A Giant List of Effective Core Exercises| Part II

Core Training

You made it!  

What follows is the sequel of the original A Giant List of Effective Core Exercises| Part I

Feast your eyes on exercises 16-30. 

16.  Sandbag Training

Sandbags are a shape-changing piece of fitness equipment capable of building raw strength and conditioning.  

*** Exercising with objects of varying textures is a subtle detail that can really take the functionality of your workouts to another level.   

Sandbags do not have a great texture.  They naturally want to slip through your fingertips and slither out of the bear hug.  

This is part of the value of training with sandbag… the fight!

Every repetition with a sandbag is a fight. 

The clean-squat-press exercise is a classic sandbag combination.  

* Tip:  Do not overstuff the sandbag.  Over-stuffing the outer shell with filler bags reduces the instability component.  More space inside the outer shell means greater instability and shape-changing during exercises.

To build raw strength, load up the sandbag and grind through squats, presses, carrying and pulling exercise just as you would with a barbell or any other strength-based tool.  

17.  Slow Mountain Climber Variations

Yoga often refers to this exercise as “knee to nose”. 

The prone position (chest down) is a disadvantaged position for the body to make this happen. 

Arch the back and hollow out, push the shoulder blade out and back (protract) and slowly bring one knee up as far as you possibly can. 

18.  Weighted Plank Variations

If you can successfully dominate bodyweight-only planks, add weight and try the same variation.  It will be harder.  If you’re a go-getter, figure out how to put the weight on your back by yourself.  At the present moment, I don’t yet own a weight vest.   I am not sure why, but I don’t.  So, I shimmy a heavy sandbag onto my back and hold planks while balancing the sandbag.  The process of getting the sandbag onto my back is a workout in itself. 

19.  Tuck Planche 

Tucking the thighs tight to the stomach while supporting bodyweight using only the arms.  It’s a difficult task with many regressions to make the task more palatable.   

The tuck planche requires core compressional strength and eventually endurance as the duration of the hold increases. 

20.  Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Core training in a standing position on a body of water in the sunshine?  Yes, please. 

The first couple of strokes on a stand-up paddleboard is all of the proof you’ll need to understand how active the core is while exerting on a SUP

Core strength is essential for moving the board through the water. 

21.  Sleep

Zzzzzzzzzz. 

The benefits of 7-8+ hours of quality sleep are very important for body composition, daily function, mental clarity as well as recovery and regeneration from the stresses of exercise.  

Yet, the value of sleep remains largely unknown and underemphasized.

We also live in a world where sleep deprivation is worn like a badge of honor.  

In my dreams, the world corrects and we revert back to celebrating the power of sleep. 

I won’t pretend to be a sleep expert, but I have an understanding of how “off” my body and mind feel when I don’t get an adequate amount of sleep.

If you’d like to learn more about sleep in a super entertaining, yet informative interview, check out Joe Rogan’s interview with guest Dr. Matthew Walker.  The link to this episode of the Joe Rogan Podcast can be found here. 

Dr. Walker has also written a fantastic book on all things related to sleep, “Why We Sleep:  Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams”.

22.  Kettlebell Swings (variations)

All movements are core movements. 

Kettlebell swings, while not a direct core exercise, work primarily the trunk, hip and hamstring muscles. 

Entire books and training programs have been designed to teach the value of kettlebell swings and how swings can improve power, cardio conditioning, strength, and body composition. 

Nutrition is king for fat loss and body composition, but if I were forced to hand-select a few exercises to simultaneously burn fat and build muscle, I’d got with a steady practice of kettlebell swings and Turkish Get Ups. 

Listen to Pavel Psatsouline (the godfather of kettlebells) talk about kettlebell training extensively on The Joe Rogan Experience.

23.  Dead Bugs

Ly on your back with chest facing the ceiling, actively press your low back into the floor (curling your pelvis back neutral/posterior), lock arms and legs in the extension point them toward the ceiling. 

Slowly lower opposite arm/ opposite leg to the floor to start the movement.

