In my workouts I rarely ever include crunches.
If I put them in, they are generally meant as sort of an active rest station. And I only use ones that are full body like the super crunches.
Here by the way are the super crunches from Saturday’s Bikini Workouts Post.
In general though, crunches are worthless and I don’t include them. But that doesn’t mean I think core work isn’t important.
Because it is! Heck I’ve even done another post about core exercises even though I did one pretty recently called 10 Core Moves.
If you want to work your core, do it in a way that has either some functional benefit OR that works a ton of different muscle groups at once so you get a big bang for your buck.
Below are a variety of great moves that work more than just your abs and are functional.
I’ve included both rotational moves that will help you be strong when lifting something and twisting and anti-rotational moves that will help you prevent injury when trying to resist a rotational force.
Some of these moves are very core specific and some actually are “focused” on working another muscle group but do A LOT to strengthen your core.
1. XT Strap Anti-Rotational Row – A great single limb movement that allows you to work each side of your back individually while also working your core. You can do this on the XT straps or even off a barbell in a rack. To do this move, place one hand across your chest and grab the strap in the other hand. Set up in a nice straight line, squeezing your quads, glutes and core. DO NOT let your body rotate. You want to move in a straight line as you row up and down. You are fighting your body’s desire rotate. You should move as if both arms are pulling instead of letting the side not rowing rotate open toward the ground. To advance (or regress this move), change the incline of your body. The closer you get to parallel to the ground, the harder the move gets.
2. XT Strap Rotational Row – In the other single arm row, we are fighting rotation. In this one we are working with rotation to row up. During this move, grab one strap in one hand. Reach the other hand up the strap as high as you can. Then rotate that hand toward the ground almost as if you are doing a hanging side plank. Keep your body in a straight line and don’t let the hips sag toward the ground. Keeping the core tight, rotate back to the start. To advance (or regress this move), change the incline of your body. The closer you get to parallel to the ground, the harder the move gets.
3. Mountain Climbers – I’ve shown these before on the towels. They can also be done simply on the ground to make them easier. Today, I did them in the XT straps, which creates a bit more instability. Put your feet into the straps and set up in a high plank. Run your knees into your chest without losing control so that your feet shoot out everywhere. You can also bring your knees across your body or to the outside of your elbow to hit slightly different areas of your core!
4. Rotational Knee Tucks – These knee tucks can also be done as straight leg pikes, but for today I just showed the tucks. Like mountain climbers, they can also be done where you just bring your knees straight into your chest. However, they are a great rotational move so that is the one I showed today. Set up in a high plank with your feet in the straps. Alternate bringing your knees to each elbow. Try to really get the knees to the elbow or outside to really work the rotation. If you are a beginner, you may want to do this move on the ground by jumping your feet in and back. You can also do this move on the towels!
5. Side plank – I showed a couple of variations of the side plank in my vacation workout a week ago, but you can also do one in the XT Straps. Using the straps creates a lot more instability so that you have to fight more to keep from rotating or collapsing. A great way to progress the side plank.
6. XT Strap “Ab roller” – Moves with this are great because they teach us to engage our core to support our back even when we are reaching for something. You can do this move on an ab roller. The bodysaw and the band pull below are two other moves that work the body in a similar way. To do this move, put each hand in a strap. Lean into the straps and straighten your arms fully. Bring them above your head and then back down to your shoulders. The closer to parallel to the ground you are, the harder the move will become. You should not feel this move in your low back. You should feel this move in your abs, arms and quads.
7. Band Stability Press – One of my favorite anti-rotational moves. You feel this all down the side closest to the anchor point of the band. You can also do this on a cable pulley machine. Step away from the anchor point as far as you can without allowing your body to rotate towards the anchor. Start with the handle at your chest. Push the band straight out from the center of your chest until your arms are straight. Do not let your arms go back toward the anchor. Then slowly bring your arms back in. This move looks easy, but when you try it, you realize how much your entire body fights rotating back toward the band hook!
