Direct core training is an essential part of any workout program.
The fitness industry gets into highschool level fights over whether direct core training necessary, but since I believe in training the entire body…
…. core training is a must.
In a way, if your core sucks, you suck.
A strong core protects the spine and serves as a conduit for force transmission between the upper and lower body.
Ground reaction forces travel from the feet, up through the mid-section and out through body tips of the fingers.
Highly controversial fitness trainer Uncle David Weck taught me that.
If the muscles that wrap around the torso are weak or under-performing, energy leaks and both performance and function can suffer.
A strong bodies has a strong core.
A balanced, comprehensive approach to core focused training will calbrate the body to properly absorb force and produce force in all planes of movement.
This is a giant list, so let’s not waste any more time.
Here are 15 different core based exercises worth slipping into your next workout…
1. Anti-Extension Roll Outs (Ab Wheel Roll Outs)
For $15 on Amazon, you can purchase an Ab Wheel Roller. Ab Wheel Roll Outs are anti-extension core exercise, great for building not only core strength but core endurance.
In a tall kneeling position, slowly roll out way from the knees.
During this rollout motion, cue your hips to fall outward at the same pace as the upper body.
Roll as far out as you can control. If the lower back caves, you’ve gone to far.
Pull yourself back in using your mid-section, lats and pec muscles (gripping the handles hard).
During the most difficult portion of the roll-out, “hollow” out the mid-section.
The hollow body position tucks the ribs down while the navel curls toward the ribs. The result is a curved body shape or the “hollow” body.
2. Turkish Get-Ups
As far as productivity and global training effect, Turkish Get Ups (TGUs) are hard to beat.
Turkish Get Ups are a total body exercise.
The goal of the Turkish Get Up is to transition from a lying position (supine) to a standing position, reverse the order and return back to the original lying position.
Controlling the weight during the up-down sequence is fatiguing not only for the core but for the loaded shoulder as well.
Turkish Get Ups are best performed with kettlebells or dumbbells, though nearly any object of weight can be substituted. I’ve used sandbags, liquid filled milk cartons, barbells, weight vests, shoes, and weight plates to name a few.
Turkish Get Ups are best learned by isolating and practicing each segment.
Stabilizing the weight overhead is can be draining for the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder. However, the time spent in this over-chest/over-head position is fantastic for building shoulder stability, which can help with injury mitigation and performance.
Standing up and laying back down equals one rep.
Sidenote: I’ve used Turkish Get Ups as my “workout of the day” for years. I set a timer (10, 15, 20 minutes) and alternate sides until the timer sounds.
I use a variety of weights during this time, work several repetitions in a row without putting the weight down or mix up the way I stand up and lay back down for variation (squat, lunge, etc). I’ve added a simple press at each of the 7 steps, performed kettlebell swings cleans and snatches at the halfway point (standing position).
3. Dragon Flags
Dragon Flags (and variations) are one of my favorite core exercises.
Why? Because they’re hard as hell!
Dragon Flags require a tremendous amount of effort and total body tension.
Ly on your back, grab onto a bench, squat rack, heavy sandbag or any other immovable object with the hands positioned above the head.
Raise the feet up to the ceiling. Making the body as straight as possible from ankles to shoulders, begin lowering to the floor.
SLOW IT DOWN, resist gravity’s pull.
Working the descent of the dragon flag is known as the “eccentric”. For beginners, only focusing on quality eccentrics is just fine.
If you’re feeling strong, Advanced Trainees can reverse the eccentric and ascend back to the top.
Do not lose the straight line from head to toe.
After listening to Gymnastics Bodies founder Coach Christopher Sommer’s podcasts with Tim Ferriss, I dropped Dragon Flags into my workouts as a mainstay core conditioning exercise.
You can find smart dragon flag exercise regressions and progressions from Global Bodyweight Training.
4. Dynamic Plank Variations
Planks are a fundamental static core drill and a position worth exploring.
The video demonstrates rotational side planks.
I use these (and many other plank variations) frequently.
Reps, sets and time to hold each plank exercise is a highly debated topic.
If you can comfortably hold a plank for 90-120 seconds without strain, you’re likely wasting your time and the return on effort has diminished.
Move on to more challenging core work.
Crawling is a critical component for early childhood physical development, but also effective for building strength and conditioning in the gym.
The more “adult” we become, the more we move away from activities we engaged in as kids.
This is de-evolution. It’s not good.
You either use it, or you lose it.
And as adults, we tend to move less and less with age, and if we do move, it’s generally isolated to linear walking or machine-based cardio.
Adults need to revisit moving like they did when they were kids.
Get on the floor and crawl.
5. Lizard Crawl
The Lizard Crawl is an advanced crawling pattern and probably the king of all ground-based crawling variations.
Ground-based conditioning is bodyweight training with no equipment needed.
