In the world of weight training, much attention is brought to the compound movements that recruit large muscle groups. These movements include squats, deadlifts, bench press, and weighted rows— the renowned core lifts. Such movements are extremely important and should be incorporated, in some form or another, into any lifting regimen. That being said, many athletes in training put so much emphasis on these large movements that they neglect perhaps the most important muscle group in the body, the core itself.
While it’s true that all the core lifts, as they should, utilize the core to a fair extent, they don’t isolate the core muscles like other targeted exercises do.
A Common Misconception
Contrary to popular belief, the core doesn’t just include the abdominals. The core is made up of several muscles, in the front and back, that reach from the diaphragm to the pelvis, occupying the entire midsection. This includes the obliques (internal and external), transverse abdominis, multifidus, and erector spinae. These muscles work together to stabilize the body through complex movements. This means that isolating the core can, in turn, increase performance on all the other core lifts. A strong core is fundamental to carrying out almost every natural movement.
Incorporate and Isolate
While training, make sure to focus on the core and the role it plays in each movement, keeping the core tight for greater control. A greater focus on the core during larger compound movements will increase balance and stability while improving form and energy efficiency. As you do so, you will see weights start to go up with more ease and a greater capacity for improvement as time goes on.
In addition to a general focus on the core, it is necessary to incorporate isolated core movements into your training. We’ve all felt the shame of skipping leg day, but neglecting the core isn’t much better.
Top 5 Best Isolated Core Exercises
- Power Tower Leg Raises. This is one of the best exercises for the lower abdominals as it forces your abs to lift the weight of your lower body. Start seated in the VKR station and lift your legs up straight from the core, keeping the knees as straight as possible. Beginners can keep knees bent, lifting the knees upwards towards the chest.
- Ball Tosses on the Ab Bench. This one requires a partner but is one of the tried and true core torching exercises. Seat yourself in the decline ab bench, throwing and catching a medicine ball at the top of each movement, doing a complete sit-up in-between.
- Weighted Russian Twists. For a quick oblique burn, seat yourself on a mat with both feet planted on the floor, knees bent. Keeping your back as straight as possible, creating a 45-degree angle with the floor, hold a medicine ball or dumbbell in your hands turning side to side at the hips, touching the weight to the floor on each side.
- Weighted Side Bends. Another great oblique exercise involves standing straight up with good posture and a weight in your hand at your side. Slowly dip the weight down, moving slow and controlled from the hip before returning to the starting position.
- Back Extensions. Perhaps one of the best isolated lower back exercises, the weighted (or non-weighted) back extension is one you should always include. Back extensions can be carried out on a back extension or roman curl machine. For best results hold a weight plate tight to the chest as you complete each movement.
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