crunches, sit-ups and planks. Those standard exercises are better than nothing, and good to have in your regular routine. But your core encompasses so much more than your abs. Many core exercises more effectively target a broader range of core muscles, and help you develop the ability to work your core muscles in sync rather than in isolation. Try adding one or more of these five unusual core exercises to your program.
#1: Farmer’s Carry
What: This exercise entails walking with a relatively heavy weight in one hand, so that your abs, lower back and glutes have to work to stabilize your pelvis.
How: Find a weight that’s challenging to carry with one hand but not so heavy that you can’t keep your shoulders level. A kettlebell or a large jug of water are good choices. Walk holding the weight for 30 seconds; repeat with your other arm. Do three sets per side three times a week.
#2: Australian Crawl
What: This exercise simulates swimming to strengthen your lower back muscles.
How: Lie on your stomach with your arms straight out in front of you. Slightly lift your head, upper chest and lower legs so that your weight is balanced on your midsection. Pretend that you’re swimming by sliding your arms back and forth while kicking your feet. Do for one minute three times a week.
#3: Bicycle Abs
What: This exercise challenges you to maintain a stable pelvis while working your outer abs.
How: Lie on the ground with your hands behind your head. Keep your thighs perpendicular to the ground and your knees at a 90-degree angle. Bring your left elbow to your right knee and straighten your left leg, holding it just above the ground. Then alternate. Do for one minute three times a week.
#4: Axe Chop
What: This exercise is great at improving your ability to stabilize yourself when your balance is challenged, as happens frequently in many sports.
How: Hold a heavy book beside your left ear. Take a step forward with your right foot and quickly draw the book to the outside of your right hip. Stop the object abruptly while staying tall and not flexing your spine. Repeat going from right to left. Do two sets of 10 repetitions per side three times a week.
#5: Swiss Ball Roll Out
What: This exercise works your abs at least as well as crunches do, but in concert with other core muscles, making it more applicable to the real world.
Position yourself on your knees with your forearms and fists on a Swiss ball (also known as a stability ball). While keeping a straight line from your midsection to your lower chest, slowly roll the ball forward by straightening your arms. Go only as far as you can while maintaining good bodily alignment. Pull the ball back to the starting position with your abs more than your arms to complete one repetition. Do 10 repetitions three times a week.
What’s your favorite core exercise? Share in the comments below!