6. Offset/Asymmetric Pressing and Holds
Grab a dowel, barbell or a stronger broomstick.
Dangle an object (with a handle) like a kettlebell or wrap a resistance band on one end.
Now, press or hold that dowel without changing body position or allow the object to slip off. Confused? Me too. Watch the video above and it will all make more sense.
Objects we encounter in life are rarely perfectly balanced.
Weight is often distributed unevenly, which means we have to adapt to awkward loads, recalibrate on the fly and push on.
7. One Arm Push Ups
A lesson in indirect core training, one arm push-ups will challenge the muscles of the midsection better than 95% of core based exercises.
One-arm push-ups train single arm pressing strength like few other exercises.
Global Bodyweight Training does a great job laying out exercise progressions leading to the one arm push up.
8. L-Sits (all variations)
L-Sits are a beginner exercise in the gymnastics training realm.
Very humbling to think about it with that perspective, since L-Sits are a tough ass exercise.
Creating an “L” between your upper body and lower body (at the hips) extremely taxing for the hip flexors and lower abdominal muscles.
Starting out, you’ll have to dial back the duration of your L-Sit efforts to 5-10 seconds of work, with plenty of rest between each effort.
In time, the duration of the hold will increase as your body adapts to the demands.
Of all of the basic gymnastics postures, I have found L-Sits to be an absolute game-changer for building core strength.
Including L-Sits in my workouts, 2-3 times per week has increased my hold duration time from a few mediocre sets of 10-15 seconds to 30+ seconds with legs moving above parallel.
9. Arch Body Holds
Lay on the floor face down, arms and legs stretched out straight above/below.
Lift the upper body and lower body at the same time, arching your back toward your butt.
Hold this Superman-like position for 5-10 seconds and release back to the floor.
Repeat for repetitions.
Progress Arch Body Holds by increasing the time of the hold.
10. Hollow Body Variations (rocking and static holds)
Hollow body holds (progressing into rocking) conditioning the entire front side of the body, from fingertips to toe tips.
The quads, diaphragm, abdominals, hip flexors all get some love during hollow body training.
11. Toes to Bar
Toes to Bar improves core strength, midline endurance while improving grip, shoulder health and back performance.
Prolonged hanging from a bar, branch or anything overhead is therapeutic for the upper body.
There are few different variations of the Toes to Bar exercise, kipping (ballistic) or strict.
Bridging is can help offset the modern-day desk warrior posture.
Following the lead-up bridge positions and working shoulder and mid-back mobility, hip flexor flexibility and glute strength can inch you closer to a full bridge.
I’d also suggest training active mobility.
MyDailyMobility is a follow-along mobility program with updated workouts every week. Taking the time to train mobility will bulletproof joints against injury and increase performance.
Once you’re able to hold a static high bridge for 45-60 seconds, start exploring adding the rotational piece into the bridge movement.
13. Dynamic High Plank Exercises (pull-throughs, push-pull)
14. Landmine Grapplers
The landmine trainer provides the opportunity to train many angled exercises and rotational exercises not possible without the pivoting sleeve.
If you’ve got access to a barbell and a few weight plates, you can start training landmine exercises right away.
Wrapping an old towel around one end of the barbell can protect your walls from damage. Or, several fitness companies have manufactured inexpensive landmine trainers well worth the money in my opinion.
👇 How to perform a landmine grappler 👇
Arc (ascend) the barbell up and through the midline of the body.
Once the barbell passes through the midline, it will begin to arc (descend) down to the same start position on the opposite side of the body.
The challenge at this point in the movement is decelerating the barbell quickly.
Landmine grapplers are fantastic for training rotational force production and absorption.
During a work set, you quickly toggling the switch between creating force and absorbing it.
Landmine grapplers have great carryover to athletics and daily living.
Plus most workout programs are deficient when it comes to rotational training.
Landmine grapplers check ✔️ the box.
Use moderate weight to start.
The weight of the barbell may be enough to elicit a training effect to start. Add weight slowly as you gain efficiency and strength.
Sets and reps will vary, but 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps per side is a good start.
It really depends on the weight you’re using.
Lighter weight = explosive movement and more reps.
Heavier weight = grinding movement and fewer reps.
15. Slosh Pipe Exercises
The water inside of the pipe is unpredictable and free moving.
Tilt the slosh pipe an inch below level, the water begins to run, the balance of the pipe changes and your body must react to this change.
There’s very little relaxation time during a set of slosh pipe exercises since the water is never completely balanced inside the pipe.
The big issue with slosh pipe training is the size of the slosh pipe. It needs to be quite long, which isn’t always feasible while training indoors.
For the home gym, a water-filled slosh training bag is a great alternative.
Want to see more core exercises?
Check out Part II and Part III of this series: