12 Days of Fitness: This Core Exercise Rules Them All

12 Days of Fitness: This Core Exercise Rules Them All
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You've heard of the 12 Days of Christmas. Well this is the 12 Days of Fitness. Each day we're revealing another Spartan-approved workout for the holiday season and new year. Click here to see all of the workouts.

Best core exercises: Is there one from the bunch that is especially good?

Whether you’re a professional or an everyday athlete, your core is integral to everything you do. Made up of your trunk muscles, including your hamstrings, lower back, glutes, and abdominals, the core is the essential foundation for functional, successful movements.

“The core is every person‘s center; it’s the foundation for a body that moves as it is meant to without pain,” says Lacee Lazoff, kettlebell specialist and trainer at Performix House. “Lack of core strength can create imbalances, back pain, and hip tightness. Plus, it can lead to chronic mobility and stability issues both during workouts and in everyday life.”

Related: 12 Days of Fitness: The Ultimate Full-Body Dumbbell Workout

Translation: an injury-free life requires a solid core. And sculpting a strong core takes more than just doing set after set of crunches and leg lifts. One of the best exercises to bulletproof your core that gets little praise? Farmer’s carries, says Lazoff.

“Farmer’s carries target your entire body, specifically your ability to move with stability and control,” she says. “Due to this, your core, shoulders, and back work hard to maintain good posture through the walk, especially when using heavy weights.”

Think of it this way: carries are like doing a moving plank with weight, except that when you tilt the whole thing upright, there’s the added benefit of developing your grip strength and forearms from holding tightly to the weights. Kick it up an extra notch by carrying the weight on one side at a time (called a single-sided carry) to challenge your stability in a similar way to a side plank. “The obliques are working hard to keep the body even on both sides and getting stronger in the process,” says Lazoff.

Related: 12 Days of Fitness: Bodyweight Workout Challenge for All Fitness Levels

When it comes to execution, it’s all about bracing through the midsection and keeping an upright posture with your shoulders down. Now that you have the basics, are you ready to work on that strong foundation? Lazoff designed this 20-minute core workout. Use the heaviest kettlebell you feel that you can complete the work with, without stopping. (“It should feel challenging, but not impossible.”)

Best Core Exercises Wrapped into One Workout

Equipment: two heavy kettlebells

Do: four rounds, without resting

Total time: 6 minutes

  • 45 seconds heavy farmer’s carry
  • 45 seconds plank position on hands
  • Rest for 1 minute

Do: three sets, without rest

Total time: 3 minutes

  • 30 seconds single-side carry left
  • 30 seconds sideways animal crawling* to the left (see below)
  • Repeat on your right side to finish the set
  • Rest for one minute

*To do the animal crawl, start on all fours and lift your knees so they’re at a 90-degree angle and hovering an inch off the ground. Keep your back flat, your legs hip-width apart, and your arms shoulder-width apart. Move one hand and the opposite foot to the left an equal distance while staying low to the ground. Follow with opposite hand and foot. Repeat.

Do: three sets, without rest

Total time: 9 minutes

  • 1 minute single-side reverse lunge, holding a single kettlebell on your left side
  • 30 seconds hollow-body hold**, left leg bent (see below)
  • Repeat on your right side to finish the set

**To do the hollow-body hold, start lying on your back with your lower back pressed into the floor, arms and legs extended. Curl your shoulders off the floor and bring your arms straight up over your chest. Keeping your right leg straight, bend your left leg so that it forms a 90-degree angle at the hip, keeping your calf parallel to the floor.

This is the simple answer to the best core exercises — all wrapped up in one.

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