I almost didn’t compile this list. I feared people would find it in a Google search and think, “Ha, another bullsh*t click bait blog post”.
But after giving it some thought, I realize how many people I come in contact with who have no idea some of these amazing movements even exist. These are the same folks stuck crunching themselves into low back pain and the same (or worse) core performance as 5 years ago.
So, I decided to build the list and press “publish”.
My hope, is you are able to extract some value from this list. Sometimes, value is simply exposure to new ideas, if nothing else.
Core based training is an essential element of any comprehensive workout program. It’s important to note that all movement is core movement. You cannot wipe your ass without getting help from the muscles of your trunk.
A well-functioning body is educated (through movement practice and repetition) on how to absorb and produce force in all planes of movement, through a robust range of motion. A strong and stable core protects the body’s life force (the spine), serves as conduit for force transmission between the upper and lower body, and is a first line of defense with injury mitigation.
Injury mitigation is a hot phrase right now. No training method is guaranteed to prevent an injury. But, we can reduce the likelihood of an injury occurring due to ill-prepared joints and tissues.
I’ll warn you… this is a long ass article. Nearly 8,000 words long. Each movement has a brief description, interpretation, and either an embedded video or a link to my YouTube Channel where I demonstrate the movement. Some exercises I comment more in-depth than others.
A couple of things to consider:
- This is not a “best of” list, each movement has it’s own value with proper application, timing, experience, etc.
- This list of exercises is highly subjective, and the importance of each exercise can/will be debated from person to person.
- This list is not designed to be “extreme”, each exercise is approachable with smart progressions and regressions for the beginner.
- This list is organized in no ranking order of importance, no exercise is better than any other.
- All movement is important movement and there are very few “bad” exercises, only poor application to one’s situation or possibly a lower level of usefulness depending on what a person is looking to gain from the exercise.
- Consistency is king… the body will gain strength, stability and coordination to stresses with ongoing practice.
- Six-pack abs are built-in the kitchen (nutrition) and highly influenced by hydration, sleep and physical activity outside of gym time.
- Building a lean six-pack is not the intention of any of these exercises, do the work, stay disciplined and you’ll become lean as a byproduct.
The last three bulleted points can be tough for a lot of people to swallow and adhere to. People want to crank on their abs, feel the burn, wake up in a week and see a shiny set of abdominals staring back at them in the bathroom mirror.
It doesn’t happen this way, nor should it.
Lean bodies are earned. People who have made impressive transformations have a meaningful understanding of the discipline it takes to swap fat for muscle, take back control of health and build performance. It’s very simple, but it’s not easy. Everyone can do it, but not everyone will.
Consistent with focused efforts yield progress, gains, results and reward. This is not a 100% guarantee, but “luck” and good fortune seems to follow people who go hard on a regular basis. Give your body the chance to struggle, adapt, rebuild and understand the stresses of these exercises. It will understand eventually, but you have to give it time to do so.
* Sidenote: Embrace the struggle. In fact, I want people to struggle. If any of these exercises were easy, everyone would be doing them all of the time. Breaking beyond the struggle makes the reward so much sweeter. If the results came easy, you would have far less appreciation.
No “bad” exercises. I’m guilty of rolling my eyes, pursing my lips and turning away from “bad” exercises. Big mistake. The human body can do so many things movement-wise, I now realize this was a foolish stance to take.
Here we go…
1. Anti-Extension Roll Outs (aka: Ab Wheel Roll Outs or Fall Outs)
For $5 on Amazon, you can purchase a simple Ab Wheel and start “rolling out”. 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 outward motion, cue your hips to fall outward at the same pace as the rest of your body. Roll as far out as you can, without allow the lower back to fold. Contract the mid-section, lats and pec muscles (gripping the handles hard) to return back to the start position.
During the most difficult portion of the roll out, try your best to maintain a “hollow” core position. To do this… tilt the pelvis back (posteriorly), squeeze the butt cheeks, keep rib cage pulled down and in (versus flaring out). Making a subtle “U-Shape” from the hips to the shoulders. This is hollow body.
The biggest mistakes beginners make is beyond their range of motion tolerance too far for their current strength, mobility and stability level. To help with this… consider the following
- Set up facing a wall, yoga block, chair or any other object that can provide your maximum roll out distance before the lower back folds.
- Roll out until the ab wheel makes light contact with the object.
