If you want to build a strong core, take a stand—literally. New research indicates that vertical core training is the most effective way to strengthen the core. So, ditch the mat and stand up because crunches are so last year. Get ready to jump, throw, lunge, reach, and press your way to a strong core.
Why Vertical Works
The core muscles are critical for standing upright, maintaining proper posture, and moving the body in different planes of motion. We use our abdominal muscles when we move, whether we’re striding up a steep hill or bending over to pick up a heavy object.
Because we recruit and engage our core muscles when we’re standing and moving, it makes sense to work them under the same circumstances. Vertical core exercises move the body in multiple planes, thereby training the core in the way that we most often use it—while standing.
Vertical core exercises are “functional” movements that simulate real-life situations. In our everyday movements, we rarely use a muscle in isolation, so it doesn’t make sense to train our muscles with isolated movements such as crunches.
Vertical core exercises don’t have to be complicated to be effective. Learn to use gravity, resistance, and mobility to train your core to be strong and functional. Start with a few basic moves and you’ll be on your way to a strong core.
Stand and Reach: Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders and reach your arms alongside your ears, toward the ceiling. Reach your arms as far to the left as you can as you draw your abdominal muscles in toward your navel. Hold for 10 seconds and then switch sides.
Variation: For an added challenge, hold a medicine ball in your hands overhead.
Wood Chops: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a medicine ball between your hands. Slowly raise the ball over one shoulder and then bend your knees and lower the ball toward your opposite foot (to simulate the motion of swinging an axe). Repeat 10 times and then switch sides.
Side Bends: Stand with a dumbbell in your right hand and place your left hand behind your head. Keeping your legs straight, reach your right hand toward your right foot (your left elbow will rise toward the ceiling) and then return to an upright position. Repeat 20 times and then switch sides.
Cross Crunch: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Draw your right knee up and across your body and tap it with your left elbow. Then draw your left knee up and across your body, tapping it with your right elbow. Continue to alternate sides.
Toe Taps: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms extended out to the side. Keeping your legs and arms straight, bring your right hand to your left foot and then return to center. Then bring your left hand to your right foot and return to center. Continue alternating sides as you draw your abdominals in toward your navel.
Medicine Ball Throws: Stand facing a wall or a partner (about 6 feet away). Raise a medicine ball overhead and lift one foot and lunge forward as you throw the ball. As the ball comes back to you (either rebounding off the wall or thrown from your partner), catch the ball and push off the front foot and return to standing. Alternate legs as you lunge and throw.
Variation: Stand sideways to a wall or partner and throw the ball around your side in order to engage your oblique muscles.
Reverse Lunge and Press: Hold lightweight dumbbells in each hand and stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Step backward with your right foot as you press your right arm overhead. As you step forward to the starting position, switch arms and complete an overhead press with the left arm. Alternate lunging and pressing overhead.
Variation: Instead of pressing the arm overhead, reach it across your body diagonally to engage the oblique muscles.
This is only a small sample of vertical core exercises you can try. There is a huge variety of standing exercises that will engage your core—including plyometric jumping, hanging knee raises, leaping, bounding, throwing, twisting, and even incorporating balance tools such as the BOSU ball. Get creative. Ask a trainer for help if you need it. Have fun getting strong.