The 18 Best Core Exercises for Stability, Power, and Injury Prevention

By on August 18, 2020

Developing the core should be the top priority for anyone interested in performance and power AS WELL as aesthetics. A strong core not only looks fantastic but is necessary for the expression of force anywhere else in the body.

Best ab exercises

Your core is what provides stiffness to support your spine in any posture. This makes core endurance extremely important, as if the core begins to weaken, that is what will leave you susceptible to injury.

That stiffness is also what allows for what Stuart McGill describes as “distill athleticism.” The body is a series of kinematic chains, meaning that it is an assembly of rigid bodies connected by joints. In order to develop power from one of those points, all others need to be locked in place.

Think of this like a crane: in order for the crane to lift anything heavy, the jib and the boom must remain stiff. To put it another way: to lift something heavy in your arms while standing, your back also needs to be able to take that weight – so that you don’t collapse!

The core is also responsible for generating power: whether pulling something along the ground, grappling, or performing acrobatic movements.

How to get ripped abs

You will not develop complete core strength through the big lifts alone. Nor should you rely purely on isolation movements. If you aren’t doing anything to strengthen the core in the transverse plane, to build endurance, or to maintain rigidity against different forces, then you aren’t doing enough!

Thus, the following exercises will help you to develop the kind of powerful core that translates to real performance.

1 Medicine Ball Throw

The medicine ball throw is a ballistic exercise that allows you to develop power against resistance. What I’m recommending here, is the use of a throw that has a rotational element: such as the shotput throw. This will train you to develop force through the transverse plane, which is missing from so many training programs. Rotational strength is absolutely critical in the real world, whether throwing a punch, wrestling, or opening a heavy door.

Medicine ball throw best ab exercises

The relatively low amount of resistance provided by a medicine ball means you’ll be able to achieve a high velocity while also going for a high rep-ranges that will challenge your strength endurance.

2 Cable Punch-Outs

Cable punch-outs are another great move for developing rotational strength. They are superior in some ways for developing strength in the obliques and useful movement patterns as the resistance is coming from behind you, rather than above.

3 One Armed Cable Row With Rotation

This is a similar movement, only you’ll be pulling rather than pushing. Pulling with rotation is a useful movement pattern in real-life (see the tug of war) but is seriously underrepresented in most programming.

A similar movement is the one armed bodyweight row with rotation, but the advantage of the one-armed cable row is that you’ll be standing up. That means you need to brace the core and plant your feet to avoid being pulled over. This makes it a full body movement that really changes core stability in the way you actually use it in the real world.

4 Hollow Body Holds

Hollow body holds are extremely important for gymnasts, but have a host of benefits for the rest of us. These teach you to contract and compress the abs in order to achieve an extremely strong and stable posture. That posture is essential for movements like the planche, and even the handstand. To perform a hollow body hold, lie flat on the ground and draw your abs into spine while getting into a posterior pelvic tilt. The small of your back should be touching the ground and your shoulders should be raised slightly.

V-ups hollow body

If you can hold this position, you’ll build excellent core endurance, not to mention better mind-muscle awareness.

5 Dragon Flag

The Dragon Flag is an epic anti-extension movement popularized by Bruce Lee. The aim is to lie on your back and brace your upper body so that only your shoulders are in contact with the ground or bench underneath. From here, you slowly lower and raise your feet and lower torso, keeping them straight and making sure your feet don’t touch the floor.

6 Ab Rollout

The ab rollout is another anti-extension movement, and one of the most challenging of all when performed from a standing position. Not only must you prevent the stomach from sagging and touching the ground while your hands are fully extended, but you also need to then contract the core to pull yourself back upwards.

This will very rapidly develop an extremely solid abdominal wall for an impressive six pack.

7 Lalanne Push Up

Named after the Lalanne push up is an exercise that’s actually very similar to the ab rollout. The difference is that you are using your hands without the roller and simply performing a push up in that stretched out position. It looks awesome, and it’s brilliant for strengthening the core. Stretching the mid section under duress like this is amazing for stimulating a hypertrophic response.