- Pause and roll back to the starting position.
- The eventual goal is to roll out into full extension, with arms fully extended at the shoulders and elbows, chest facing the floor.
- Roll for HIGH REPS (20+ per set)
- Increase time under tension (5 seconds out, 5 seconds in… or longer)
- Roll downhill (decline)
- Roll from a standing position, returning to a standing position
2. Turkish Get Ups
As far as productivity and global training effect, Turkish Get Ups (TGUs) are hard to beat. They’ve been labeled a “king” worthy exercise in the kettlebell scene, and I certainly don’t disagree.
The Turkish Get Up is a segmented total body exercise. The basic premise of a Turkish Get Up is to move from a lying position (supine) to a standing position, reverse the order and return to the lying position once again.
Controlling the weight during the up-down sequence is fatiguing not only for the core, but for the loaded shoulder as well .
TGU’s 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 and weight plates to name a few.
For those who new to TGU’s, it can be a bit overwhelming to think about the number of steps or remember which step comes next. I’ve found Turkish Get Ups are best learned by isolating and practicing each segment.
Once you’ve got the feel of each step, begin adding steps to the practice.
The cool thing about Turkish Get Ups is the sheer value of each of the steps. They all carry their own value.
For a lot of people, “punching” the kettlebell up while rolling onto the free elbow will be the toughest part. This cross-body, rotational effort is a motion missing from a lot of daily workout routine.
Secondly, expected the shoulder to tire out quickly. Stabilizing the weight overhead is can be draining for the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder. However, 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 repetition of a Turkish Get Up
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 half way point (standing position).
3. Dragon Flags aka: Gymnastics “Candlesticks”
Bruce Lee made Dragon Flags famous, which is fine, but I prefer the gymnastics name for the exercise, “Candlesticks”. Same movement, different names. In reality, they should probably be called “Inverted Levers” or “Inverted Descents/Ascents”.
Candlesticks are one of the my favorite core exercises.
They require body tension like few other exercises and develop transferable strength in the core and low back region. Newbies to this exercise quickly find they are near impossible to execute without creating massive tension on each rep.
In a supine laying position, grab onto a bench, squat rack or any other immovable object with the hands positioned above the head. Invert the feet and point them toward the ceiling, making the body as straight as possible from ankles to shoulders. Maintaining this straight body position, begin lowering to the floor, resisting the pull of gravity as much as possible. SLOW IT DOWN.
Beginners can stop once the body contacts with the floor, tuck the knees in to “curl up” and begin the next rep.
Advanced Trainees can reverse the motion and bring body back to the inverted start position, all without changing straight line body rigidity.
A nice coaching cue for the candlestick exercise is to avoid any change in the straight line body position. Keep your body rigid straight on throughout the entire range of motion, limiting the range if need be.
I started to hammer away on Dragon Flags after listening to Christopher Sommer’s podcasts with Tim Ferriss, and after coming across some of the smart dragon flag progressions from Global Bodyweight Training.
4. Dynamic Plank Variations
Plank(s) are a foundational core exercise. Controlling a plank is a body building exercises in itself, but it also has widespread application to other exercises.
Personally, I believe it’s important to check in on planks from time to time, beginners to advanced movers and everyone in between. Planks are one of the early exercises back injury patients are prescribed to begin rehabilitation, so it’s hard to imagine that other folks are somehow too good for plank based exercises.
Above are is a simple demonstration of rotation 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.
Personally, I feel holding a plank beyond 90-120 seconds without strain is a clear indicator of diminishing returns and wasted time. If you’re strong enough to hold a plank for longer duration, it’s time to move onto a more challenging variation.
4. Beast Crawl
Crawling is one of the most important forms of movement we have. Babies or adults, it doesn’t matter.
Here is my jargon-free opinion on crawling… the more “adult” we become, the more we move away from the types of activities that we did as kids, the more we vitally need the activities that we did as kids.
Opinion: Adults need to exercise like kids. “Adulting” has lead us to sophistication, great careers… and also to an epidemic of chronic orthopedic issues initiated by spending a large amount of time sitting, laying… not moving.
Fixed static positions, deformation of posture, lack of movement, lack of play, lack of sleep, mindless food choice and consumption, etc.
Real uplifting isn’t it?
