5 Moves to Build a Stronger Core — and Not 1 of Them Is a Crunch

POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Lloyd
POPSUGAR Photography | Diggy Lloyd

Your core is truly the central part of your body. "It embodies all the muscles in your torso from your shoulders down to your hips. This complex series of muscles controls almost all of your body's movements. Therefore, a strong core equates to a strong body," said Sarah Chadwell, NASM, CPT, a certified trainer. In fact, having a strong core helps combat injury and back pain and improves your posture.

A strong core does not necessarily mean a six-pack. It means fortifying the muscles in your torso so you can do everyday activities without strain — think about it, you use your core when you swing a bat or golf club, and even when you stand up from a chair. The simple answer to strengthening those muscles is to consistently do exercises that work them. While your head might immediately go to dreaded planks and crunches, there are other moves that can have a great impact on your core, in particular the deep internal muscles. We asked Chadwell to share her go-to exercises that work the area.

TRX Pikes
POPSUGAR Photography | Tamara Pridgett

TRX Pikes

"Almost every exercise with TRX in front of the name should automatically alert you that your core is in for some major stabilization work. TRX pikes are no exception," said Chadwell.

How to do TRX pikes:

  • Adjust the TRX straps to shin height. Kneel on the floor with the TRX straps behind you and place your feet in the cradles.
  • Get into a push-up position by lifting your knees off the ground and placing your palms on the floor directly under your shoulders.
  • Engage your core and pike your hips up towards the ceiling. Your body will form a mountain peak. Hold for two counts.
  • In a controlled manner, lower back down into the push-up position. This completes one rep.
  • You can do sets of these with a desired number of repetitions or complete them in timed sets.
Ball Push-Aways

Ball Push-Aways

"Ball push-aways [or kneeling ball roll outs] are definitely planks with extra core endurance training, because you are using body movement on a stabilization ball. Ball push-aways will help you build remarkable core power!" said Chadwell.

How to do a ball push-away:

  • Kneel down with a medium to large stability ball in front of you.
  • Place your forearms on the ball and lean into it. Brace your abs by drawing your navel toward your spine.
  • To begin the movement, use your forearms to push the ball away from you as far as you can without breaking form.
  • Hold this modified plank position for one or two counts.
  • Then, begin to slowly return to the starting position by contracting your abs as you pull the ball back towards your knees. This is one repetition.
  • You can do sets of these with a desired number of repetitions or complete them in timed sets.
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"The core's function can be improved by using it in exercises that use it as a stabilizer instead of as the prime mover in isolation exercises, like crunches. It's time to go old school with a good set of push-ups," said Chadwell.

How to do push-ups:

  • Begin in high-plank position. Your hands should be on the ground, directly under your shoulders. Your toes will be on the ground, and your foot placement can vary anywhere from directly next to one another to wide-stance.
  • Brace your core by drawing your navel in towards your spine. Engage or tighten your glutes and hamstrings and flatten your back so your entire body is in a straight line.
  • Keeping your back flat, begin to lower your body. Your eyes should be focused about two feet in front of you to help maintain a neutral spine.
  • Lower yourself until your chin is very near the floor. Don't let your back sway — keep it nice and flat the entire time.
  • At the bottom of the motion, hold for one count, then begin pushing yourself back to starting position.
  • Aim for 10 to 15 reps or as many as you can complete maintaining proper form.
  • Do three sets.
Bird-Dog Crunches
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Bird-Dog Crunches

"A bird-dog crunch is basically a complex plank coupled with a crunch. So, if you love doing planks and crunches, this combines them. Plus, you strengthen your lower back and improve your balance and stability which leads to improved strength overall," said Chadwell.

How to do bird-dog crunches:

  • Get on all fours on a mat.
  • Stretch one arm out long in front of you while drawing your abs in towards your belly button.
  • Then extend your opposite leg long behind you. Make sure you are looking down at the mat to maintain a neutral spine. Pause for two counts.
  • Next bring in your elbow and your knee in towards your center. Your back will round as you bring them together underneath you. Squeeze your abs at the bottom of the movement.
  • Repeat for 10 to 15 reps then switch sides.
  • Complete three sets on each side.
Hex Bar Deadlifts
POPSUGAR Photography | Tamara Pridgett

Hex Bar Deadlifts

"In my book, deadlifts are the ultimate core exercise because they work your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, in addition to your abs when performed correctly. The best way to break into straight bar deadlifting is to use the trap bar or hexagonal bar because it makes the lift less technical," said Chadwell.

How to do hex bar deadlifts:

  • Locate the hex bar and load it with an appropriate weight. If you are a beginner, just use the bar without any weights.
  • Stand in the center of the hex bar with your feet hip-width apart, lower your hips towards the floor, and grasp both handles.
  • Look forward with your head (pick a focal point) and push your chest out.
  • To begin the movement, push through your heels and extend your hips and knees until you're in the standing position. Do not round your back at any point; keep it nice and flat.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of the motion.
  • In a controlled manner, lower your body back to starting position allowing the hex to come to a complete resting position on the floor.
  • Complete 10 to 12 reps for three to four sets.
POPSUGAR Photography / Diggy Lloyd