Lalanne Push Ups for Flat Abs

8 Lizard Crawl

The lizard crawl is a movement I have come to absolutely love – as you might have guessed if you’ve seen my recent videos crawling around carparks. The great thing about the lizard crawl is that it involves continuous tension and core rigidity. This is crucial as mentioned for building resilience against injury. At the same time, the lizard crawl involves a rotational elements as you’ll often have your weight on just one arm and be forced to combat those rotational forces. Because you can do it for distance or time, it’s ideal for endurance. And it’s also just fun!

9 Handstands

The handstand is a surprisingly useful tool for training the core. As much as anything, this teaches greater awareness of the core, as you need to keep it aligned to avoid toppling forward. It actually becomes an anti-extension movement in some ways: as keeping your core rigid allows you to lean slightly forward and then use your fingers to hold yourself up.

10 One Arm Shoulder Press

Performing any type of shoulder press with one arm instead of two will allow you to build core stability as you fight forces trying to bend you to one side. There are other great advantages to this kind of unilateral training.

11 Loaded Carries

I’ve talked about these a lot, but loaded carries are so beneficial that it bears repeating! Again, these are so valuable because we’re keeping the core braced for long periods to build strength endurance. This is exactly the kind of scenario we face in real life. You can use loaded carries with a heavy trap bar, by holding something over your shoulders, or by holding a weight in just one hand – called a suitcase carry – which will add an anti-lateral flexion element similar to a side plank.

Suitcase carry for ripped obliques

Put these at the end of your workout to avoid fatiguing your core prior to heavy lifts that could leave you susceptible to injury.

12 Quasi-Isometric Push Up

Performed correctly, high-rep push ups should have all the same benefits as the plank – as they force you to maintain a rigid core even as you grow close to fatigue. Problem is that a lot of people won’t be able to perform push ups for two minutes straight, or will forget about their posture and let their mid-section sag. A solution is to use the quasi-isometric push up: an extremely slow push up lasting a minute or more that lets you focus on keeping the core solid while also providing countless other benefits.

To add an anti-rotation element, try performing these on just one hand!

13 Front Squat/Goblet Squat

So many programs designed to build core stability focus on anti-extension, when actually a lot of injuries come from flexion. Many of us spend most of our day in flexion after all, and regularly need to lift heavy things off the floor in front of us.

Performing squats with the weight in front of you then: using a sandbag, a barbell front squat or Zercher carry, or anything else for that matter. Keep in mind that an Atlas stone actually doesn’t offer the same advantage as your upper torso will wrap around the stone, preventing any flexion!

14 Medicine Ball Slam

The medicine ball slam involves throwing the ball down from a fully extended position. That starting position mimics the way we often use our core in real life, and it means you’re using a fuller range-of-motion that can lead to awesome hypertrophy.

Medicine ball slam best ab exercises

15 Leg Raises and Frog Kicks

Hanging leg raises are amazing for training the rectus abdominis, as long as you make sure to curl the stomach rather than simply hinging at the hips. Add weight between your legs and you’ll provide the abs with the resistance that is often lacking in this kind of training.

16 V-Ups

V-Ups are an explosive alternative to the sit up or crunch that increase the challenge and help you to generate the kind of core power you need for explosive movements like tucks and flips.

17 L-Sit Flutters

I’m including this static hold with a slight movement because it is a fantastic endurance exercise that will teach you to breathe through a braced core and will build thick, powerful-looking abs in no time. You really feel this one!

How to get ripped abs

18 Pike Pulses

Pike pulses involve sitting on the floor with your hands by your knees and then raising your legs. This teaches compressive strength: contracting the abs against the resistance provided by your own body. It feels awkward at first, but it develops the kind of strength and mobility you need to perform V-sits and eventually maltese. So I hear.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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