5. Lizard Crawl
The Lizard Crawl is the king of the jungle (in my opinion). I often think of it as “ground based conditioning” and others have classified it as locomotion. Ground based conditioning is free movement activity with no equipment, either static or dynamic, moving with an organized sequence or improvising into and out of positions (flow).
Lizard Crawling is one of the best (if not thee best) locomotion based exercises. It is also one of the most challenging to control, which in part is due to how physically demanding it is. Maintaining a low body position (in relation to the floor) while challenging the joints to a range of motion while the muscle maintain enough tension to support SUCKS THE LIFE OUT OF A BODY QUICKLY.
You’ll be tired.
Lizard Crawling is part of my workout 3-4 days per week at different volumes, variations and intensities. Sometimes I crawl very slow, drawing out each movement and holding positions. Other times I crawl with some intensity, aiming to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible (with reasonable technique). The distances also vary. As a beginner, I kept the distances short, anywhere from 10-20 yards at most. I’d separate efforts with rest to ensure I had gas in the tank for the next effort.
Lately, I’ve begun crawling for longer periods of time (45-75 seconds continuous) or 25-50 yards without taking a break. It’s soul crushing yet body developing. The Lizard Crawl has become an important part of my non-traditional workout practice (aka: movement without “lifting weights”).
Locomotion practice is essentially moving your bodyweight from point A to point B using a wide variety of quadruped based crawling patterns. Locomotion has beginner and elite level movement scalability, no different from basic lifts like lunges, squats, or push ups.
Developing strength, stability, mobility over one’s bodyweight enhances life. Especially when more complex aspects of movement are practiced. Locomotion practice is also ideal for those who need a break from resistance training, travel frequently or are interested in building athleticism beyond what typical linear exercises (deadlifts, bench press, squats, pull-ups, etc) can offer.
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 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.
The idea here is influence by the reality that objects we encounter in real life rarely perfectly balanced. Weight is often distributed unevenly, which means we have to adapt to these asymmetries.
7. One Arm Push Ups
A lesson in indirect core training, one arm push ups will challenge muscles of the midsection better than 95% of core based exercises. Plus, you’ll get the benefit of building single arm stabilization and pressing strength.
The path to a single arm push up is simple. There are a ton of palatable variations to suit any strength level. My personal favorite for beginners to the one arm push up is to use the assistance of a resistance band. The band will make the toughest part of the exercise (the bottom of the push up) easier.
Global Bodyweight Training does a great job laying out exercise progressions for the one arm push up.
8. L-Sits (all variations)
The premise behind L-Sits is core compression. The act of creating an “L”with your upper body down through your legs is extremely demanding for the hip flexors and lower abdominal muscles.
Don’t be frustrated if you can only hold an L-Sit posture for a few seconds at time. The value is still there, and with consistency, you’ll be able to extend the hold for longer durations.
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 increase my hold duration time from a few mediocre sets of 10-15 seconds, to 30+ seconds with legs moving above parallel.
You must look into gymnastics based core exercises if you’re currently unfamiliar. They are some of the most practical and effective core training drills out there.
9. Arch Body Holds
Lay on the floor face down, arms and legs stretched out straight above/below. Simultaneously lift the upper body and lower body, creating a “contact” point at the belt line. Hold this Superman-like position for a 5-10 seconds and release back to the floor. Repeat for repetitions.
Progress Arch Body Holds by increasing the time of the hold.
This article is about the “core”, and the core wraps all the way around the body, 360 degrees. Personally, I think of “the core” as spanning from the shoulders to the tops of the knees, a full 360 degree wrap.
And this might be doing the body a disservice since we operate as an integrated unit, not in isolation. But hey, it’s my “core” article so I will share any core exercises I want!
10. Hollow Body Variations (rocking and static holds)
The Hollow Body position is fundamental stepping stone for gymnastics based training and has application to all progressive bodyweight movements where tension is a must. It reinforces how to shape the body as ONE unit.
Hollow body holds (progressing into rocking) build the entire front side of the body, known as the anterior chain. The quads, diaphragm, abdominals, hip flexors all get challenged during a hollow body hold.
* The anterior chain has taken a back seat to posterior chain dominant exercise promotion (nauseatingly so) over the last 10+ years, but building a complete body means addressing the performance of the anterior chain also.
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.
Starting out, I am a fan of strict for everyone. I’d rather someone spend time on a regression to an exercise because they cannot yet perform the strict variation, versus flailing around using momentum to perform something that resembles that exercise and satisfy the ego.
