A core routine that includes classic moves like Crunches and Sit-Ups needs to go the way of the Dodo bird. New research has identified the best type of core training, and you're probably not doing the right exercises.
A 2013 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research indicates that activation of the core muscles—particular the abs and low-back muscles—was greatest when the shoulders and glutes were also engaged.
The study concluded that an integrated routine—meaning your body is working as a single unit—is best for "maximizing strength, improving endurance, enhancing stability, reducing injury, and maintaining mobility."
Thus, any move that involves simply flexing your trunk is not cutting it. If you want a strong core that will help you perform athletically on the field, you need to perform integrated core exercises. Here are four of my favorites.
Top 4 Integrated Ab Exercises
Although each of these exercises strengthens the body in slightly different manner, they all have one thing in common: They all involve the shoulders and hips along with the abs.
Set-Up: Place one end of a barbell in the corner of a squat rack or in a landmine machine. Hold the opposite end of the barbell with both hands at roughly eye level and slightly bend your elbows. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Action: Move the barbell from side to side in a rainbow-like fashion.
Don't allow your hips or shoulders to rotate.
Maintain a tall posture throughout.
Do not allow your spine to bend sideways or flex forward at any point.
Sets/Reps: 2-3x5-8 each side
Single-Arm Dumbbell Farmer's Walk
Set-Up: Stand tall holding a heavy dumbbell on one side of your body by your hip.
Action: Engage your abs and walk up and down the length of a room, keeping the dumbbell by your hip. Repeat with the weight on your opposite side.
Sets/Duration: 2-3x45-60 seconds
Use a weight that you can carry on one side for no more than 45 to 60 seconds.
Maintain a strong, upright posture.
Rest for 30 seconds if needed before switching hands.
To learn how to incorporate this move into a killer metabolic conditioning protocol, check out my article on the Farmer's Walk Complex.
Low-to-High Cable Chop
Set-Up: Adjust a cable machine to the lowest position. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width, perpendicular to a cable column to your left. Hold the cable handle with both hands.
Action: Squat down and shift your weight to your left leg. Stand up, shift your weight to your right leg and simultaneously drive the cable diagonally up and across your body. Finish with your arms up and to the right. Return to the start position through the same motion in reverse.
Do not rotate your torso away from the cable column. Doing so greatly reduces the tension on your torso muscles.
Perform the upward and downward phases slowly and in control.
Pike Roll Back
Set Up: Assume a push-up position with your feet on a physioball. To make the exercise easier, move the physioball toward your navel.
Action: Keeping your legs straight and back flat, drive your hips towards the ceiling. Lower your hips to the starting position and push your body backwards until your arms are fully extended in front of you. Pull yourself to the start position and repeat.
Gottschall JS, Mills J, Hastings B. J. "Integration core exercises elicit greater muscle activation than isolation exercises." J of Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar;27(3):590-6.