These core exercises will help you get the most out of your strength training.
I don’t train muscles specifically, preferring instead to focus on training and improving movement patterns. It’s why I love “full-body” exercises like turkish get-ups (TGU’s), cleans, crawling, and jumping drills. Which isn’t to say that I don’t separate exercises out based on their muscle-area and movement emphasis, because I’m big on “templates” and “categories.” Having a menu of movements to plug and play really helps to simply the construction of a routine.
These templates are forever evolving, but there are main categories, or movement patterns, that have been the foundation of my routines for years. They include:
1. Lower Body
2. Upper Body
5. Extra - Pre-hab movements that include activation, mobility, and stability drills
I previously wrote, Abs Exercises for MMA, about my top core exercises, and while I still like every one of those exercises, I’ve since added to that list. So, to reflect that expansion, here now is a look at my current favorite torso-specific movements. What hasn’t changed between then and now is I still keep this a “crunch-free” zone. Other than my MMA athletes, I don’t have a single client perform a sit-up or crunch (and the volume is very limited with my MMA guys). Do sit-up and crunches work the abs? Sure, but I’d rather target the midsection of my clients with rotation & anti-rotation exercises, heavy carries, pull-ups (yes, pull-ups), interval work, and a healthy diet instead.
Equipment-Based Torso Rotations
Tubing - As with all the tools listed, we perform this exercise a number of different ways. Using traditional tubing, I like it to be short and sweet. Keep a shoulder-width stance, perform the movement with speed and control from foot to foot, and keep your arms relatively straight the entire time. See the clip for further explanation.
RIP - I cue my clients to rotate from the shoulders and hips on this exercise. You don’t want to “arm” the exercise, as the arms are just along for the ride. Body positioning in relation to the anchor point can make this exercise fairly easy or extremely challenging. You can also adjust your hand positioning on the bar to modify the intensity.
Medicine Ball - Standing parallel to a training partner or wall, throw the ball with force using both your upper and lower body. I use different types of balls for different goals. If power is the priority, use a dead ball and throw it as explosively as possible. If using a more traditional bouncy ball, be alert for the rebound and perhaps avoid throwing it with as much force. I like this type (of ball) if we’re trying to work on deceleration and being quick with force transfer.
Superband - Strategically wrapping the band so that it comes across the hips will force you to rotate shoulders and hips. Focus on pivoting off your back foot to ensure proper technique.
I first used diagonal lifts as a corrective exercise tool to work on thoracic spine rotation and extension, and this remains one of my favorite movements.
Tubing or RIP - I primarily perform these two lifts from the tall kneeling or split squat position. I like a controlled motion focusing on thoracic rotation while maintaining a neutral hip position.
Kamagon & Slosh Pipe - Using these water-filled tools from a standing position, you can ramp up the speed a bit and focus more on power. The weight shift and deceleration component makes for a challenging core workout.
Isometric Holds (Iso-holds)
Pallof Press - I like to perform these with tubing or a cable machine, and there’s a TRX suspension trainer variation as well. Maintain proper spinal alignment and don’t let your shoulders elevate during the movement. Foot position and distance from the anchor point will determine the intensity, but check out the clip to see it in action.
Iso-Holds With Perturbations - To perform this, think of being in the end-range of the Pallof Press. Keep a neutral spine, your core engaged, your shoulders down, and try to minimize any movement while the cable or tubing is being manipulated.
Most people train the torso by performing spinal flexion exercises, but I like to target the midsection with movements that prevent lumbar extension. Here are my favorites:
Rollout/Superman - This exercise can be performed with a number of different tools, but my favorites include the TRX suspension trainer, ab wheel, and sliders/gliders. More unique options include plates, a barbell, a medicine ball, or a foam roller. Regardless of how you do them, they’re a great way to challenge, not only your anterior and posterior torso, but also the stabilizers of your shoulder joint as you extend.
Body Saw - Another great anti-extension movement that can be performed with multiple tools. Similar to the superman exercise listed above, except now the equipment is at the feet and the movement comes primarily from the shoulder joint. My go-to’s here include the TRX suspension trainer, sliders/gliders, plates, and a stability ball.
There are thousands of additional torso-focused exercises to choose from, and we could break this down further into obliques, lower abs, upper abs, etc. Consider this then a primer on my favorites and why I feel they’re safe, efficient, and effective. Which is to say, bump your crunches and sit-ups with a couple options listed above. Your 6-pack abs will be eternally grateful.