Demonstrating strict, slow tempo form through a robust range of motion is demonstration control over one’s body.
Once you own the movement, do whatever you please. You earned it.
12. Bridging and Rotation into High Bridge
Proper bridge work is a full war on the modern-day desk warrior posture.
I say “proper” because jumping into a full high bridge is not a great idea for a lot of people, since bridges requires quite a bit of shoulder and thoracic mobility, along with hip flexor length.
But, following 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 every single day.
Sounds like a lot to address, but it’s not, and much of it can be improved with simple regressions to the bridge.
Once you’re able to hold a static high bridge for time, start playing around with the rotation into high bridge movement. Super fun and a great confidence building exercise.
13. Dynamic High Plank Exercises (pull-throughs, push-pull)
14. Landmine Grapplers
A barbell and a weight plate on end and a fixed pivoting point on the other end, landmine grapplers are challenging loaded rotation drill. You must first create rotational force to arc the barbell up across the midline and over to the other side, but quickly absorb that momentum and decelerate the weight to a stop.
The landmine trainer provides the opportunity to train many angled exercises and rotational exercise not possible without the pivoting sleeve. Landmine training is part machine and part free weight, a hybrid of sorts.
Using moderate weight, I like going higher repetition with landmine grapplers. 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps per side. But the landmine trainer can be used for heavier loads which would decrease the amount of reps due to the increase in weight.
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 is runs, the balance of the pipe changes and your body must react to this change. There is no rest for the body during a slosh pipe exercise. These subtle adjustments add up over time, many people find slosh pipe exercises to be very challenging.
16. Sandbag Training
Sandbags lack structure and change shape constantly during exercises. Texture of training tools is often overlooked and very important to how effective sandbag training is.
Every repetition with a sandbag is a fight. The clean-squat-press exercise is exactly that. A clean, a squat and a press, with the unique twist of a series of split second adjustments by the body try to stabilize a shape changing object that wants to fall to the floor.
* If you want to increase the instability component of sandbag training, avoid over stuffing the outer shell with inner filler bags. The more room inside the outer shell, the more the inner bags will slide, roll, move.
On the flip side, if you’re looking to develop raw strength, load up sandbag and train with it like you would a barbell or any other strength based tool. Due to design, sandbags have unique grip options not available with other tools (bear hug, shouldering, etc).
17. Slow Mountain Climber Variations
Yoga refers to this exercise as “knee to nose”. Call whatever your heart desires, it’s challenging to pull the knee up to the “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.
I like to cue myself to bring the knee up far enough that I could set the foot down gently and stand up.
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 paddle board is all of the proof you’ll need to understand how challenging this activity is for the core. Though the entire body must be engaged to stay on top of the paddle board, SUP’ing is mainly upper body focused.
Each stroke on a stand up paddle board is core dominant. Core strength is essential for moving the board through the water.
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 under emphasized.
I am not a sleep expert, but it doesn’t take a million person study to realize how “off” my body and mind feels 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. In other words, you cannot crawl into bed, bend down to tie your shoes or brush your teeth each morning without your core musculature supporting the effort on some level. Anyone who’s experienced a back injury undoubtedly knows how important the core is when performing simple tasks.
Kettlebell swings, while not a direct core exercise, work primarily the trunk, hip and hamstring muscles. Entire books have been written around the kettlebell swing and it’s ability to improve power, cardio conditioning, strength and body composition. Nutrition aside, if I was to hand select a few movements to burn fat and build muscle at the same time, I would go with kettlebell swings and Turkish Get Ups.
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 out all four limbs and point them toward the ceiling. To start the movement, slowly lower opposite arm/ opposite leg to the floor.
Ideally you’ll make soft contacts with the floor or stop 1-3 inches above, and come back to the start position. However, a 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” exercise.
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. Now, make the biggest circle possible, spiraling down to the floor, reaching in and out of the legs, etc. When you reach the end point, 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 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.
This is a classic, yet forgotten kettlebell exercise. 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 change your perception about the intensity of isolation.
Janda Sit Ups help to further isolate the rectus abdominals by reducing hip flexor contribution during each sit up. This means the abdominals have to do more work, probably so much work that you’ll feel like you cannot control the descent to the floor, or get off the floor at first.