Ideally, you’ll make soft contacts with the floor or stop 1-3 inches above, and come back to the start position.  However, use an abbreviated range of motion if you feel your pelvis shifting to make up for lack of control. 

Imagine a full glass of water in a skinny tall glass balancing at the navel region (or just above) while you move the extremities, yet keep the torso “quiet” and still. 

A lot of the exercises in this article have some room for technique deviation.  But in my opinion, strict technique is only way to practice dead bugs. 

Alternate each side for repetitions.  3-5 sets x 8-20 repetitions. 

24.  “Twisted Tea” from the #OMU (Instagram)

This is my new favorite “core” obsession because it lacks the dull robotic range of motion that many gym exercises have.  

I have to give credit to the “#OMU” crew on Instagram for introducing me to this multi-planar core drill. 

Assume a high plank position with arm extended out in front of the body. 

“Draw” the largest circle possible, spiraling down to the floor, reaching in and out of the legs, etc. 

When you reach the endpoint, reverse the motion and take it back to the start position. 

Each rep is extremely long, challenging and very interesting. 

So far, I have only used a 2.5lb and 5lb weight plate on this drill, and my obliques were sore for days after. 

25. Overhead Loaded Squats

Basic exercises become increasingly difficult when weight is overhead, which raises the center of gravity and requires more joints to contribute to the activity. 

The overhead position is challenging for a lot of people, often due to having stiff upper backs (thoracic spines) and stiff/unstable shoulders. 

Again, positioning weight overhead raises the center of gravity causing the torso to lengthen.  The core muscles make the adjustment and work overtime to stabilize the body. 

The overhead position is very challenging for the joints, moving from the shoulders to mid-back, to hips, to knees and finally down to the ankles.  Each joint must have adequate mobility and stability to control the weight overhead. 

Overhead squats are a fantastic exercise and therefore worth mentioning on this list, but they are also the exercise with the most pre-requisites.  Make sure you’ve done your mobility and stability work before slinging weight overhead. 

One way to observe your readiness is to practice overhead squats with a wooden dowel… and film your technique. 

26.  Windmills 

This is a classic, often forgotten kettlebell drill. 

The weight is supported overhead with elbow locked (but soft).  Hips are pushed to the side while the upper body lowers to the floor.  Softly touch the free hand to the floor and return to the starting position. 

Windmills are one of those movements I program infrequently, but I really see value in establishing motor control and know-how. 

In a real-world setting, we won’t always be perfectly vertical while supporting objects overhead.  Sometimes, we have to bend, twist and hinge while maintaining control from shoulder to elbow to hand. 

27.  Janda Sit Ups

I do not program sit-ups in my own training regimen and also do not prescribe for others. 

I feel there are FAR better uses of gym time. 

However… Janda Sit Ups will numb your soul.  You’ll hear angels singing and see the face of God during every set of Janda Sit-Ups.

Janda Sit Ups help to further isolate the rectus abdominals by reducing hip flexor contribution during each sit up.  This means the abdominals are responsible for doing more work.

The effectiveness of the Janda Sit Up is all in the setup and technique.  While a training partner is good to have for these, I do think Janda Sit Ups are possible to execute alone using a well-placed stretch resistance band. 

With the knees at roughly 90 degrees and heels on the floor, anchor a resistance band (at knee height or slightly above) around squat rack, door, piece of furniture or anything else sturdy.

Stretch the band out and wrap it around your calves, 3-4 inches above your ankles.  The band should have some stretch loaded into it, which will require your glutes and hamstrings to actively pull against the band during the sit-ups. 

You’ll have to play around with the band height and tension until you find a sweet spot.

Before and during the sit-up action, contract the glutes and hamstrings to initiate reciprocal inhibition of the hip flexors.

My first couple of experiences with Janda Sit Ups resulted in a level of muscle soreness that humbled me to my core (no pun intended). 

The first couple of reps it’s hard to know if you’re doing it correctly, but in general, if you have the sensation of not being able to peel your back off the floor to sit up, you’re on the right track. 

