Your core is the link between your upper body and lower body. It’s from this group of muscles that your body generates upper and lower body power. Strong core muscles help you sprint faster, swing a tennis racket harder, and do the functional activities you do every day with better form, a lower risk of injury, and less fatigue. When these muscles are strong, it helps you generate the strength and power to perform your best on compound exercises such as deadlifts and squats.
Plus, your core muscles stabilize your body and help you maintain good balance and posture. Studies also show a strong core protects against back pain. If your core muscles are strong, they help stabilize your back, so that your ligaments and bones in the spine don’t have to take up the slack. So many reasons to make your core muscles stronger!
There are a variety of ways to work your core. Most people stick too to exercises that strengthen the superficial abdominal muscles, the rectus abdominis. However, your core needs a more balanced workout. Your core muscles are forced to stabilize when you do exercises like deadlifts and squats, so they get some stimulation from these exercises. Yet compound exercises, like squats and deadlifts, alone aren’t enough to maximize core muscle strength.
That’s where exercises like planks come in. Planks and their variations also boost core muscle strength in a balanced way. However, you can diversify your core workout even more by adding dumbbells to your training. Here are some exercises that use dumbbells that also work your core muscles.
All you need to do renegade rows is a pair of dumbbells and a mat. The muscles that work hardest when you do this exercise are the muscles in your upper back shoulders, and arms. However, your core is engaged throughout the movement. Plus, renegade rows are a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups for greater calorie burn and functional benefits.
Form is critical when you do this exercise. Don’t grab two heavy dumbbells for this movement. Keep the dumbbells on the lighter side and focus on holding your core tight as you lift each dumbbell off the floor until it’s just beyond your torso. Your core shouldn’t shift during the exercise. If it does, you reduce the benefits and increase the risk of injuring your back.
Russian twists target your abs and back but approach this exercise with caution, especially if you have a history of lower back pain as it involves twisting your spine. If your back is healthy, here’s how to do one:
· Assume a crunch position with your body position at a 45-degree angle to the floor and your feet off the ground.
· Hold a light dumbbell between your hands by placing a hand on each end.
· Turn your body to one side while holding the dumbbell. Then twist to the opposite side.
· Continue twisting your body back and forth in a slow, controlled manner. Be sure to keep your abs tight!
Plank with Dumbbell and Rotation
It’s no secret that planks are one of the best exercises for your core, but adding dumbbells and rotation to a plank turns it into a supercharged core movement. Master a basic plank with rotation before adding dumbbells. When you add dumbbells, go light. Start with 5 pounds in each hand. In case you’re not familiar with this movement, here’s how to do a dumbbell plank with rotation:
Place two dumbbells, pointing in a vertical direction, on the floor about shoulder-width apart.
Get into a high plank position with your hands resting on the dumbbells. Your feet should be a little wider than hip-distance apart.
Lift your left hand toward the ceiling while holding the dumbbell as you rotate your pelvis.
Bring the left hand and dumbbell down in a controlled manner until it’s back to the starting position.
Repeat the movement on the other side.
This exercise is good for the obliques, abdominal muscles that don’t get as much stimulation as the two large rectus abdominis muscles. Plus, the movement also works your chest, shoulders, and upper back.
Wood chops are another exercise that forces your core muscles to work. To do this exercise:
· Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
· Hold a 6 to 12-pound dumbbell using both hands.
· Crouch down and twist your body until the dumbbell is almost to the floor on the outside of your right thigh.
· Use both hands to lift the dumbbell up and across your body and over your left shoulder. Feel the movement in your core muscles as you bring the weight across your body and up to your shoulder.
· Reverse the movement and repeat.
· Complete 10 on one side and then switch to the other side.
The overhead press is an exercise that works your shoulder at the same time as your core muscles. Your shoulders do most of the work, but your core muscles stabilize during the exercise. Keep your core muscles engaged throughout the exercise to force them to work harder.
You can use several approaches. The most common is to lift both hands simultaneously toward the ceiling while holding the dumbbells. However, you can also press one arm at a time. The lack of stability when doing it unilaterally forces your core to work harder to stabilize. You can also use a barbell, but your core will work harder if you use dumbbells.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes multitasking works in your favor. Include standard planks and plank variations in your core routine, but don’t forget about these exercises that focus on other muscle groups but also work your core. For best results, include a variety of exercises in your core routine. It’s too important of a muscle group to neglect. You need a strong core for a healthy posture and to avoid injury. Plus, a strong core will improve your performance when you play sports, do functional movements, and when you weight train, particularly for compound exercises like squats and deadlifts. Whatever you do, keep your core strong!
· Sports Health. 2013 Nov; 5(6): 514–522. doi: 10.1177/1941738113481200.
· Pak J Med Sci. 2017 Jul-Aug; 33(4): 1002–1006. doi: 10.12669/pjms.334.12664.
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