The effectiveness of the Janda Sit Up is all in the set up and technique. While a training partner is good to have for these, I do think they 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).
To be honest, 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. It’s interesting to see the amount of assistance hip flexors give during sit ups, and along the same lines, how intense isolating the abdominals a bit more.
28. Hanging Knee Tucks
Hanging Knee Tucks effectively kill two birds with one stone, maybe more than two birds, but for now we will focus in on two specifically.
Hanging from an overhead bar for extended periods of time is great for building grip strength/endurance, traction for the spine, stability for the shoulders. Second, the motion of raising the knees up to parallel with the waist line (or ideally above) is a challenging exercise for the core, particularly the lower abdominals.
I prefer to do less repetitions of hanging knee tucks, opting for longer duration holds with the knees tucked. Anywhere from 5-10 seconds per hold. 5-8 reps of a longer duration holds will have your abdominals and grip burning. If you’re in the mood for a metal test, simply hang from the bar with knees tucked for as long as you can.
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. Now you add a squat and the challenge becomes even more difficult. Although we want the sandbag pulled in tight to the body, it’s still an external load situated just anteriorly to your center of gravity, wanting to pull you forward.
30. Explosive Flexion Slams
Slamming a weighted ball on the ground is basically a mutated variation of 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.
31. Rotational Throws
The human body must be able to produce force and resist forces acting on it. Rotation is a missing component from a lot of workout programs. Most exercises work off of the pull of gravity, which is a vertical force, as I am sure you know. The weight goes up and comes back down. Up and down, up and down.
But our bodies can rotate to perform, so rotational throws had to make this list.
Don’t necessarily reach for the heaviest weighted ball in the gym or on Amazon if you’re going to buy one. World Class Pro Athletes often train explosive rotation using 8lb, 10lb or 12 lb medicine balls. The most common weighted ball these days seems to be the 20lb, mainly because of “wall ball” exercise. But keep in mind, “wall ball” is straight up and straight down. Rotation is much different and you may want to dial back the weight of the ball, at least for a little while.
3-5 sets of 5-8 throws per side (ideally while the body is fresh).
32. Chops and Lifts
Ironing out body symmetry is a worthy endeavor and not all core drills are going to light your abdominals up like a Christmas Tree. Chops and Lifts are a very simple exercise that most people will find they: a) cannot do on either side, or b) can only successfully do on one side.
There are many different positions to perform Chops and Lifts in, but the inline position is one of the most humbling. Assume a half kneeling position (one knee down, one knee up). Place the down knee directly behind the heel of the up leg. So, make a straight line with your up and down legs.
Chopping or Lifting once in this position is dramatically more difficult. You will also find it’s calming to the ego, as most people cannot hold posture while chopping or lifting much more than 15-20lbs.
33. Anti-Rotation Press Outs
Training rotation is often forgotten yet a HUGE part of everyday movement. One of the core’s important functions is to brace against forces acting upon it. By stretching a resistance band under tension, pressing the hands out away from the body, you’re educating your core how to resist the pull of the band, therefore resisting rotation.
3-5 sets of 8-12 repetitions. You can hold with elbows extended for 2-3 seconds at first, extending that time later on.
34. Single Arm Push Ups
Everyone is fanatical about something, and I am fanatical about the value of single arm push ups.
To get started here, allow me to say that single arm push ups are not a circus exercise only for the flashy calisthenics athlete. They are for EVERYONE. Follow the progressions and you can make great gains with upper body pressing strength, stability and range of motion.
Single arm push ups are a fully scalable movement for a beginner. A beginner can make single arm push ups more approachable by executing from a kneeling position, hands elevated on stairs/bench/plyo box or by wrapping a resistance band around the chest to reduce the loading. All of this regressions will build strength while moving you closer to the a full single arm push up.
Are you advanced? Too cool for school? Take it to the limit then… use what we know to be effective with exercise progressions: increasing load (add a weight vest), increase time under tension (slower on the way down, slower on the way up), increase reps, sets, etc. Varying the movement complexity is green lighted. Press from different positions or use the press as a transitional piece into other movements. Single arm push ups on a set of gymnastics rings will make your eyeballs dislodge from your face.
Do it all. Explore.
I have found single arm push ups to be one of (if not thee greatest) the best upper body pressing exercises in my arsenal.
