The Only 5  Exercises You Need for a Stronger Core

By Cat Perry

To build a stronger, tighter core that helps you perform better as an athlete, or to start seeing your six pack abs you need to cut the crunches from your workout session—right away. That isolation abs exercise won't get you results like compound movements will. Why? Because the core, which is a wider group of muscles including the mid and lower back, abdominals, and even hips and shoulders, is meant to execute functional movements. And if you instead only work limited-range-of-motion exercises or don't train your core at all, it'll never be as strong, lean, or useful as it could be.


Cyclists, for example, need strong cores to power up the watts. Runners, same thing. The core muscles want to assist in dynamic movements and in maintaining static tasks like keeping a stable trunk so you don't wobble back and forth on the bike. So the more you train your core with functional moves, like thrusters, planks, and lunges, the more tuned in (and ripped) your core will become.  


This workout is an overflow of workouts I design for 

Twisted Thruster

Twisted Thruster with Dumbbells or Sandbag

You know the thruster perhaps. Now meet the twisted thruster. This move is a superb full-body blaster that engages your core by stabilizing you as you descend, rise and twist. That extra twist at the top, unlike a strict thruster, recruits your obliques a ton and gives the entire core extra work to maintain good form and control. Keep this move fairly quick. Don’t hang out at the bottom of the squat or at the top of the twist. The move, when done with speed but under control, will activate your core like crazy and steer you toward a six pack faster.


Do it: Stand with feet slightly wider than hip width, holding a dumbbell in each hand or a sandbag (as shown) with the parallel handles. If holding dumbbells, lift the weight to each shoulder to start. Abs braced. If using a sandbag, clean the weight to your shoulders by pulsing your knees and then using that slight momentum to bend your arms and lift the weight to chest height, then flip your elbows forward until they’re nearly parallel to the floor to “catch” the weight on your shoulders and forearms, then keep elbows high throughout the move. Then for both thrusters, descend into a low squat, sending your weight straight between your hips, making sure your knees track over your toes and your chest stays high. Then explode out of the bottom of the squat, and as you stand, hoist the weight overhead as you pivot on your feet and twist your torso to the right. Under control, lower into another squat as you drop your weight down the center again and then thrust the weight up and to your left, getting maximum torsion as the top as you stabilize the weight. That’s one rep. Continue for time.


Twisted Plank Jump Ins

Twisted Plank Jump Ins

This can be performed with Gliding Discs to make it harder and to allow you to move faster, or it can be done as shown, as a jumping plyometric move. A Twisted Plank Jump In recruits your obliques big time to execute the twist.


Do it: As a plyometric move, start in the top of a pushup position, body forming a straight line from head to heels, legs together, weight resting on the balls of your feet and your hands. Explosively jump both legs toward the outside of your right elbow, twisting your torso to bring your legs in. Then immediately jump both legs back out to plank. Then jump your legs back in to the opposite side, focusing on twisting your torso with your obliques.   

Plank Pikes

Plank Pikes

Easy does it? I don’t think so! This low-flying move, performed at a fast clip or in slow-mo for time, is the perfect way to get your core and shoulders activated and acting as one while you squeeze and pike your body up and then lower it back down. To make it harder, perform this move with your feet elevated on a bench, Bosu ball or stability ball.


Do it: Get into an elbow plank position with feet together, gaze downward, body forming a straight line from head to heels. Brace your abs and lower body. Then, keeping feet and elbows in place, lift your hips up as high as they can go, squeeze at the top, then lower under control back to start. Continue for time.    

Plyometric Jump Lunge with Sandbag/Dumbbells

Plyometric Lunge with Dumbbell (or Sandbag) Crossover

You never thought you’d see plyo jumping lunges in a core workout. But the, er, core advantage this dynamic move adds to this circuit is manifold: You get a lower-body workout and you get a weighted twist at the bottom, which is exactly what your core needs to burn more fat. Your obliques have to “catch” that weight and stop it in its tracks. Plus you have to use fast twitch muscle fibers throughout to execute this move. To make it easier, lose the weight and keep hands clasped at chest height and still twist at the bottom of the move. Or you can remove the plyo element, and step into and out of the lunge rather than jumping. To make it tougher, use a sandbag, as shown, which adds more momentum, or go for longer time.


Do it: Stand holding dumbbells in each hand palms facing each other, feet hip width. Descend into a lunge sending your right leg back until your front thigh is nearly parallel to the floor and right knee nearly touches the floor, while simultaneously bringing both of the dumbbells to the outside of your left leg and twisting your torso slightly to the left. Keep abs braced and explode out of the bottom of this move, swinging the weight to your right and to the outside of your right knee as you switch legs in the air to land with your right foot forward. Keep going; rest only at the end of the set!

Running Knee Ins in Place

Running Knee Ins

This deceptively simple move works your lower abs—a tough area to target—and is an excellent workout finisher core drill. To make the move tougher, perform it more slowly. Or if you have access to a hanging bar, do this move with your arms straight, your body hanging, and keeping your knees bent 90 degrees and then, without using momentum, bring your knees up in front of you until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. 


Do it: Place your hands hip width on a chair, knees bent 90 degrees, and straighten your arms and lift your body weight up so your weight is resting just on your hand and your tiptoes. This is your starting position. From here, focus on your lower abdominal muscles to lift your feet off the ground together until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground. If this is too tough, lift only one leg at a time, running in place, making sure only the toes of your supporting foot are touching the ground as the working leg lifts.   

Photos by E. Manlove