New Year, New Health Goals

Don’t Waist Your Time with These Overrated Core Exercises


Walk into any commercial gym, you’re bound to see someone doing endless crunches or situps in the pursuit of a six-pack or skinnier waist. There’s nothing wrong or bad about these types of exercises because there is no bad or good, just the right fit for you. But there are more effective ways to build core strength or the six-pack you desire than the regular overrated core exercises that you’re doing

When a half-dozen well-respected coaches were asked to come up with some of the most overrated core exercises, all six were quick to fire off a host of moves that do very little to fire up your midsection. Even better, the coaches came up with better, more effective alternatives to the standard core mores.

Instead of doing overrated abs exercises, try these underutilized, more effective move that will actually build real-world core strength. And you may even acquire that desired six-pack along the way.

Let’s dive in.

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Replace Russian Twists with Suitcase Carry

Andrew Coates: personal trainer, fitness writer, and host of The Lift Free Diet Hard podcast

While not entirely worthless, Russian twists are overused and routinely butchered in commercial gyms. We want to train both rotation and anti-rotation, but most lifters overdo rotational exercises like side bends, Russian twists, and bicycle crunches. You are better served with more anti-rotation exercises like suitcase carries.

Why it’s good: Suitcase carries helps strengthens grip and shoulder stability imbalances between sides and throws your body off-balance to help strengthen your lateral core muscles.

Muscles trained: Obliques, lower back, glutes, and shoulders

Form and programming suggestions: Keep your shoulders and hips level as you walk, bracing with your obliques to keep you from tilting. The distance and duration of the walk depending on how heavy your load is, but a moderately challenging weight carried at a quick pace across 20 to 40 meters per side will work for most people. Switch the weight to the opposite hand to complete each set. Suitcase carries are easily done solo near the end of a workout, or as a superset with any exercise that isn’t grip intensive. It works well paired with push or lower-body exercises. Two to three sets added to any workout shouldn’t demand much added time while adding one of the best oblique, shoulder stability, and grip exercises around.

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Replace  Bicycle Crunches with Exercise ball rollback to knee tuck

Raphael Konforti: senior director of fitness at YouFit Gyms

So many people waste time with core exercises that are not challenging enough. The six-pack core muscles respond well to moderate rep ranges of eight to 15 like most other muscles. Performing core exercises like the bicycle crunch for 60-plus seconds is a waste of time. They won’t shape your core as fast as shorter, higher-intensity exercises.

Why it’s good: Incorporating harder exercises like the exercise ball rollback to knee tuck utilizes levers to increase the load on the core which ensures your core can handle heavy squats and deadlifts. It mimics those motions and the load on the core changes throughout the range of motion. This part of the rep targets the transverse abdominis and other internal core muscles. Adding in the knee tuck targets the lower rectus abdominis to sculpt the six-pack muscles.

Muscles trained: Transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, glutes, lower back, lats, and shoulders.

Form and programming suggestions: Perform this exercise with control and a moderate to slow tempo. Throughout the rollback, the head, shoulders, hips, and heels all need to be aligned, especially the further back you push. During the knee tuck, the knees must come up as high as possible while contracting the abs.

Program this exercise as a standalone movement after any workout. Unless it’s a core-only day, avoid doing it before exercises like squats so your core doesn’t give out. Three sets of eight to 15 reps are ideal. When that becomes easy, set up the ball closer to your feet and roll back further to up the intensity.

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Replace Front plank with Physioball plank push-out

Chris Cooper: strength and nutrition coach at Nerd fitness

While most core exercises provide some benefit, some are better or more beneficial, and others that are a waste of time past a certain point. A plank in its most basic form is one of those waste of time exercises. While it does provide a benefit in the early stages of training, at a certain point, holding one for extended periods isn’t going to provide much of a benefit for you. Eventually, you will need an alternative.

Why it’s good: As with any exercise, there needs to be a level of progressive overload to make them more challenging to get the same benefits out of them. A better alternative to the plank is a Physioball plank push-out. This makes for a better alternative for two reasons. One, it adds instability to the plank position, and two, it increases the lever length or distance between your feet and your elbows which will increase the challenge to your core.

Muscles trained: Transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, obliques, glutes, lower back, and serratus anterior

Form and programming suggestions: When programming this exercise in your workouts, doing the push-outs for reps is the best route as you can do them till you feel your form start to falter. While there’s nothing wrong with the basic plank, especially if you are just starting to train, the push-out is a better use of your time to maximize your gains.