8. Band Rotations (Shoulder to Shoulder and High to Low) – These were some of my favorite moves in college. We used to do them a lot with medicine balls, which I loved. But since I can’t slam a medicine ball into the wall of my house….I do these with bands. Keeping your core tight and your shoulders down and back, rotate the band from side to side keeping your arms fairly straight. You can either rotate side to side at shoulder height or you can rotate the band down outside your hip. With both, make sure to rotate the back foot so that you are twisting your knee in a funny direction. With pulling the band down outside your hip, you will want to get more of a squat/lunge in than you will with the shoulder height rotation. Both are great, just different variations that target slightly different muscles.
9. Band Reach – So this is the move that works the body in a similar way to the ab roller. It reminds me of that extension at the top of an overhead medball slam. It helps strengthen that extension so that your core is strong at that range of motion and so that your lats are even working to help stabilize and generate power. Kneeling, allow the band to pull you back. Then using your lats and core, press the band back forward. It isn’t a huge range of motion, but you will feel your abs working to stabilize especially as you allow yourself to be pulled back!
10. Front Squat – Potentially my favorite move on the list. The front squat works your legs AND your core. Any time you front load, be it a kettlebell, barbell or sandbag, you cause your core to engage to hold you upright. Seriously feel my core working so hard every time I do these. LOVE IT! Works a major muscle group, is incredibly functional and forces your core to really brace and stabilize during a functional movement!
Bonus: Handstands, push ups, crawling, bodysaw on towels, climbers, Plank with Reaches (Out and Back or Underneath and Through), Sit Thrus
I didn’t take pictures of these moves because I just recently featured them in my towel workout or hotel room workout posts. But I did want to make note that these are also great CORE moves so that you could see just how many different great moves really worked your core.
And honestly, all these moves are only the tip of the iceberg. You can do farmers walks (especially unilateral farmers walks). You can hold at the top of a dip. You can do pull ups or use the battling ropes. Heck you can even do one of my favorites, Superman/Banana from P90x where you are rolling around on the ground! (One of the most fun ones by far!)
There are so many great core moves that have so much more benefit than crunches! So are you still going to waste time on upper or lower isolated crunch moves!?!
I DON’T THINK SO!
Notice I didn’t say ab exercises because these moves work way more muscles than just your abs – they work your ENTIRE core.
I could have listed things like the single leg squat and deadlift since they are so great in terms of working your core, but since I’ve talked about them a few times recently, I decided to include some different ones to add to your exercise repertoire.
Really any single limb movement is going to engage your core more be it rotational or anti-rotational. For some single limb movements you can use to work your core, check out this blog with single limb exercises.
Below are some core focused moves that I really love!
- Wall push – This move can either be super easy or super tough…It is up to you. To do this move, stand up against a wall and push into the wall as if you are going to move the wall backwards. Get up nice and close to the wall as if you are at the bottom of a push ups. Drive all the way up through your feet into your hands against the wall. Your core should be tight enough that if someone comes and pushes on you from any angle you won’t move. (To make the move more difficult, have someone actually push on you from all angles as you hold!)
- Pull up and hold – You can do this as a chin up or pull up. You can do it off a bar, off a peg board, off of TRX straps…wherever. But what you need to do is pull to the top of a pull up or chin up and HOLD. Keep your legs straight down toward the ground and your chin above the bar. Keep your chest pressed out and shoulder blades down and back. Squeeze your belly button in toward your spine and keep your glutes tight. Hold as long as you can. This move is also a great way to work on pull ups (especially if you do a slow negative on the way down!).
- Inchworm with row – So when I first started and had to train both of the owners, I busted out this move for one of their workouts because it is probably one of the best full body moves out there! To perform the inch worm, start standing. Place your hands on the ground as if you are performing a hamstring stretch. Then walk your hands out until you are in a high plank or top of a push up position. Then walk your feet back in, keeping your legs as straight as possible until you are back in that standing hamstring stretch. To make this move harder, add a dumbbell back row in the plank position. So with the weights walk your hands out to the plank just like you would with the basic inchworm. In the plank, perform one dumbbell row on each side, then walk your feet back in. Make sure to keep your hips from rotating when performing the row (you want a solid plank position…not butt up toward the ceiling!). To make this move super hard, add sliders or even plate weights that will slide to your feet. Instead of walking your feet back in, slide them together back in, like you are performing a jackknife. The sliders will also make it more difficult as you walk out and as you hold the plank.
