No More Bicycle Crunches: 5 Smart Exercises to Work Your Core
Most of us sit for all or part of the day, placing the hamstrings and hip flexors in a shortened position, which can lead to low back pain or just a general sense of tightness.
What really blows my mind, though, is when people who have been in a seated position all day long head to the gym, where they perform seated military presses, seated lat pulldowns, and abdominal exercises with the knees up. All of this reinforcing the bad posture they’ve been in for the other ten hours of the day.
What good are those nice arms if you spend all day sitting?
Almost no athletic pursuits are done from a lying or seated position, so if you have any interest in training to be more athletic, it’s time to drop some of these exercises and replace them with ones that mimic activities you would use on the field.
Build a Bulletproof Core
Rather than subjecting your core and spine to repeated spinal flexion or worse, those bastardized bicycle crunches that everyone’s mom does after a sixty-minute elliptical sweat sesh, let’s start treating the core like the three-dimensional piece of armor that it is.
"Working the core from several different angles and practicing exercises that involve bracing against different stimuli are going to be more effective than endless sets of sit ups and crunches."
By bracing the entire core and activating the deeper levels of the abdominal musculature, you’ll be able to see results much faster while becoming a stronger and more bulletproof version of yourself.
When ab training is programmed intelligently, the variety of movement is almost limitless, so there’s no reason to stick to your 1982 gym-class crunch. Here are five movements that will get you out of poor posture and help you start training the core.
Standing Rope Crunch
This is the standing version of the more popular kneeling rope crunch. The standing version is more effective because it forces you to tie together the upper and lower body while maintaining tension through the core. Plus, it’s a great way to "feel the burn" without doing fifty reps.
Hold the rope from a high position and step back away from the cable stack. Push the hips back into the middle of a Romanian deadlift position. This is the starting and ending position. Without moving your arms, draw your ribcage down toward your pelvis, and hold the squeeze for two or three seconds before releasing. Do 15-25 reps.
Palloff Press and Lift
This is a staple for a lot of people because it’s a self-limiting exercise that is almost impossible to do incorrectly. If you aren’t tight during a Palloff press, you’ll get pulled over. This is a great way to learn to “turn on” your core, especially if you haven’t been able to mentally get it before.
Start by standing perpendicular to a cable machine with the cable at chest height. Push it away from your body slowly and with control. When the cable is fully extended, lift your arms overhead, again with full control. Bring your hands back down in an extended position before bringing them back in to your chest. That’s one rep. Repeat on both sides for 6-10 reps.
Landmine Rotation With Foot Movement
This is a great exercise to train the core in several planes, and will help you learn to stay braced through a dynamic movement. This is perfect for anyone involved in any rotational sport, if you throw, hit, punch, or swing a golf club.
Set up a landmine or a barbell in a sturdy corner. Hold the end with your arms extended, and pull your ribs down in front to create a bracing element through all three levels of core musculature. Keep the chest up while you drop the head of the barbell down to the right side. As you drop it down, step your left foot toward the anchor point of the barbell so the toe is now facing directly to your right. Bring the barbell back up without losing the core tension, and step the leg back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. Do 6-10 reps.
Standing Ab Wheel Roll Out
A staple of guys with six-packs, the ab wheel roll out is one of the best anterior core exercises you can be doing. Unfortunately, the difference between kneeling and standing is fairly insurmountable for some lifters. By using a band for assistance, you can train in this advanced position, and eventually remove the band.
Make sure you only go out as far as you can maintain a neutral spine or hollow body position. As you come back up from the bottom position, try to add an additional crunch movement to stress the abs further. Do 8-12 reps.
Anti-Gravity Pullover (AGO)
This isn’t a standing ab exercise, but your body will be fully extended and your spine should be in a neutral position. The reason I include it in this list is that we’re basically manipulating gravity to provide us with the external stimuli necessary to give us three different aspects of resistance. We’re working on anti-rotation, anti-lateral flexion, and anti-extension of the core, which are all integral in keeping your back bulletproof and your six-pack beach ready.
Start by putting your hips on the edge of a bench so your torso is hanging off the bench. To secure yourself, put the bottom leg in front and hook the heel under the bench. Take your top foot and put it in back, and hook the toe under the bench. From here, grab a cable or band hooked about five feet away from your head. Pull the band from eye level down to the bottom hip. Make sure to maintain tension through the core. Do 8-10 reps on each side.
When doing ab exercises, it’s more important to keep the form 100%, go slower, and use a bit lighter weight. Most of the tension in the core can be self created, so you can use a lighter weight than your max, but still get a great workout by focusing on squeezing your abs incredibly tight.
If you don’t know what that feels like, try the Palloff press to get an idea.
Become familiar with the hollow body position, which is where you body should be for most of these exercises. Try adding in an additional 1- to 3-second hold at the point of peak contraction. If you aren’t strong enough to hold for 3 seconds, use a lighter weight.
Abdominal training is crucial for the lifter who wants to look good, lift more, and stay healthy. Working the core from several different angles and practicing exercises that involve bracing against different stimuli are going to be more effective than endless sets of sit ups and crunches.
"By bracing the entire core and activating the deeper levels of the abdominal musculature, you’ll be able to see results much faster while becoming a stronger and more bulletproof version of yourself."
Utilizing these moves will get you out of the sagittal plane (front to back) and will challenge your strength through the frontal and transverse planes. This approach will carry over more to your strength training and athletic pursuits.
Take your core training to the next level by switching in these moves instead of your ground-based ab exercises, and you’ll see improvements in your other lifts, as well as an improved physique.
More Like This:
- Forget Crunches: How to Actually Strengthen Your Core
- 3 Exercises You Should Skip at the Gym
- 6 Best Bodyweight Ab Exercises
- New on Breaking Muscle Today
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