35. Atomic Push Ups
There is a time and place for isolate core work, and at some point, you realize that all exercises are “core work” on some level. So if you can add a push up to a knee tuck, do it. The key to the knee tuck in this exercise is lifting the butt/hips to the ceiling, as high as possible, to make room for the knees tucking in toward the elbows.
3-5 sets of 6-15 reps
36. Core Smash
Core smash = intense core flexion contraction.
Ly face up on the floor. Place hands on the side of the head (fingertips just behind the ears), slowly bring your knees to meet your elbows, pressing elbow into the knees as hard as you can. Hold it there, think of something other than the intense core contraction you’re feeling. The Core Smash set ends when the elbows lose contact with the knees. Aim for brief holds at first, lengthening as you gain strength and confidence.
37. Arch Body
The core is not only on the front of the body, easily scene in the mirror. It wraps around your body like a weight belt. Hard to see in the mirror, the glutes and spinal erectors are crucial for human performance, body health and injury mitigation.
Arch body exercise is the opposite of the Hollow Body exercise. Chest down on the floor, you’re going to create a pronounced U-Shape by lifting the arms/back/hamstrings and heels. A lot of people will feel weak during the arch body, possibly cramping. It’s ok. Hold as long as you can, rest and repeat.
Hammer the front side, hammer the back side.
38. Hollow Body High Plank or Push Ups
Assume a high plank position (aka: top of a push up), roll your pelvis under, arch your spine and protect your shoulder blades to make as pronounced of a “U-Shape” as possible. Hold there and embrace the suck, because it’s a highly rewarding position but a sucky position at first. The hollow body position is fundamental for many more difficult gymnastics based movements.
Beginner level gymnastics posture here. Very humbling.
39. Stability Ball Stir-the-Pot
Stability balls are naturally unstable. So, putting the elbows on the stability ball to perform a plank creates a wobbly situation. Now, add a circular motion with the elbows as if you were stirring a giant pot of soup.
Why do this exercise? Because adding more time to a marathon length standard plank is not what most people need. More time doesn’t mean greater gains. At some point, especially with planks, make them harder. One way to make them harder is to add a dynamic movement to a fundamental stability exercise. Take the core stillness reinforced with a traditional plank, start moving the arms on a stability ball, but maintain that same core stillness. Plank variations are great for improving core endurance.
40. Suspension Trainer Pendulums
Slip your feet into the loops of a suspension train or gymnastics rings, turn over and assume a high plank position (top of a push up). The feet are now suspended while the upper body is supporting.
Initiate a side to side motion pendulum motion from the waist on down by activating the hands/arms/torso. Grip the ground hard and swing the legs without breaking at the low back, hips, knees.
This is a very non-traditional exercise that will blow up your mid-section. Expect oblique soreness in the days that follow.
3-5 sets of of higher repetitions, maybe 10-20 per side.
41. Core Compression Pulses
Core compression pulses are a beginner level gymnastics exercise, which in itself is humbling to think about. To do them, sit on the floor, upper body erect and legs straight out in front of you. Place hands on the outsides of the thighs, pressing into the ground for assistance as you lift each leg entirely off of the ground, pulsing up and down.
Lift the legs as high as possible without rocking, bending the knees or compensating to do so.
Core compression pulses are a high repetition exercise, but beginners don’t be surprised if you’re only able to get 3, 4 or maybe 5 before form breaks or cramping begins. Staying disciplined to this exercise will result in quick improvements.
I like to work these early in the workout, before any other lifting or cardio because they are so demanding and isolating the motion is important. 3-5 sets of 4-20+ reps.
42. Loaded Carrying Variations
Loaded carries are incredible for core development and performing real world work.
For the functional fanatic in all of us who want every minute of strength work and cardio exercise to translate to real world scenarios, is there any other mode of exercise more functional than carrying objects of varying weights, texture, shapes and sizes (not to mention carrying in various positions) from Point A to Point B?
Personally, I do not think so.
43. Lizard Crawl + Push or Pull
Perform a lizard crawl while pushing or pulling an object of weight. Simple as that.
I hesitated to include this hybrid locomotion exercise, but ultimately felt that people who can Lizard Crawl proficiently would enjoy adding a brutal push or pull to the exercise. If you don’t have an understanding of the basic Lizard Crawl, start there before adding elements to an already difficult locomotion pattern.
