In this post, I share my favorite and most effective core exercises for athletes and active individuals. Regardless of the sport you play, having a strong core will provide stability in every movement. A weak core can increase the risk of injury elsewhere in the body, contribute to poor posture, cause lower back pain and make daily activities difficult. I personally think that a strong core is one of the most important aspects of keeping adult athletes in their sport for longer. Implementing these core exercises for athletes into your training can ensure that you’re training smarter, not harder.
I’ve been working with Mike Anderson, CSCS from Anderson Strength and Fitness since 2013, and (as any good strength and conditioning coach would do) he always makes sure to include core work in all of my programs. The following is a list of core strengthening exercises he has programmed for me over the years that have not only kept my core strong but have kept my body completely pain-free. The best part is that these exercises require little to no equipment so they can be done anywhere – at home, in the gym, or in a hotel room.
Here are our top 10 effective core exercises for athletes and for anyone else who would benefit from correcting form and posture. Regardless of age, these core strengthening exercises will help anyone lift heavier things, run faster, be more explosive, throw further, hit harder, and jump higher. They will also benefit overall athleticism by improving mobility, stability, balance, and coordination. The key to getting through these exercises is Self Discipline. This is how the list goes:
This exercise is so simple and doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything, but it is incredibly effective at strengthening and stabilizing the core. Every program that Mike writes for me includes some version of the deadbug or the bird dog (a deadbug on all fours). The ones I’ve done include ipsilateral deadbugs (below), contralateral deadbugs, deadbugs with kettlebell pullover, wall-activated deadbugs and band resisted bird dog. He also has many more variations of the deadbug and bird dog on his YouTube channel.
2. Hollow body holds
I won’t lie, these ones suuuuck but they are one of the most effective core strengthening exercises for athletes. (Side note: I remember these as the “banana” part of the Superman Banana exercise from Tony Horton’s P90x core workouts. That was a rough time in my life.) The first time I tried these, I could only hold them for about 10 seconds before my whole body collapsed. With practice, I can now hold them for the whole 30 seconds before losing my shit.
3. Plate drag plank
I really enjoy these because the act of dragging the plate takes my mind off the fact that my abs are on fire. I really enjoy the added coordination component of these. If you don’t have a weighted plate, use any heavy-ish object that slides across the floor easily. I’ve also done these with sandbags.
4. 8-point plank
If you do these correctly, you’ll probably want to die after 15 seconds. The trick is to make sure that your forearms (walked out slightly in front of you), knees, and toes are all pushing into the floor and then tilt your pubic bone toward your belly button and SQUEEZE your butt as hard as you can. It eventually becomes fun, I promise.
5. Bear crawl bodysaw
There’s nothing like a good bear crawl. Something about it just seems so…primal. This one combines a bear crawl ISO hold with some movement which bumps the effectiveness up a bit. You can also do a regular plank with a body saw if you want to mix it up.
6. Reverse crunch with straight leg lowering
Engage your core the whole time you are lowering your legs, and lower as slow as possible to boost effectiveness. You can anchor yourself with any heavy object like a kettlebell, a squat rack, or a sturdy piece of furniture like the couch.
7. Side plank with wall slide
I’ll admit that I still struggle hard with these ones but they are so great for the hips and obliques. I can only do a couple at a time before my hips drop and my bottom leg feels like it’s going to snap in half. But, I’m getting better at them because when I started, I couldn’t even hold the starting position. When I don’t have access to a wall, I will still do them just with a lift in the air rather than a slide along the wall. Another modification would be to drop down on the knee of your bottom leg. Even modified, they are still hard!
8. Tall kneeling pallof press
The pallof press is a simple movement that hits a lot of muscles at the same time which puts it toward the top of the list of effective core exercises for athletes. Mike likes the tall kneeling position for many exercises because it engages the core more than a standing or athletic stance position. I don’t currently have a cable machine in my home gym so I just anchor a resistance band to my squat rack. I can make it easier or harder by moving closer or further away from the rack. Other variations of this baby include the Pallof press ABCs, Pallof isometric hold, and Pallof shuffles.
9. Isometric bear crawl with elbow tap
The trick here is to not let your body rotate when you lift your hand up to touch your elbow. Engage your core and keep everything from your shoulders down to your feet in exactly the same position while you tap your elbow. This one is fun, simple, and effective.
10. RKC plank
Since you are squeezing every muscle in your body during this plank, it makes it more than just an effective core exercise – it’s an effective whole-body exercise. Get into position using the zip-up technique and hold with max effort for about 10 seconds per rep (aim for 3-5 reps per set). Don’t forget to breathe!
Want more core exercises for adult athletes?
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