28.  Hanging Knee Tucks 

Hanging Knee Tucks kill a few birds with one stone.

First, hanging for extended periods of time builds grip strength/endurance, provides traction for the spine, stability for the shoulders. 

Second, the motion of raising the knees up to parallel with the waistline (or ideally above) is a challenging exercise for the core, particularly the lower abdominals.

I prefer to do fewer repetitions, opting for longer duration holds with the knees tucked.  Aim for 5-10 seconds per hold, with 5-8 reps of a longer duration holds will have your abdominals and grip burning. 

Looking for a burn out session?  Simply hang from the bar with knees tucked until something about the exercise fails (grip, core, etc)

29.  Zercher Sandbag Squats

Hooking the arms under a sandbag is both a bicep scorcher and a worthy challenge for the core as it battles to maintain body position, even in a non-moving static position. 

Add a squat and the difficulty is increased.   

30.  Explosive Flexion Slams

Slamming a weighted ball on the ground is essentially explosive Olympic Lifting for your core.  The lats also get a nice stimulus during flexion slams. 

Power development in all planes of movement is a great thing. 

If you’re going to do flexion slams, consider using a no rebound ball, versus slamming a ball that re-arranges your face. 

Done.

This concludes Part II of the giant list of core exercises. 

✅ Check out the finale 👉 A Giant List of Effective Core Exercises| Part III

A Giant List of Effective Core Exercises| Part 1

Core Training

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.  

Boom. 

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

Iconic martial artist and movie star Bruce Lee made Dragon Flags famous.

 

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. 

4. Crawling

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.  

12.  Bridging 

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.

Whewwwww!

Want to see more core exercises?  

Check out Part II and Part III of this series:

Want to Train Your Core?

Core Training

The Summer months provide an incredible time to get outside and move around.

Whether you are going for an after dinner walk, a 30 mile bike ride, or throwing your suspension trainer around branch and working through a bodyweight circuit, the weather is perfect for exercise and building a lean body.

Core training will always be a popular topic.  I have come to grips with that.

When people think of individuals that are fit, they often picture a lean muscular body and …

… abdominals.

Right?!

It’s true though.  I have to say that I don’t think that core training is bad, I just think that we need to bring some clarity to what constitutes safe and effective core training and also how to unveil your hidden six-pack.

What is safe?

Well, safe core training today is heavily based on the landmark research coming from Stuart McGill and others.  Their recommendations is this… spare your spine!  By spine sparing, we need to train the  torso musculature to stabilize the spine, protect it, and serve as the transfer zone between the upper and lower body.

The abdominals are mainly built to STOP motion, not create motion.

Safe core training IS NOT CRUNCHES.

Safe core training IS NOT partner leg throws.

Safe core training is not cable crunches, or whatever this guy is doing below…

Enter:  The Slosh Pipe

The picture above is a 9ft PVC slosh pipe will 2/3 full with water.  The PVC is 3″ in circumference and the pipe weighs around 30-32lbs.

You might be saying, “That’s not a lot of weight”.

That is what I thought.  Until I picked it up and nearly face planted from the instability of the water thrashes left/right inside of the pipe.

For around $20 and 5 minutes of assembly, anyone can build a slosh pipe.  Yes, it is 9ft tall so it may not be realistic for everyone if you don’t have somewhere to store it.  Consider that before purchasing.

I first met the slosh pipe 5 years ago.  It was one of the toughest workouts I had ever engaged in.  The worst part was how simple the workout was…

  • Pick up the slosh pipe and walk as far as possible.
  • Put the slosh pipe down and recover.

It kicked my ass.  My body was on fire from reacting and correcting instability of the pipe.  I walked Zercher style, across my shoulders and finally with arms extending overhead.  I loved it.  Reactive core training at it’s best.

Just another simple example of a piece of home equipment that can be made in a matter of minutes for a minimal monetary investment.

***  If you are worried about what people think when they see you walking around with it… don’t worry… most people don’t think much anyways.  At least you took the initiative to get off your ass 🙂