Every exercise you do in the gym can be considered “core strengthening.” Whether it be deadlifts, dumbbell bench press, etc., all movements can be considered “core stability” or “core strengthening” drills.
Think of it, when you are performing a movement with your upper or lower body, you are attempting to or you are maintaining a neutral spine while moving your arms or legs.
In today’s post, we are going to discuss a bunch of “unorthodox” core strengthening exercises that you wouldn’t think would be considered that at all.
Whether you are doing 1-arm rowing variations on a bench or in standing with a cable machine, the idea is to use you arm to move the weight, but also to maintain a solid core position. By providing a solid core position, this will allow better force transmission to your arm.
The same can be said for a 1-arm Elevated or Non-Elevated Push-Up.
With the 1-arm row variation, either the weighted implement or gravity is attempting to rotate you or extend/flex you through your spine. With the 1-arm push-up, gravity is attempting to extend and rotate you and YOU have to resist that for optimal performance of that movement.
Anytime you are incorporating 1-arm or 1-leg for a movement, it can be considered a core drill as well because when you place the weighted implement on one side of your body, it offsets you and forces you to have to control your body as compared to with 2 weights, 1 on each side of your body.
1-arm Dumbbell Bench
The 1-arm dumbbell bench is another example. As you lower the weight towards you, the dumbbell or kettlebell is attempting to rotate you and your body towards that side. As you press the weight away from you, you have to resist over rotating to the opposite side.
Standing 1-arm KB Bottoms Up Press
This movement can be applied for any type of 1-arm overhead press, whether it be bottoms up or down kettlebell or dumbbell. When you press the weight overhead, you have to resist your body from bending to the opposite side as well as resist bending to the same side when bringing the weight back down.
Since the weighted implement is on one-side of your body, you have to resist side-bending to the side the weight is on as well as resist over side-bending away from the weighted side. Resisting of trunk rotation and trunk flexion/extension as well when you walk.
Similar to the suitcase carry, but more challenging since it is further away from your Center of Gravity (COG). The racked carry works shoulder stability as well as core stability. You will be resisting similar movements as mentioned with the suitcase carry.
Bottoms Up Kettlebell Carries
Similar as the previous 2 movements, but will also work shoulder stability, the rotator cuff, and scapulo-thoracic musculature.
With lower body movements, holding a weighted implement on one side of your body will also make any lower body exercise a core exercise as well.
Movements such as:
Single Leg Deadlifts
In this movement, you are resisting lumbo-pelvic rotation during the movement as well as flexion and extension of the spine throughout various points in the movement. If you feel single leg deadlifts in your low back, make sure your hips are square and facing straight ahead.
Far too often, if the hips rotate in one direction or the other, this can place increased strain on the low back.
Offset Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
With this movement, it is mostly strengthening the forward leg with some contribution from the rear leg. With the weight being held in the opposite hand, it is increasing stance leg muscular activity as well as forcing the athlete to have to stabilize the spine due to the weight being offset.
Landmine Single Leg Deadlift
Not as challenging as traditional single leg deadlifts, this movement will still force the athlete to have to maintain a neutral spine and use their core to optimize function for the stance leg.
Even though the weight can be held at the chest or one in each hand, anytime you use one leg in a movement such as this, your core musculature has to stabilize your entire pelvis when going up onto the step as well as when going back down to the ground.
If the weight is too heavy and/or performed incorrectly, the athlete will have a tendency to tilt their body towards or away from the weight when performing.
Not typically thought of as a “core stability/strengthening” exercise, the deadlift forces the athlete to have to maintain a solid core position for reducing the risk for injury as well as optimizing force transmission throughout the entire body. With the weight being held in both hands, the athlete has to resist flexion and extension of the lumbar spine.
Similar to the discussion regarding the deadlifts, the athlete has to maintain a solid neutral spine position and resist flexion and extension at the lumbar spine throughout the movement.
Whether it be skater squats off a box, to the ground, or skater squats with or without weight, the athlete has to resist the pelvis from dropping down to the ground towards the non-stance leg side.
By maintain a level pelvic position throughout the movement, this also can be considered a core exercise as it is forcing the athlete to have to avoid sidebending through the hips/pelvis in the frontal plane.
Even though you may not be doing a specific movement that is labeled “core”, basically every single movement you do in the gym can be considered core strengthening due to the need to maintain good technique at the lumbopelvic complex as well as provide a base for good force transmission for the body.
