Planks are great for working your core, but it's important to challenge your center while upright too. Standing core work is functional fitness that more closely mimics moves we do everyday. While we all might not kick a soccer ball halfway down the field on a daily basis like USA goal keeper Hope Solo (pictured here); everyday we do many things standing that require our abs and back to work in tandem, making it essential to move off the ground to train our cores. Plus standing core work means you can't use the old "the floor is too dirty" excuse to skip working your middle, and it's always good to excuse-proof your workout.
My Equinox trainer has been introducing me to a variety of ways to target my core while upright, and I am feeling the benefits on long runs and when lifting my very heavy carry-on luggage into the overhead bin. One of trainer Lauren's tricks is to perform a basic exercise on just one leg. No doubt about it, balancing on one leg is less stable than standing on two. Your core needs to kick in so you don't topple over, and if you actively engage it (meaning you consciously stabilize your torso by pulling your deep abs toward your spine), everything feels just a little bit easier. Try just doing your basic bicep curl to an overhead press with only one foot on the floor, and you will feel what I mean. Single-leg squats and single-leg dead lifts are so much easier (read: stable) when you consciously work your abs.
The cable pulley machine is always a great tool for targeting the core. Try one-armed rows while standing on one leg (lift the same leg as the arm you are working). Just balancing on one foot with some tension on the cable makes my abs kick in high gear. Once you conquer the one-leg one-arm row, up the ante by involving a BOSU (that fitness tool that is flat on one side and an exercise ball on the other). Stand with the ball side up while you row. The squishy nature of the ball increases your instability, forcing your abs and back muscles to shore up your center while you pull your elbow back. I love this exercise because I can feel my entire body working in unison, from the sole of my foot to the top of my head.
Not all upright core needs to be about standing on your feet. Try kneeling on an exercise ball. Be safe and smart when working on something that rolls; start close to the wall so you can establish your balance touching something stable. If you feel like you're about to fall, rock back and off the ball onto your feet. Balancing with your knees on the exercise ball might feel like a circus trick, but one trick I have discovered to master the position is to really engage your inner thighs (which some trainers consider part of the core). Once you have mastered balancing on the ball, try moving your arms up and down on a diagonal, just like a wood chopper, which prepares you for the next step. When you can balance while moving your arms, hold a lightweight medicine ball while making the chopping motion. For me, that last variation is still just a dream. But I am working on it!
Do you have a favorite move that kicks your core into high gear? Share it below.