Help me gain core strength
January 31, 2018 6:10 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for recommendations for exercises to strengthen my core, but without risking significant loads on my back/spine, like squats. (I'm not looking for advice on squats.) Compound movements would be preferred, along with exercises in which I could progressively increase the difficulty with additional weight or time. I work out at a fairly well equipped gym, so there are barbells, dumbells, kettlebells, pulley and plate machines, etc., along with space and mats for working on the floor.
posted by jroybal to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Hollow body holds are what you're looking for.

Once you can hold a hollow body, look into stuff on a bar like Hanging Leg Raises, working up to Toes to Bar.

L-Sits are also really hard and works a lot of things at the same time.
posted by astapasta24 at 6:26 PM on January 31, 2018 [8 favorites]

Have you tried planks? I have a planking app on my phone that kicks my butt. It's a series of a few different positions with a timer for each. It seemed kind of dumb at first but I was really surprised by it. It hasn't given me washboard abs but I noticed almost immediate tightening of my lateral abdominal muscles and upper glutes. Also fronts of thighs and triceps to a lesser degree. One big surprise for me was soreness in the connective tissue where the muscles join my lower rib cage and how the appearance of that part of my body has changed. Actually where I feel these exercises most is in the connective tissues and in odd places that other exercises don't seem to hit. You can change the difficulty level as well. Don't underestimate planks. If both boxers and dancers do them to train then they have to be effective. It's a great warm up at home before going to the gym and something you an do almost anywhere multiple times a day.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 8:17 PM on January 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pilates. It’s allllll core, all ways, all directions, and the basis of lots of physical therapy so with a good teacher it’s very safe.

Depends on your definition of loading your spine (because even standing up is a load on your spine), but farmers carries are great to increase all kinds of strength. Even with my messy back I can accomplish very heavy and effective carries. But, your back may disagree.

If you can’t tolerate a traditional deadlift try a suitcase with the trap bar or kettlebells or dumbbells.

And Pallof presses! Especially if you are looking for an anti-rotational movement.

God there are so many good ones. I’m sure I’ll think of a million more in the next hour.

One more non-obvious one - chin-ups. Probably responsible for my biggest improvements in strength in my whole torso.

Don’t forget to address your diaphragm. Start that work in Pilates and carry it through the rest of your gym work. Controlling that will be key.
posted by littlewater at 8:18 PM on January 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

I assume by "no squats" you mean more broadly no traditional barbell sports. In that case you probably want some form of bodyweight fitness. A few I've heard of:
  1. Building the Gymnastic Body is quite dogmatic and gets quite specialized, but has lots of generally applicable stuff in the beginning. E.g., there's a six-minute warm-up that takes a lot of people months of work to be able to complete at all, much less in six minutes as a warm-up. BtGB is really good for teaching lots of exercises and the progressions through those exercises, but not so great at putting them together into a program which is accessible and appropriate to schmucks at home like you and me.
  2. r/bodyweightfitness presents many of the same exercises in a less gymnastics-oriented and more pre-programmed way. I'm linking to the "recommended routine", which is good guide on programming these exercises: which ones, when, how much. It also skips some of the more gymnastics-specific stuff, like the joint preparation. This is fine because you're presumably not going to do anything as high-impact as a rings routine.
  3. Pilates is often taught with a variety of specialized equipment but can be done entirely on a mat. There is, however, a dizzying selection of exercises and most Pilates classes are not taught with the goal of preparing students to continue independently.
  4. Yoga is about the same as Pilates, except with less specialized equipment and often more of a spiritual element.
  5. Bootcamp-style calisthenics, including the age-old push-ups, crunches, pull-ups, planks, burpees, flutter kicks, V-ups, bridges, etc. My extremely limited experience with this stuff is that it's hard to find a class that isn't either styled on a military boot camp, which I find off-putting, or Crossfit, which you probably won't want because it also includes lots of barbell work.

posted by d. z. wang at 8:32 PM on January 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you're looking for something to add to your existing routine, how about the "beginner warm-up"?

60s plank

60s reverse plank

60s perfect hollow hold with hands over your head

60s arch hold in the superman flying position

60s Parallel Bar support.

60s chin up grip dead hang

If your gym doesn't have parallel bars, a dip station or two folding chairs is fine.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:38 PM on January 31, 2018

I'm in physio for back problems, and my physiotherapist just suggested Pilates and rock climbing this week, we work on core strength among other things.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:41 PM on January 31, 2018

Whatever exercises you choose, make really, really sure you are doing them with the correct form. It's so easy to accidentally strain your back if you're doing them wrong.

I also agree that Pilates (the kind with machines, not just the mat classes) is probably the best way to really make sure you can isolate the muscle groups without engaging your back. You can take a couple of private classes to develop a routine that you can safely do on your own.
posted by ananci at 11:02 AM on February 1, 2018

Pull ups/chin ups are surprisingly good, especially if you keep your legs parallel with the ground. Throw in some static holds in there, too.
posted by porpoise at 1:57 PM on February 1, 2018

Turkish get-ups.
posted by AceRock at 7:37 PM on February 1, 2018

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