Q & A with the Coaches: Do You Include CORE Exercises in your Workouts?

By Corey Beasley

We asked several top strength coaches,

"Do you include core exercises in your workouts? If so, what are a few of your favorites?"

Here's what they had to say...

In every session that I have we always include core exercises.    

  1. Some of my favorites are carries, farmer and suitcase with multiple types of load.  This not only enhances grip strength, but blasts your postural muscles (core) and helps you gain better posture if done properly (standing tall and not letting your ribs flare).
  2. Any type of isometric holding: planks (front and side), cable push-outs, iso-core crunch (with resistance if able to), egg breakers (elbows to thighs) with resistance if possible.
  3. Any type of single arm or leg strength exercise.  With load demands on a single side this also enhances the core by having to activate opposing muscles to counter-balance your position.

Lawrence Herrera - LH Performance 

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Absolutely.  In fact we increase the core demand of several general strength exercises as well.  Some of our favorites come from the work of Stuart McGill; Front Bridge, Lateral Bridge, Birddog and Stir the Pot to start.  Each has a series of progressions to increase demand.  We also use Uni-Lateral Loading; Shrugs, Lunges, and a variety of Rows & Presses.  Once the athlete has spent several months or years progressing we get into more dynamic drills like Tornado Ball.

Rob Schwartz

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I emphasize that every exercise is a core exercise. Your core should be engaged in everything you do, contracting hard for each rep to help transfer force, maintain total body tension, and protect the spine. Exercises like Front Squats, Deadlifts, Overhead presses, and Renegade Rows all put a huge demand on the core without being core specific exercises. Try to apply that principle to every exercise you do. Specifically, I prefer the Pallof Press, Turkish Get Up to the Elbow, all variations of Planks, and various chops to focus on the “core”.

William Safford - www.seekprogress.com


Yes, I include many basic exercises in my programs specially during the preparation phase but I don’t follow any specific rule. My favorites are different types of planks and also I like to use abs exercises with weights and band resistance (rotation). If we realize basic exercises like squat or deadlifts we are strengthening our CORE muscles and sometimes we don’t need to isolate that much so I try to mix up everything during the plan with different methods and exercises.

Everton Bittar Oliveira - American Top Team

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Everything we do in our training has a core component. Activating your “core” during exercises gives a stable foundation for your arms and legs to move from. That means positioning the weight on the body in a manner that not only adds load, but challenges the core is key in making exercises you perform in the gym carry over to life and sport.

We do direct core training too in the form of teach the core not only to produce, but resist forces as well. They key though is to realize the core is not only the trunk, but the lats and hips as well. So, good core exercises like dragging, press outs, around the worlds, dead bugs, planks, and so forth have to integrate these concepts.

Josh Henkin - DVRT - Ultimate Sandbag Training

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I don’t do a ton of traditional core training in my programs, because my athletes regularly get plenty of core training from heavy lifting and heavy carries. However when I do program core work, I prefer anti movement drills like Palloff press variations (anti rotation), partner manual resistance work (anti rotation/extension/flexion), chops and lifts, pushup plank variations with sandbell drags, manual resistance, band pulls, or arm lifts.

I also like animal flow variations, focusing on stabilizing the torso and pelvis during the various movements. I use these primarily in my warm ups or as active rest, but they provide a ton of benefit to core and shoulder strength and stability as well.

We get our rotational core work from explosive med ball throws from a variety of positions, and partner throws including a deceleration eccentric component, as well as landmine exercises.

I mentioned loaded carries, which have so many benefits that I’ve listed them as a go to for all three questions so far. I use them heavy loaded for time or distance, and also under fatigue for postural endurance, but always cueing the athlete to stop if and when posture breaks, so we are building endurance in the right patterns and not training poor posture. My favorites are: farmers walks with dumbells or trap bars, banded KB carries, bottoms up KB carries, overhead plate, KB, or bottoms up carries, suitcase and unbalanced carries, zercher carry, or atlas stone. These all challenge the core, hips, gait, foot and ankle, grip, and posture in a variety of ways.

Coach PJ Nestler - http://coachpjnestler.com/

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My top core exercises would have to be:

  1. plank
  2. ab roller
  3. bird dogs
  4. hanging leg raise
  5. static deadlift holds

All of these moments will improve core stability and should be done at least 3 times a week!

