Before we get into this discussion on Core Stability I need to get something off my chest. The title of this article is not completely accurate. I know it is called the “5 Best Exercises for Core Stability”, but that could be misleading. You see, I believe that the Plank is the granddaddy of core stability exercises…but I’ve already taught you all of my Plank wisdom in “Becoming a Plank Pro”. So how do I follow that up? What do I do for a Plank enCORE (pun intended)? Today I’m going to share with you 5 great exercises that all require the strength and stability of a plank, but are going to challenge your core in a much more dynamic way. Each one of these exercises incorporates movement in the equation, while still requiring you to maintain a rigid midsection. I have also programmed them into a 3 week plan that will build you up from moderate to advanced versions of each exercise as your strength increases.
Before we dive into the program, let’s talk about everyone’s favorite fitness buzzword - core. What is the core? If you immediately said “abs” or 6-pack”, you would be on the right track, but the answer is much more complex than that. Stand up and hold one hand at your side and the other just below your chest. Basically every muscle contained in that area - front and back - are what comprise the “core”. You have the big prime movers like the abdominals, spinal erectors, glutes, obliques, etc., but there are also many smaller muscles like the abductors, psoas, and serratus that play an equally important part. The Transverse Abdominis may not show up in any ripped Instagram photos, but if yours is weak or not firing properly with the rest of your core, then your strength and stability will be compromised.
From a weightlifters prospective, the most important role of the core is to provide stability between the upper and lower body and prevent injury during heavy lifting. Think about doing a barbell squat - if your obliques are weak or your abs are not firing, your lower back is going to have to carry more of the load than normal and your form will break down, resulting in an injury. When considering athletics, particularly combat sports such as wrestling and MMA, a major function of the core muscles are to keep your body in good position as an outside force (i.e. your opponent) tries to manipulate you into a positional disadvantage. This is where movement based core stability exercises and anti-rotational movements become important. The key to all of these exercises is “finding” your abs…and I’m not talking about pulling up your shirt and checking for them in the mirror. You have to be able to neurologically recruit and use the muscles in your core to stabilize and hold position so you don’t overcompensate with the muscles in your lower back or your hip flexors. Once you “feel” the abs start to give way, the exercise needs to end. Its better to take a mini rest mid set and be able to finish with perfect form than to power thru an exercise like walk outs after your abs are fatigued. Now let’s get familiar with the exercises themselves:
- Palov Press Series - the Palov Press is a great anti-rotational exercise, meaning that the function of your core is to resist a rotational force that is trying to pull you to one side. This is accomplished by attaching a thin or medium band to something off to the side and keeping it pulled to the center of your body as you perform some type of movement. There are tons of variations, as the Palov Press can be done kneeling, standing, split stance, prone on a swiss ball, etc. For this workout I’ve picked out my 3 favorite kneeling variations and even included an advanced swiss ball variation.
Kneeling Front Press - attach a band to a rack off to your side and kneel down. Extend your hips up so there is a straight line from shoulder to knee, then pull the band to the center of your chest. Keeping your glutes and core tight, press the band out in front of you with both hands, then slowly return it to your chest. Switch sides after 10 reps so the band tension is pulling you in the opposite direction.
Kneeling Front Raise - same starting position as the press, only once the band is extended in front of you, raise it over head and then lower it in an arch to your legs. Keep your core tight and resist the temptation to twist towards the band. Switch sides and repeat for 10 reps.
Kneeling Hip Extension - Again start in the same position as the press, but once you press the band out in front, keep it locked into place. Slowly sit your hips back until your glutes touch your heals then extend the hips and come back up. Keep the band centered and your arms parallel to the floor the entire time.
Press on Swiss Ball - Lay back onto a swiss ball and slowly walk out until only your shoulders and head are on the ball. Bridge your hips up until your torso is parallel to the floor. Grab a band from the side and pull it to the center of your body and perform 10 slow presses. Note - the starting attachment height of the band should be roughly the same as your arms when extended, not the height of the ball.
2.Walk Outs - this exercise is similar to the classic Ab Wheel, but rather than rolling out, you will walk your hands out and back in. The goal is to touch your nose to the ground, but start by only going out as far as you can go without letting your hips sag. Always start by rounding your back up slightly and flexing your abs to keep them engaged. These can be done from your knees or starting rom your feet in a push-up position.
- Stability Alternates - this is my favorite exercise for cross body stability and balance. Start in a push-up position, making sure your hips are level. Slowly lift one leg and the opposite arm, holding for one second at the top. Lower and repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Do not twist to maintain balance at the top. Also make sure to raise your arm straight in front of you, not out to the side. The starter version of this exercise is to perform them from a kneeling “all fours” position. when done in this manner, I recommend holding the top position for 3 seconds on each rep.
- Saws - this one has to win the award for “Much More Challenging Than it Appears”. Start in a plank position with your feet on a Slider or a alb plate. TRX bands also work well here. Slowly drift forward, keeping your body rigid and parallel to the floor. As you progress, try also sliding back slightly behind where you started, so your arms extend in front of you slightly. This is a small yet extremely difficult movement.
- Wheel Barrow Walks - there are two ways to do this one, but I got bad news for you - neither one is easy. Let’s start with the tough one:
Swiss Ball Walks - start in a push up position with your feet on a swiss ball. Slowly walk backwards letting the ball roll from your feet, up your legs and to your torso, keeping your body perfectly straight. Once the ball has reached your stomach, walk back out to starting position.
…and now for the super tough one:
Slider Walks - start in a push-up position with your feet on a Slider or a 5lb plate (a towel can work in a pinch), or have a partner hold them. Keep your body perfectly rigid as you walk forward and your feet slide along. Once you have reached the target distance, walk back wards to the starting point. It is extremely important to keep your abs engaged and to not drop your hips.
Now that you understand the movements themselves, here is a great 3 week progression that is sure to challenge you and build great core stability. Ideally you should perform each workout 2-3 times during the corresponding week (do week 1 workout 3 times the first week, week 2 at least 3 times the second week, etc.). Although you wouldn’t want to do these routines at the beginning of your normal gym session and fatigue your core for the rest of the workout, don’t always save it for the end either. I always get the most out of my core training when doing it as a separate second workout for the day or on an “off day”.
Pavlov Press - press straight out, 10 per side
- Walkouts from knees - 3 x 10
- Stability Alternates from knees - 3 x 10/10
- Saws - forward only 2 x10
- Palov Press - hip extension 10 per side
- Palov Press - press Straight Out, 10 per side
- Walkouts - 3 from feet, 7 from knees, 2 sets total
- Saws - begin to progress back as well, 10 reps
- Wheel Barrow Walks - on Swiss Ball - 3 sets of 10 reps
- Stability Alternates (from feet) - 10 per side
- Palov Press - raises 10 per side, hip extension 10 per side
Circuit: 3 rounds
- Stability Alternates - 10 each side
- Walkouts - 5 from feet, 5 from knees
- Saws -10 reps (full range of motion)
- Wheel Barrow Walks - feet on Sliders - 30 feet each direction
- Palov Press - press Straight Out (on swiss ball), 10 per side, raises 10 per side, hip extension 10 per side
- rest 1 minute then repeat circuit