4 Ways to Train Core without Adding More Core Exercises

Fitness Workout for Men

Training the core is essential, but with so many goals to work on, time in the gym can quickly add up. When training the core, most think we must dedicate time to core exercises in a workout. However, let’s look at four ways to get more work out of the core during the routine exercises we already do without adding extra time to our workout to train our core. 

#1 Bracing the Core

Before proceeding to the following tips on sneaking more core into your workouts, it is crucial to understand the importance of bracing the core. With proper core bracing, we can train our core with every exercise, even if it isn’t a direct core exercise. Lack of core stability when performing exercises such as squatting, deadlifting, and overhead pressing can result in instability such as:



  • Rib flare

  • Anterior pelvic tilt

  • Posterior pelvic tilt

  • Excessive lumbar lordosis

To brace the core, follow the following cues:

  1. Squeeze both the glutes and abs to put the pelvis and lumbar spine in a neutral position

    • This should result in a waistband parallel to the floor
  2. Remove any flaring up of the ribs by pulling them down with the abs



    • This should result in ribs parallel to the pelvis

#2 Unilateral Training

Unilateral training is when only one arm or leg is loaded during training. This creates an asymmetrical load, causing the core muscles on the opposite side of the load to engage to maintain stability. Examples of unilateral exercises include:

  • Single-leg Romanian deadlift

  • Bulgarian split squat

  • Single-arm overhead press

  • Single-arm row

The asymmetrical load also presents a greater necessity for bracing the core. For the next workout, try swapping out a bilateral exercise with a unilateral exercise to put more emphasis on the core. Additional benefits of unilateral training include:

  • Less overall load, which can be beneficial to recovery and those who cannot tolerate higher loads (1)



  • Improved stability and balance (2)

  • Often, similar muscle activation can be achieved as bilateral variations (2)

#3 Training in Odd Positions

Odd position training takes a typical exercise like an overhead press and puts the body in an unconventional position, such as sitting on the floor. Sitting on the floor still offers stability but removes the legs from the exercise, making the core work much harder to maintain posture while pressing overhead.

New and odd positions will expose our core to stabilizing in a new way. Here are some positions that you can train in:

  • Half-kneeling or double-kneeling

  • Split stance

  • Sitting on the floor



We often limit ourselves to a few training positions. The great thing about training in odd positions is that you can be as creative as you want and tailor the training position to your goals. For example, if you do a ground-based sport such as jiu-jitsu, it makes sense to train in a double kneeling position since that is common in the sport. 

Conventional Positioned to Odd Positioned Exercises

Seated bench overhead press ➠ Seated floor overhead press

Cable chest press ➠ Tall double kneeling cable chest press

Single-arm cable row ➠ Split stance single arm cable row

Deadlift ➠ Single leg RDL

#4 Less Sitting on Seats

Machines with seats or benches can be inviting and offer a lot of benefits, but since you’re looking for ways to add more core efficiently into your workout, try to swap out sitting exercises with their standing equivalents. For example, instead of a seated row, try a standing bent-over row. Another example is switching out a seated leg curl with a Romanian deadlift.



Final Thoughts

If you’re in a time crunch and looking for ways to work your core more, try substituting some of your exercises with unilateral exercises, training in odd positions, doing less sitting, and bracing your core with every exercise. 

These strategies will challenge your core in new ways and demand more effort from you. Of course, we aren’t saying this will replace direct core training or earn you a six-pack, but it will certainly offer you some new tools to elevate your training!

Sources

  1. Appleby BB, Cormack SJ, Newton RU. Specificity and Transfer of Lower-Body Strength: Influence of Bilateral or Unilateral Lower-Body Resistance Training. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Feb;33(2):318-326. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002923. PMID: 30688873.

  2. Mausehund L, Skard AE, Krosshaug T. Muscle Activation in Unilateral Barbell Exercises: Implications for Strength Training and Rehabilitation. J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Jul;33 Suppl 1:S85-S94. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002617. PMID: 29870422.

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