Situps and planks aren't the only ways to train your core, which consists of your abdominal region, hips, spine and parts of your thighs. With a small set of free weights, such as dumbbells and kettlebells, you can easily perform a full-body workout that strengthens your core without getting on the floor and doing a single crunch.
It's Not Just Your Abs
Your core functions as both a stabilizer and mover. When you do things such as throwing a baseball or delivering a roundhouse kick, the stabilizers that are closest to your joints maintain your posture and control your balance and movements while your movers produce force to move the joint. You also don't need to consciously tighten or suck in your abs to work your core, because it is reflex driven, says physical therapist Gray Cook on his website. Focus on your movements and breathing instead of contracting your abs.
Lifting any free weight over your head will automatically engage your core muscles to keep yourself from toppling to one side. However, the position of your body and use of free weights could affect the level of the core's muscle activity. Researchers at the Sogn og Fjordane University College in Norway found that core muscles have a higher activity during a standing dumbbell shoulder press compared to the seated version. Likewise, lifting with one dumbbell instead of two results in a higher core activation rate. Similar lifting exercises include front and lateral shoulder raises, kettlebell snatches and squat presses with one or two dumbbells or kettlebells.
Swings, Slams and Throws
Like overhead lifting, explosive power exercises will work your core faster than you can blink. The core muscles automatically brace your spine, trunk and hips as you throw, slam or swing a weight. In a kettlebell swing, your abs help to control the acceleration and deceleration phases of the swing when you swing the kettlebell forward and up and between your legs. The same can be said whenever you throw a medicine ball to do ground slams, overhead throws and chest passes. Using a heavier kettlebell or medicine ball will require your core to work harder, which will increase its stabilization strength.
Better and More Specific Results
The free-weight core exercises you choose to do should be specific to the sport you play or the activity that you do. Exercise movements that closely mimic a sport skill or movement will produce a greater carryover of strength, power and other variables than those that do not mimic the sports skill or movement. According to physical therapist Tony Ingram on the BBoy Science website, this is based on the SAID principle -- specific adaptation to imposed demands -- which states that your body will adapt and improve specifically according to what you train it to do.
- North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: Incorporating Kettlebells Into a Lower Extremity Sports Rehabilitation Program
- European Journal of Applied Physiology: Muscle Activity of the Core During Bilateral, Unilateral, Seated and Standing Resistance Exercise
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Effect of Core Strength on the Measure of Power in the Extremities
- Human Kinetics: Functional Anatomy of the Core: The Abdomen
- Gray Cook: Advanced Core Training Notes
- Bboy Science: The S.A.I.D. Principle
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Core Training: Medicine Balls Provide a New Twist