10 Core Strengthening Exercises Strength Coaches Love

Stop doing the same old core exercises over and over again! Let me guess, you’re doing crunches, sit-ups, and planks to get that rock solid core? Those are great and all, but you can only do so many crunches before it really becomes a chore.


It’s time to switch up your ab workout with core strengthening exercises that will actually get you excited to feel the burn. And no, we’re not talking about weighted crunches or side planks. We are going to get you thinking outside the box and train your core like an athlete. 


Your core is the building block for everything you do in the gym. Strengthening the core will improve every aspect of your sessions in the gym and have you lifting heavier every week. 


In this list, we will go over 10 of the core strengthening exercises that we love to use here at Garage Strength and break away from the norm. 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Why You Need Strong Abs

1. Plate Crunch

2. Hydro Weight Kayaking

3. Pass the Plate

4. Hydro Weight / Dumbbell Chop

5. Hydro Weight / Barbell Bicycling

6. Glute Ham Ab Rotation

7. Ironklad Abs

8. Hanging Leg Raises

9. Dane’s Fast Abs

10. Banded Hollow Body Rocks

Completing Your Core

Why You Need Strong Abs

The first thing that comes to mind when people train their abs is “I want a six pack!”. Of course you do, we all do. But there is more to training your core than just isolating the abs for the sake of having a six pack. The core is called the “the core” for a reason. 


In reality, the reason we want to train our trunk is to improve overall muscle mass and strength. Doing core strengthening exercises means training the abs, obliques, and back all together. By strengthening the entire core, your stability will increase for heavier lifts like squats and help you with every day movements. 

Aside from improving the potential for growth in the gym and physical fitness, core strengthening exercises are crucial for injury prevention. The stronger your core, the heavier you can go in squats, deadlifts, and sport specific movements without putting your back in a bad position. 


With all this in mind, let’s take a look at specific examples on how you can improve the overall functionality of your core. 

1. Plate Crunch

Okay, I might be going back on my word from earlier in the article. The first key core strengthening exercise is going to be more of an isolation exercise. 


The plate crunch is going to help you take pressure off of your lower back and give you that insane burn in your core that you would expect from any ab workout. Although this is an isolation movement, this variation will help you feel that mind-muscle connection with your abs and transfer over to dynamic movements. 


To start this movement, you will need a surface to elevate your feet. Something like a box or a bench that you can put your heels on while laying on your back.

Once you’re in the starting position, touch your toes together to reduce the use of the hips. Then hole the plate directly above your eyes, with straight arms. 

The last step is to actually do the crunches. The catch here is to not allow your shoulder blades to touch the ground or at least crunch back up immediately as your shoulders make contact with the ground. 

The plate crunch is a great variation to do a lot of volume with, while pairing with another exercise like goblet squats or front squats. We recommend doing high-volume sets; something like 3 sets of 17 reps or 2 sets of 50 reps. 

2. Hydro Weight Kayaking

The second exercise on this list is going to be one you can do at home and does not require a lot of weight. This is going to be hydro weight kayaking. 


This is an exercise you can do on the ground or a bench. The reason you should incorporate a hydro weight into this movement is for concentrating on dynamic trunk control


The starting position will be in a hollow body rock position with the hydro weight in the crook of your elbows, similar to a zercher hold.

From the starting position, you will rotate your torso to one side while bringing your elbow to the opposite knee. For example, if you start by rotating to your right then the left elbow must meet the right knee.

One thing to keep in mind for this movement is that when your elbow makes contact with the knee, hold that position for 1-2 seconds. Focusing having an explosive core and bracing the abs to control the hydro weight while the water is displaced. A set structure you can follow is 5 sets of 9 or 3 sets of 20 on each side. 

3. Pass the Plate

The third exercise on this list is meant to focus on overall coordination to help athletes that play dynamic sports like football or basketball. The starting position for pass-the-plate is going to be similar to six-inches with your feet raised half a foot off the ground. 

Still on your back, extend your arms back above your head with a 10-25 lbs plate. Once you’re fully extended, bring the plate over your body while bringing the knees to your chest. 

Similar to a bent leg v-up, you are crunching forward while your butt and lower back are pushed into the ground. At the top, pass the plate on to the top if your shins then fully extend into the starting position with your hands empty. 

Continue to repeat this process of passing the plate between your hands and your shins for 3 sets of 12 each way. 

4. Hydro Weight / Dumbbell Chop

The fourth core strengthening to make this list is going to be for all you functional lifters out there. The hydro weight chop is going to be a rotational exercise to strengthen the obliques and help take pressure off the lower back. You can also do this exercise with a dumbbell or band depending on what equipment you have available.


The starting position will be in a single leg kneeling placement with your back knee on a balance pad or some kind of cushion to keep you comfortable as you rotate.