The deadlift is an awesome movement for developing brute strength. It emphasizes the posterior chain consisting of the glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, as well as trains the upper back and abdominals.
Far too often, people think they can deadlift from the floor, but they can’t. Whether it be a mobility, motor control, or just plain sub-par technique issue, not everyone is made to deadlift from the floor.
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out my guest post, Everyone NEEDS to Deadlift on Tony Gentilcore’s site found here. It made Best Fitness Article of the Week and made the list for one of the Best Fitness Articles of the Year in 2016 for the Personal Trainer Development Center (PTDC).
With that being said, a quick and easy test to see if you should be deadlifting from the floor is:
Can You Touch Your Toes?
Now, before the hate e-mail and comments start flying about touching your toes is not the same as deadlifting, here me out.
I first heard of this test from the people over at Functional Movement Systems. The Toe Touch test is not a test of hamstring flexibility or the way you should be deadlifting.
It is much more than that.
The test determines whether or not you have the ability to posteriorly weight shift. The posterior weight shift aka the hip hinge, is imperative to be able to perform for deadlifting from the floor.
If you can’t touch your toes, here are some quick and easy drills that can improve your toe touch.
Toe Touch Progression
-Place towel roll between knees.
-Perform slow and controlled.
-Make sure to squeeze towel roll throughout the movement.
-Focus on pushing your hips backwards.
Leg Lowering Progression
Supine Core Activated Active Straight Leg Raise
There are also many other exercises to assist with the toe touch assessment, but these are just a few.
Now, if you performed one of those movements and now you can touch your toes, get after deadlifting from the floor, as long as you can do it with proper technique.
If your toe touch improved, but isn’t ideal OR you still can’t touch your toes, all is not lost!
There are still ways to train the posterior chain without deadlifting from the floor.
Here are a few options:
Trap Bar Deadlifts
Barbell Hip Thrusts
Glute Ham Raise
Cable Pull Thrus
Kettlebell Elevated Deadlift
Barbell Supine Bridges
Just because you can’t touch your toes and/or deadlift from the floor doesn’t mean you can’t train the hip hinge pattern. There are a multitude of movements that you can perform to get a great training effect without placing increased risk on your body. The toe touch assessment is a quick and easy tool to determine your starting point.
The squat is a foundational movement pattern that can be useful for building strength, speed, endurance, and decreasing risk for injury. Many times, athletes will complain of a tightness in the front of their hip at the bottom of the squat.
So, more often than not, they go and stretch their hip flexors to try to alleviate that tightness. Then, they go and squat again, but the tightness is only temporarily relieved or there has been absolutely no change whatsoever.
Then, they keep trying to stretch it, squat through it, or try some other remedy.
For potential reasons near the hip that may be contributing to this “pinch”, check out my guest post at Dr. John Rusin’s website, here.
You can also check to see if you have full hip flexion mobility. To do that, lie on your back and place one foot flat on the ground. Then, bring the other knee up to your chest while keeping your back flat on the ground.
If you cannot bring your thigh to your ribs, you may be limited in your hip flexion mobility. Even if you can and you feel the pinch in your hip, tissues may be irritated.
But, if after reading that post, you are still experiencing the same hip pinch, we need to look elsewhere.
It may not be that hip/lumbopelvic complex is contributing to that pinching sensation.
So then, what could it be?
Well, check the ankle!
A quick and easy test to see if you have adequate ankle mobility for squatting is the Knee to Wall Ankle Mobility Test.
-Start with your 1st toe 4 inches away from the wall.
-Make sure not to overpronate.
-Try to touch your knee to the wall without letting your heel come off the ground.
If you can touch the wall, you have adequate ankle mobility for squatting.
If you can’t, check out my other guest post at Dr. John Rusin’s website found here .
The reason that ankle mobility is so important if a hip pinch is present is that if the ankle can’t dorsiflex adequately throughout its range of motion, another joint in the body has to move more to descend into the squat.
Enter the hip! If there is limited ankle dorsiflexion, the hip may have to flex more in order to get to depth in the squat. The hip may have full mobility when assessed passively, but if the ankle is not moving properly, the hip may have to go into excessive ranges of motion. In turn, causing a pinch in the front of the hip.
So, if you are dealing with a hip pinch with squatting, check out my guest post above, but don’t forget to make sure your limited ankle mobility isn’t beating up your hip joint.
Here I will be writing and posting about topics ranging from physical therapy, injury prevention/reduction, and strength and conditioning.