You’ve probably done your share of crunches and toe-touches. And while those exercises work your core in flexion and rotation, they don’t offer the sort of stability training that will help you most when you’re flying over hurdles or carrying a bucket of stones on uneven terrain.
For real-world athleticism, you need to tap a class of movements known as anti-rotation exercises. These are movements that build up the muscles around your spine, giving you a great core workout and the strength to keep your body solidly square while dealing with forces that would otherwise throw you off balance.
“A strong core helps support the dynamic adjustments in your posture and footwork, allowing you to successfully navigate hazards with greater explosion, speed, and sure footing,” says Kevin Donoghue, a member of the Spartan Pro Team and certified SGX/SOS coach.
As a bonus, a solid midsection will help you create quick gains in the gym. With stiff core muscles (achieved through intense core workouts), you’re better able to transfer power from your lower to upper body, improving the efficiency of squats, deadlifts, snatches, and cleans. Donoghue offers a metaphor: “Imagine your core is a building with a crane on top.” That crane is your upper body, he says, and as your arms twist, move, and pick up awkward loads, the building beneath them needs to stay strong and erect. If it collapses, you either take a spill or injure yourself.
To help you build an iron midsection, here are four anti-rotation moves that Donoghue recommends you add to your next core workout.
Set a cable pulley at shoulder height and stand with one shoulder facing the machine, about three feet away. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold the handle with both hands at your chest, elbows pointed down. Keep your hips and shoulders square as you slowly extend your arms to full extension at shoulder height. Pause, then slowly return to the start. Do two-to-three sets of eight to 10 reps during your core workout.
Make it harder: Decrease your base of support by moving your feet closer together.
Lie facing up with your legs lifted over your hips, knees bent and toes flexed toward you. Extend your arms straight up over your shoulders and exhale to draw your rib cage down, pressing your back down into the floor. Your goal is to keep this back and pelvic position throughout the move. Inhale, and with each exhale, lower one arm overhead toward the floor while extending your opposite leg straight, hovering just above the floor. Hold for one count, and with your inhale, return your arm and leg to the start. Continue, alternating sides. Do two sets of three-to-five reps per side.
Make it harder: Do the move on top of a BOSU or foam roller to challenge your balance.
Hollow Body Hold
Lie face up on the floor in a ball—knees lifted over your hips with your head, shoulders, and upper back lifted off the floor. Reach your arms down along your sides. This should bring your pelvis into a posterior tilt, with your lower back pressed into the ground.
Maintain that pelvic position as you extend your legs slowly, keeping them low to the ground, and reach your arms overhead in line with your ears. Hold for 30 seconds, then release and rest 30 seconds. Repeat three times during this core workout.
Make it harder: Maintain your hold as you rock forward and back, rising and falling by just a couple inches while using your low back as pivot.
If you haven’t used your gym’s landmine, adding it to this core workout is a great place to start. (And if you don’t know what it is, it’s the giant rotating joint that holds one end of barbell against the floor, but allows you to move the other end freely.)
Take the free end of the barbell and hold it at the end with your arms extended, like you’re reaching forward for something on a high shelf. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, shoulders and hips square. Keeping your arms straight, slowly lower the barbell to one side until it is about shoulder height, then return it back to high-center. Continue, alternating sides for two sets of eight reps per side.
Make it harder: Once you’re used to the motion, try adding a 45-pound weight to the dumbbell.
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