In the starting position, grab the weight you’re using and bring it to the same side that your grounded knee is on. Then raise the weight off the ground and across your body while rotating your torso to the opposite side. This will create the chopping motion. 

As you move the weight back and forth in the same motion, try to decelerate the load as you come down from the top of the movement. Start with 3-4 sets of 12 reps. 

5. Hydro Weight / Barbell Cycling

Core strengthening exercise number five on this list is another very dynamic movement for building that coordination and stability through a rapid movement.


The easiest way to start weighted cycling for your core is to just hold the load above your body, inline with your torso and just cycling with your legs. Keep both legs off the floor at the same time, alternating which knee is brought to your chest and extended back out. 

As you practice the movement, you can incorporate a crunch whenever you bring one of the knees to your chest to really engage all of your abs rather than just the lower half that is targeted from the cycling. You can start with 3 sets of 17 cycles each leg, for a total of 34 crunches per fet as you bring those in. 

6. Glute Ham Ab Rotation

The sixth core strengthening exercise that makes our list is going to be the glute ham ab rotation to help feel that burn for extended time under tension. 


Like many of these exercises, this is going to be a movement that focuses on the entire core so you will feel it in your abs, obliques, and back. The starting position will begin with your legs locked into the glute ham as you face up.


With a 10-20lbs weight, twist your torso to one side while keeping the plate close to your body. Once completely rotated, slowly extend the weight out with your arms and then bring it back to your chest. 


Finish by rotating back to the starting position and complete all the repetitions for one side before rotating to the opposite side. Throughout the entire set, think about being in a hollow body position with your abs fully braced to control the extension of the weight. Do 4-5 sets of 7 reps to each side. 

7. Ironklad Abs

To finish the movement, control both legs down to a horizontal position while keeping them straight during the whole descent. If you want to take on a more advanced version of this core exercise, you can lift your butt and lower back off the bench as your legs extend vertically. 

This core strengthening exercise is going to work the entire length of the abs as you reverse crunch and then control the legs down. A set structure we recommend is 4 sets of 9 controlled reps. 

8. Hanging Leg Raises

You’ve probably also heard of our eighth exercise for strengthening your core, hanging leg raises. This is a great alternative to Ironklad abs if you’re looking for a beginner core exercise to hit the entire core. 


Start by finding a pull up bar and hanging with a grip that is shoulder width apart or slightly wider. Then simply raise your straightened legs to a perpendicular position and lower your legs back down in a controlled manner. 


Hanging leg raises have a ton of variations that you can use to increase loads and isolate specific sections of your core. This could include bent knee raises with a plate balanced on your shins or bent knee raises with a rotation to isolate the obliques. 


With regular hanging leg raises, do 4-5 sets of 10 reps. 

9. Dane’s Fast Abs

The second-to-last core strengthening exercise that you need to be doing is Dane’s fast abs. This is a staple of Garage Strength programming and fits into the category of dynamic trunk control. 


With this variation, we will be starting in a v-up position and the load will once again be a hydro weight. Dane’s fast abs can also be done with a weight plate or dumbbell if you don’t have access to a hydro weight. 



Once you’re in the v-up starting position, extend the weight above you.

Then pull the weight toward you rapidly while keeping your core tight. You don’t want to be falling backward or shooting your feet up to the ceiling. Stay seated on your glutes and maintain the v-up position as you repeat the movement for 7 reps. 

After completing your vertical reps, you will perform rotational reps. You need to cross the weight over your body and then rapidly pull the weight back toward your chest while keeping that strong v-up position. Continue to switch sides so that you finish with 3 sets of 7 vertical reps and 7 rotational reps for each side. 

10. Banded Hollow Body Rocks

The final exercise that will get your core rock solid are banded hollow body rocks. These are a step up from the traditional hollow body rocks, or banana boat rocks, that you may be familiar with. 


You will set up on your back, in a banana boat position. With a band attached to a rack behind you, extend the band forward above your body and start rocking. The band will add tension as you rock forward and then force you to focus extra on control as you rock backward.

Complete 4-5 sets of 30 seconds straight of rocking. 

Completing Your Core

The most important thing to understand about getting a stronger core is that it’s more than just your abs. The core is the basis of stability for any movement or exercise you do as it includes the abs, obliques, and back. 


Core strengthening exercises also don’t have to be boring and one-sided. Incorporating dynamic movements, coordination, and rotational work into your ab routine is going to yield better results than just focusing on “feeling the burn”/ 


Let us know what core exercise is your favorite and which ones you’ve tried from this list. If you want to see all the core strengthening exercises that we include in our programming, sign up for the Peak Strength app to get the same programming as the elite athletes that train at Garage Strength. 

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Yo, It's Dane

Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!

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