Push and pull equipment. Tools that can be used for the push/pull include a sandbag on carpet or a hard floor surface, or, substitute a kettlebell, dumbbell or weight plate. I have used all of these tools with success, but keep returning to using a sandbag on carpet or hardwood.
If you’ve never pushed or pulled a sandbag on carpet, you’re in for treat. It’s difficult. The amount of friction between the sandbag and floor makes moving it a nightmare, in a positive way. Plus, a sandbag lacks shape, which requires constant readjustments in body position to gain leverage to move it, along with hand position on the bag as it melts into the floor.
44. Spinal Waves
It’s been said we are only as old as our spine is healthy.
Spine health is our life force and if we cannot move it when we need to, it is likely to become a problem down the road.
Soft hump the wall for 100-200 reps most days of the week. Sounds like too much? 200 reps of spinal wave takes less than 5 minutes and your body will thank you for the movement.
45. Standing Spine CAR’s
Lock in the hips, hug yourself and articulate in a circular fashion as if you were trying to dodge pushes from a boxer. Say hello to controlled articulations and their ability to wake up the obliques. Brace and breathe.
46. Hip CAR’s
Assume a quadruped position with hands, knees and feet in contact with the floor. Raise your leg out to the side of your body as high as possible, pretend like you’re a dog about to pee on a fire hydrant. Be mindful to keep your shin bone parallel with the floor, which means your foot doesn’t move higher or lower than your knee. (Watch the video)
Draw as large circle with your knee (articulate) as you slowly move the knee behind the body. This will look like the finishing position of a donkey kick. Lower the knee back underneath the body, but don’t set it down. Reverse the pattern.
Once again, many of the best “core” movements are not isolated movements, and they shouldn’t be because isolating the “core” is not how humans operate. Every little movement is a synergistic experience, with many muscles contributing.
47. Animal Flow Side Kick Through’s
Side Kick Through’s are a basic movement element in Animal Flow, resembling a break dancing type move.
Animal Flow is a bodyweight focused, ground based movement system packed with performance and restorative movement patterns.
Start in a quadruped position, hands and feet supporting the body (knees hover 1-2 inches off the floor). Rotate to one side by pivoting on the ball of that sides foot, opening up your chest to the side you’re turning toward. Slide the trailing leg through and “kick” it through until fully extended. At the same time as the leg kicks through, pull the opposite arm/hand back as if you were drawing back a bow and arrow.
The simultaneous opposite arm/leg reach with light up the anterior oblique system (fascial slings crossing the front of the body). Some will and some will not feel this diagonal “stretch” from the hip through the torso up to the opposite shoulder during Side Kick Through end range… I personally feel it. You, may not. Regardless, there’s tremendous movement benefit in this exercise.
48. Animal Flow Crab Reach
This is my favorite Animal Flow exercise because it’s LOADED WITH BENEFITS.
Posterior chain activation, controlled rotation of the torso, elongation of the often shortened muscles of the core, and honestly… it’s a position most people do not explore, which is absolutely of great benefits for expanding movement IQ (aka: confidence).
In one shot, the Crab Reach accomplishes the following:
– Opens up the torso and chest in a diagonal pattern (far hip to far shoulder)
– Challenges and improves shoulder stability on the loaded working arm
– Opens up the hips anteriorly
– Activates the posterior chain (gluten/hamstrings) moving into extension.
– Uncommon position (head and eyes get a different look at the world)
The end, finally.
This extensive exercise list does tend to place higher stress on the muscle of the torso/trunk.
But, ALL training is technically “core training” since we cannot sneeze or cough, reach for tissue or stand up from the toilet without assistance from our trunk muscles.
I don’t want this list to project favoritism to core building exercises, as if these are all a person should focus on. However, if a simple audit of your gym time shows you’re spending a lot of time crunching your core into oblivion, sub-out those crunches with a few of these exercises.
A complete training regimen includes bits and pieces from many different movement patterns, drills, muscles, tempos, strength, power, stability, mobility, cardio, etc.
If there’s one final thought to leave you with (assuming you made it this far) it’s this: do it all.
Keep showing up and working movement in all planes, in as many different positions as possible, making gains through smart exercise progression, mobility training and probably most important of all, consistency across the long haul.
Your body will love you for paying attention to what it needs as you build it’s capacity to move well and mitigate injury.
Cheers to you and the daily effort…