- Power Ropes Sidewinders (Can also do rainbows) – I picked this rope move because it is super super good for the obliques and works rotation unlike the moves above which all work in the sagittal plane. In a nice athletic stance, you rotate side to side as quickly as you can, causing the rope to smoothly snake all the way down. You can also mix in some rotation with the rainbow wave, which reminds me a bit of a Russian twist. You start at the hipbone and make a rainbow up to the shoulders and down to the other hipbone. For videos of these moves, check out John Brookfield’s Youtube. He and Ingrid have some great moves for the ropes, including waves and pulls (as well as a lot of other cool random stuff!).
- Windmills (or progressed to Turkish Get Up) – So I actually saw these in an article the other day and was like “I haven’t done these in FOREVER and I used to LOVE them! I haven’t done them in forever because recently I’ve been doing the Turkish Get Up. BUT both are great for shoulder stabilization as well as core strength. To perform a windmill, you can start with out weight. Feet should be about shoulder width. Turn out the toe of the side that you aren’t going to work to about 45 degrees. Straighten the other arm up toward the ceiling. You are then going to hinge over, driving the butt cheek of the arm that is up out to the side as much as you can. Then you are going to stand back up, keeping the arm straight toward the ceiling the entire time.
- Landmine wipers or twists – So this can be both a rotational and anti-rotational move. You can either rotate from hip to hip with the barbell or you can decide to fight against rotating as you lower the barbell down to about shoulder height on each side.
- Sit Thrus – One of my favorite moves. It kind of looks like breakdancing when it is done correctly…at least to me anyway. To do this move, start in a table top crawling position. Start up on your hands and toes with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Then you are going to literally sit through. With your right knee bent, you are going to sit through your left side, raising your left hand off the ground. Then return back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. (Check out the top two photos below to see the two main parts of the move.)
- Planks with pulls or waves – So there are actually like three exercises really included in number 8. There is the plank with a pull from either in front or behind. This one can involve a hip hinge like the one show below with the chain.
There is also the plank with a pull through across the body. With this one you reach your hand under and across your body while holding a plank to grab a rope or a sandbag. You then pull the bag or rope across your body to the other side. Depending on your goal for the move, you can either use a slight hip hinge or you can fight against the rotation of your hips to hold a strict plank. And last, but not least, there is a plank with one-handed battling waves. I had my volleyball girls do this one the other day. It is harder than you would think!
- Handstands – Handstands are just an amazing move. A full handstand without support requires a lot of core strength. As you work up to that, you can work on your core strength by doing variations of the handstand. You can start with a downward dog and then progress by walking your feet up a wall. As you get your feet up higher on the wall, walk your hands as close as you can to the wall until you are completely vertical. Once you get in super close, you can advance the move by walking side to side or lifting one hand up to tap your thigh.
- Bar rotations – I found these when reading Nick Tumminello’s articles. He has some AMAZING STUFF about…well…EVERYTHING! These honestly are like a standing variation of the Russian twist, but I definitely like them better! (And I kind of like them when I need to vent a bit of anger…they feel like I’m fighting something haha)
Runners up: I really love these moves as well so want to mention them even if I don’t go into detail.
Medball throws both sideways and overhead. Medball slams both rotational and straight ahead.
Any front loaded exercise like front squats or good mornings. When you front load you force your core to work harder to stabilize!
Also, I love any sort of hanging knees to elbows or feet to bar or even skin the cats. However, since crossfit became popular I feel like most people know those so chose not to include them. Also, those can be incredibly tough and not easily done by everyone. Everyone can do some variation of the exercises above.
I also wanted to include a ton of plank variations…Plank on the power wheel. Plank with reach throughs. Plank with reach back and out. Planks on sliders where you slide your feet backwards and stretch out then come back to starting…ACTIVE planks. I love ACTIVE planks. But there were just so many that I honestly feel like planks need their own full article if I’m going to touch on them!
And last but not least, resistance band rotations and even the stability press…actually especially the stability press. I love anti-rotational moves!
What are your favorite core moves that aren’t either crunches or sit ups?