Everyone wants a strong core, but nobody wants to do the work necessary to get one.
Planks? Sit ups? Leg raises? No, not for me, no thanks.
But don’t worry y’all, I’ve got your back. Fortunately there ARE some ways to strengthen your core without actually knowing you’re doing so. Granted this still requires effort, it’s just effort concentrated on other movements that maybe you won’t hate as much. It’s kind of like how you don’t realize you’re raising your heart rate and breathing heavier during a nice game of Quidditch because, you know, you’re actually enjoying yourself.
Perhaps a better way to put that is that exercises for core strength don’t always have to directly target the core. In reality you are using your core muscles in nearly every movement you perform, whether you mean to or not. Squats, push ups, pull ups, etc. all require stabilization of the abs and lower back in order to be done correctly. There are certain movements in particular that require a high amount of stabilization, like the ones listed below.
All of these exercises that I’ve highlighted will utilize your core out of necessity. You essentially can’t perform the movements correctly without a bunch of assistance from the core muscles.
So here are my recommendations for the best exercises for core strength that technically aren’t core exercises. These certainly aren’t the only movements that fall into this category, but they’re a good place to start.
The deadlift is a monster of a movement. It requires the majority of muscles in your body to work together, including an incredible amount of work from the muscles in your core.
In this lift, the primary purpose of your core musculature is to stabilize your spine to keep it in a safe position. As you can imagine, the more weight you’re lifting, the more work your core is going to have to do to keep that stabilization up.
The great thing is that you’re so focused on picking that damn weight up off the ground that you barely notice how much work your entire abdomen is doing. It’s almost a natural instinct to tighten every muscle in your core as you’re attempting to pick something heavy off the ground. And over time, the constant contracting of those muscles under high amounts of tension is going to build some serious core strength.
Ever tried to carry all of your groceries in from your car in one trip? You know your bread is getting flattened against the side of the bag and those chips are likely being crushed under the weight of a gallon of milk. You could easily just come back out a second time – I mean hell it’s not even raining – but you’ve made up your mind and there’s NO CHANCE you’re backing down now.
Well if you’ve ever done that, you’ve done a weighted carry.
Now just imagine simulating that movement intentionally. I know. Sounds insane.
Maybe that’s why this is a move that I rarely ever see people performing. But if you take advantage of it correctly, you’ll quickly add some core strength that’s functional and useful.
It’s also super straightforward. Literally pick up a weight of any kind – a dumbbell, kettlebell, piece of luggage, some heavy chains, your two year old – and start walking with it. You can hold an equal amount of weight in both hands, but if your goal is to build some core strength, try an unbalanced carry by holding a different amount in each hand, or a weight in one hand and none at all in the other.
You’ll quickly find out why this movement is on this list. Your obliques will be working overtime as they attempt to hold your torso upright without bending to the weighted side. As a bonus, this is also an amazing conditioning exercise that’s not named “running”.
Single Arm Dumbbell Press
This one’s pretty interesting. It’s a standing shoulder press using only one arm at a time. The work here comes from stabilizing your core to maintain a straight and upright position.
It’s similar to an unbalanced weighted carry in that the weight in one hand is pulling your body down to that side, and it’s your job to prevent that motion from happening. If you are truly working to stay upright, you’ll feel your obliques and abs tighten up, particularly when you press that weight up overhead.
When doing this movement it’s crucial that you use only ONE dumbbell! If you’re pressing with one arm but still holding a dumbbell of equal weight in the other hand, then you’re just counterbalancing the weight in the pressing hand, right? That means that your core doesn’t have to work nearly as hard to prevent the bending motion you’re trying to avoid. Because physics.
Of course this exercise is limited by the amount of weight you can press overhead with each hand, but even at moderate weights you should be able to feel your core working hard to do its job.
TRX Chest Press
Want an exercise that strengthens your core AND makes you shake uncontrollably the first couple times your try it? The TRX chest press is for you.
First off a TRX is just a brand name for a suspension training system, but it just happens to be the most popular brand and the name that most people know, so I’m using that name here.
The beauty of a suspension trainer is that you’re forced to stabilize your core in nearly every movement you do, and maybe none more so than in the chest press.
This movement is almost like a push up in which you’re suspended in the air. During a normal push up, your hands have a very stable base (i.e., the ground) and while you should still be contracting your core to keep your body flat, there’s no need to worry about wobbling from one side to the other. In the TRX chest press, that stable base is taken away completely as your hands are just attached to the two straps hanging from an anchor point.
This lack of a stable base means that your core has to do all the work in making sure you body stays in the right position in order to do the pressing movement. While this sounds simple, it is a lot. Harder. In practice.
But the good news? When we say goodbye to stability, we say hello to necessary core strength.
So that’s my list of some of the best indirect exercises for core strength. This doesn’t mean that you should completely abandon movements that directly target the core muscles, but there’s no harm in getting creative once in a while.
Try adding some of these movements into your workout routines and let me know how it goes. Or just buy a lot of heavy groceries and park really far away.