Core Exercises That Really Work

Headstand with a twist
Headstand with a twist.
You heard this term over and over again; core exercises. Now what the heck is the core? Is it your abs? Not exactly, it's comprised of several muscles that span all the way around your midsection from the bottom of your hips to to your shoulder girdle. It's what transfers force from your hands to your feet, or vice versa.

Think of it as a coupling between two pipes. The stronger the coupling, the more pressure that can be handled within those pipes. Your body is very similar. Now there are a few things that your core does; I'd explain what core stability is, but to some (especially on T-Nation) it's a buzzword. So let's just say that it's your ability to maintain any position throughout any plane of movement, whether it's standing up, upside down, on your sides, in a handstand, on your tip toes, etc.

That's the stability portion, and All Around Strength loves a strong core. In fact all the authors have benefited greatly from direct core training. All the movements in this video fall into one or more categories; flexion and/or extension in the transverse or coronal plane, rotation, and lateral flexion and extension. So here are a few explanations of some of the exercises to go along with the video.

Dragon Flag

Made popular by Bruce Lee, and Stallone in Rocky IV. Real simple (not really) all you have to do is bring your legs up and maintain a straight and rigid position with all your weight on the back of your neck, and upper back. You bend your body without compromising your waist (flex your butt, this usually helps) and lower yourself to the bottom without losing form. Josh demonstrates at the end, a lateral version twisting his feet and hips, to load each side a bit more independently.

Hanging Lateral Hip Swings

Real simple to do, grab a bar overhead as wide as you can, and allow your hips and legs to swing while maintaining an upright torso. Going slow and holding really makes a difference, and to make things a bit easier, you can add a straddle to offset the weight a bit. To make things harder, try doing this with one hand, as Josh demonstrates with amazing total body strength and coordination.

Standing Russian Twists

Throw a barbell against the wall, add a weight, and then outstretch your arms so that the barbell is in front of you, and you are leaning slightly into it. Keep your feet, hips, and face pointing forward, and allow your arms (as straight as you can get them) to slowly drift towards your hips. Then bring it up to the other side in a fluid motion.

NB : For a great collection of exercises similar to this one, head over to 29 Things to do with a barbell in the corner. You won't be disappointed.

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Saxon Side Bend

Made popular by Arthur Saxon, this move is lateral flexion to the nth degree. Looking for a way to nail those obliques in unfamiliar territory, grab some light dumbbells, although you really don't need weight, and bring them overhead. Remember the closer they are together, the harder things get. Bend at the waist laterally, kicking your opposite hip out as you go down. Reverse the motion and come back to the other side.


If you don't have kettlebells, a barbell or dumbbells work great. Lets say you use your left side to get the weight overhead, turn your hips so that your right hip is facing what might have been forward, and bend laterally at the waist and pick a weight off the floor. All this time you want to maintain eye contact with the weight overhead, mainly for balance, coordination, and to keep your shoulder in check. Bring the bottom weight down, and repeat.

Two Hands Anyhow

Using a barbell, you clean and jerk it overhead, or snatch if you prefer, and using a variant of the Turkish Get Up, come down so that you end up in the two handed anyhow position (similar but harder to a side plank), gain your balance, and return the weight back up and lower down again.

Hanging Pike Lateral Hip Raises

This one is straight from Josh Sodja's twisted core training. Go into a hanging pike (that's hanging leg raise for some) and pull your hips up to each side as high as possible, while maintaining a piked position.

Hanging Windshield Wipers

Or Russian tick tocks as some know them. Hang from a bar overhead, make sure your back is parallel to the ground, and swing your legs on either side of you quickly or slowly. To make things challenging go circular to hit the core from a different angle. For more info on this on, check out Deconstructing the Hanging Windshield Wiper.

Josh's Spidey Push-Up

Basically doing a push up off a stability ball while bringing your legs as you would in a side jackknife. Not too difficult? Try it with one leg, and if that's not enough, allow your legs to drift laterally while maintaining your balance on the ball.

Wall Walks

Adapted from the gymnastic world, simple to back bend but use the wall as your guide. Want to add some spice, drop down quickly and explode off the wall. This one adds some serious tightness to the back, and is not recommended for those with injured backs. Loosen up before you try this one.

Headstands With a Twist

Who would have thought that childhood trick would actually help strengthen your core. Simply come up into a headstand, with a straddle and spin your legs like a helicopter without falling over. This one represents what core stability is.

Plank With Single Leg Rotation

Basically do a plank in push up fashion and bear all the weight into your hands. No piking of the hips, and no cobra stretches either, straight back. Allow one leg to come up and drift over as far to the opposite side as possible. This one can be as easy or as difficult as you want it, depending on how straight the leg is, or how far out you extend your leg. For internal hip rotation emphasis, swing it under the body first.

Stability Ball Reverse Hyper

Basically a modified reverse hyper using a ball instead of the real deal. I would recommend experimenting with both the close legged version, and the straddle legged version, as they hit the posterior chain at different angles. Point your toes as you would in the tip toes position, straighten your legs, and raise them as high up without throwing your face down as you can, and then lower to the floor.


To tie things up, here's the video, pardon the occasional F- Bomb and the poor quality, but you get the gist.

You can do crunches, and leg raises until you're blue in the face, have a great six pack, and terrible strength in your core. Isn't it time you tried something a little different?

Jason Kirby

Jason Kirby is a Personal Trainer and author for Straight to the Bar.


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