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Replace Crunches with GHD Sit-up

Dr. Merrick Lincoln: assistant professor of kinesiology at Saginaw Valley State University, as well as a physical therapist in Midland, MI.

I’m not here to vilify spinal flexion but here to call you out for half-repping your abdominal work. Crunches only work the shortened range of motion (ROM), which isn’t ideal if your goal is to blow up your six-pack. Most lifters can bang out sets of 30+ reps of crunches. While high repetition sets may result in similar gains as moderate repetition sets if taken to failure, it’s inefficient. Especially for your spine.

Why it’s good: If you are strong and have a healthy spine and tolerate end-range extension, lock into a glute-ham developer (GHD) and do your situps there. The upgraded version allows full ROM. Not convinced? Who trains abs through full ROM? Mostly gymnasts. Who trains partial ROM? Just about everyone else. Whose abs do you want?

Muscles trained: Rectus abdominis, obliques

Form and programming suggestions: Pause at the bottom to eliminate the stretch reflex and use your core to drive the movement. The GHD situp trains your rectus abdominis, obliques, and hip flexors. Build up to three or four sets of eight to 12 reps on two or three non-consecutive days per week.

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Replace Situps with Bear hug carry

Dr. Bo Babenko: Physical Therapist and strength coach who specializes in strengthening the mind, body, and soul.

One of the biggest wastes of time exercises when it comes to the “core” is sit-ups. They certainly do have a place in the world they belong to, but often you are over-firing already overfired and overworked hip flexors.

Why it’s good: One phenomenal alternative is the bear hug march/carry/static hold. I have found incorporating some form of very intentional breathwork into training significantly improves the function of the entire “core.” And there are few ways to get more out of your breathing while you work than hugging something that directly presses on your belly, thus forcing you to control your breathing while bracing. It has been one of my top personal exercises and favorites of my clients to relieve back pain as well as build a stronger healthier core.

Muscles trained: Rectus abdominals, obliques, erector spinae, upper back, diaphragm, and external intercostals.

Form and programming suggestions: Either hold for a time or breaths (inhale and exhale) or go for a walk for a distance. All the cues of carries apply here, chest up, shoulders down and keep the spine neutral.

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Replace Side bends with Landmine rollout

Allan Bacon, Ph.D:  former dental surgeon now an online personal trainer who specializes in training powerlifters and body composition clients.

We’ve all seen that gym rat that does endless sets of side bends without ever finding any real progression. So, what is a good alternative to working both your abs and obliques? That’s where the landmine rollout comes in. Give this unique, and effective, rollout variation a try to supercharge your core gains.

Why it’s good: This rollout variant allows you to not only hit the abdominals but scorches your obliques as well. All of that and it is much more thorough in targeting the musculature than your standard side bends.

Muscles trained: Abdominals, Obliques, Serratus

Form and programming suggestions: Set up the barbell in your landmine attachment, with a plate and collar loaded onto the bar. Then kneel on the ground, gripping the end of the barbell in a hand-over-hand fashion. Keeping your arms straight and extended throughout the movement, lean forward to roll the barbell out until you are in a prone position. Squeeze your abs to drive your body back up, being careful not to pull with your hamstrings. I recommend performing three to four sets to failure, two to three times per week

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Replace Side Crunches with Shovel Deadlift

Dr. Mike T. Nelson Ph.D.: is a metabolism fitness professional, strength coach, and educator.

Stop doing worthless side crunches. To get more core training you want the core to contract more reflexively and transfer to the exercise you want to improve since I doubt you just want to do core training for performance, and you can’t spot reduce fat. One of my favorites is the shovel deadlift. It looks like a normal deadlift where you missed your pre-workout and did not put the same weights on both sides of the bar.

Why it’s good: the offset load trains your obliques and anti-rotation muscles while strengthening your grip and pulling imbalances between sides, improving your overall deadlift technique.

Muscles trained: Forearms, upper back, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.

Form and programming suggestions: Set up like a normal deadlift. Start with a total load of about 25% of your 1RM deadlift. If you deadlift 405, start with just 100 pounds. Add 10 to 25 pounds more on one side of the bar to create an offset. As you get more experienced you can add more, but that is enough to start. Perform as a normal deadlift with the same hand position. There should be no difference in deadlift form, but you should feel more stress on the opposite side of the core, especially your obliques.

You will also feel the tension in the hand closest to the offset and the reverse pressure in your other hand. This is an accessory lift with typical rep ranges around eight to 12 or higher. Enjoy real core training and up your deadlift.

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