Regardless of what motivates you I am sure you are doing some core training in your fitness routine. If you are like me you want your core training to deliver rock-hard abs, prevent low-back pain, and have a tremendous carryover into life and performance.
But are you doing the best exercises to make sure you are getting the most out of your effort? The problem is that so many core exercises are inefficient, ineffective, and just flat out dangerous. This week I will lay out 5 amazing alternatives to traditional core exercises that will create a strong and slim mid-section.
First, why do we need to address the way we are training our core? There are three main reasons:
1. Injury Risk:
One of my most influential mentors in the field of human performance and fitness is Dr. Stuart McGill. In his book, Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, Dr. McGill illustrates through his scientific research that repeated spinal flexion (sit-ups) can lead to low back pain. He concluded that the low back does not like to bend or twist as much as we have been making it with our exercise selection.
I do not think all spinal flexion is bad but I do think that the high volume of repetitions is unnecessary because it promotes poor posture and dysfunction. For me, it just makes more sense to protect people rather than run the risk of hurting them in their training.
Exercises like crunches force you to repeatedly round your back. This only engrains a resting posture that we do not want and is so easy to fall into. With a population that spends most of our time sitting, training in a way that reinforces this posture is only going to make it more permanent.
The core is not designed to create motion like with sit-ups and crunches. Its true roll is to stabilize the entire trunk so it can prevent rotation, extension, and side bending. The core uses this ability to brace to transfer movement and force through the hips and shoulders. Old-fashioned training does not promote any real life carryover and does not prepare us for everyday demands.
Here are 5 Powerful Substitutions that Can Make Your Core Strong and Slim!
- Replace bicycle kicks with suspension strap mountain climbers:
Stop doing bicycles immediately! They only reinforce all of the bad posture and dysfunction we just went over. Instead, use a suspension strap and put both feet in and hold yourself up in a push-up plank position. This is hard to hold! Once you master this hold position start mountain climbing. If it gets easy on your hands go down to an elbow plank position. Try this for 30-45 seconds.
- Replace lying leg raises with Core Engaged Leg Lowers:
Lying leg raises are a tough exercise that most people just are not ready for or know how to do them correctly. I have seen countless times people who hurt their low back from trying this exercise on their own unsuccessfully. Instead insert the core engaged leg lower.
I am a firm believer in the FMS (Functional Movement Screen) and have been using this assessment tool for years with all of my clients. The leg lower is a great corrective exercise strategy for gaining dynamic hamstring mobility with core stability. It is also a great exercise as the “core engaged” part reflexively fires the entire trunk section.
The core engaged leg lower is a phenomenal exercise because it can be modified to fit any fitness level, helps restore functional movement, and creates a feeling we all know and love from our core work!
- Replace seated medicine ball twists with Band Anti-Rotation variations:
I stopped using medicine ball twists many years ago after studying McGills work. The low back only has a few degrees of rotation (~2) built into the discs and this exercise puts them all way past the functional range of motion. Also, for anyone with a base level of fitness these become easy and you need to do dozens of reps to start to feel “the burn.”
I guarantee if you start to include Band Anti-Rotation exercises you will absolutely love how they feel and force you to brace and be strong. Not only that but they are really easy to progress and there are endless variations you can do with them that challenge your mobility and stability in various planes of motion. You won’t regret this decision!
- Replace lateral side bends with suitcase carries:
Lateral spinal flexion using repeated side bends compromises the disc health by putting the spine in a vulnerable position. We were not designed to bend from the low back as this exercise prescribes. As the weights go up it puts even more stress on the discs.
Instead start doing suitcase carries. These will light up your obliques while having tremendous carry-over into real life. How many men and women carry bags and purses with one arm?? By incorporating this exercise into your program you will love how strong you feel! Make sure you keep your belly and butt braced and walk with a tall posture.
- Replace Sit-Ups with Stir the Pots
I think at this point you understand why we can do better than the basic sit-up. Start doing stir-the pots on a yoga ball and prepare for your core to be on fire in less than 30 seconds. Focus on keeping that strong plank position from head to heel. Again, there are so many progressions from this starting position but an easy one is once you master the hold just start shaking the ball with your forearms. This added instability will turn up the intensity very quickly.
Many people struggle to get results and it is not because they aren’t working hard. Exercise selection, execution, and progressions matter… here are five quick and easy wins that you can start implementing immediately to start getting better results with your core training!
If you want to learn more about our adult training program feel free to reach out for a FREE consultation. You will leave with a much clearer picture of what your goals and vision look like.