Phil Daru - http://www.Darustrong.com

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Yes, we always incorporate core exercises in our training sessions. However, we are strategic in where we program them within the session. For example, if a movement requires an incredible amount of core stability and strength, we will not program core exercises as a part of the superset, circuit or for active rest. If the athletes are performing heavy deadlifts or back squats, these exercises require a lot of core strength/stability and a lack of these qualities can potentially affect the amount of weight lifted and potentially place more stress on the spine. Therefore, we add core as its own block within the session, or as active rest during secondary movements that are not as intense.

You can train your core two general ways. One-way is challenging the stability of the core, which includes anti-rotation movements (think planks), anti-lateral flexion movements (suit case carry) as well as propulsive (dynamic) movements (Big/Littles, Landmine Rotations etc.).

Here are our favorite core training exercises with combat athletes:

Stability- Bird Dogs, Weighted Planks, Slider Matrixes, Slider Chainsaws, Pully Lifts/Chops, Paloff Presses, Band Rotational Movements

Propulsive- Big/Littles, Hanging Leg Raises, V-Ups, Dead Big Variations

Our absolute favorite core exercise is called the “Pillar Walk.” It combines dynamic and stability properties. It begins when athlete is in a push up position with each foot on a slider. Starting with either hand, reach as far in front of you as you can without lowering your hips, “pull” through the ground and begin to pike your hips up where your feet travel forward together keeping your body square with the floor. Limit lumbar flexion while performing every rep. After you pike, reach with the other hand and pull yourself through as you pike your hips again. This is a very challenging exercise to do correctly. It looks very close to a seal walk, but is drastically different because your core is engaged through out the entire movement, whether fighting for stability or creating enough strength to pike the hips up as you travel the down the turf. There are several ways to make this more challenging (adding dumbbells in your hands, replacing plates for the sliders) so be ready for work.

Jared Saaverdra - Athlete Ready

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Core strength cannot be underestimated, especially for combat sports. For me personally core starts at the top of your head and ends at the top of the big toe, hence we are training our core doing pretty much anything, however for the sake of argument, let’s consider that the core consists of your abdominal muscles, your lower back, your glutes, hips and pelvis. This way we understand that the core is the major link between the spinal column and the legs. As I wrote in one of my previous articles: whilst performing the multi joint, compound movements like squats, deadlifts, strict presses, not even mentioning various kicks, punches, hip thrusts etc, the forces travel through the body and if the core is not strong enough or the pelvis is in the right position it may result not only in the inability to generate the amount of force the body is capable of but also in inability to perform the lift safely. Just picture HOW IMPORTANT this is for any combat sport! If we consider the core as described above is the link that the force generated from the ground travels through then when that link is broken one way or the other – the potential for powerful kicks, powerful punches, fast take downs, fast explosive hip movements on the ground etc - is lost. In many cases fixing the postural problem related to the hip positioning and strengthening the entire area hugely increases the strength and consequently power.

There are plenty of ways to train core, I will list a few more advanced options I use with the combat athletes (as well as other sports). Please note, that the movements are never isolated, they work the entire body, but the core strength (as understood above) plays a crucial role in the athlete being able to perform the movement.

Each of the exercises below can be progressed to more difficult version or regressed to an easier one, the only limit is your creativity there.

First video shows more advanced version of one of our core strengthening exercises.

Teaching points

Chin up grip, lift the legs so the trunk is parallel to the floor, in the second part of the video, give an extra leg lift using your stomach.

Second video – also utilizes pulling and core strength, if you want to make it harder, tie an elastic band around the client’s ankles and apply resistance, using only a thin resistance band makes is hard enough.


This is so called DISH. Very simple exercise, which doesn’t mean easy. Make sure your lower back stays in contact with the floor. This is anti-extension type of core training.

Sabina Skala - London



‘Core’ training has been, and I think will continue to be a hot topic in fitness for years to come.

As with most things in life, and especially fitness, there is a pendulum between methods and trends. For example, in the last 10 years due to the popularity in part of crossfit for High Intensity Conditioning is the only way to train for some coaches where, now we are swinging more to more aerobic work due to Joel Jamieson etc. In reality, the answer lies somewhere in the middle and context is always important.

The same has been applied to core training, for years athletes did 1000s upon 1000s of sit ups, then Stuart McGill came and said there was a limited number of flexion cycles to the lumbar spine and people took this out of context and took it as if they do too many sit ups than their spine would implode so all they did were planks and side planks. As usual, the answer is somewhere in the middle of the pendulum.

Firstly I think it’s important to define what we term ‘core training’, I think the general opinion that core training is balance exercises (normally involving bosu’s or swiss balls), ab crunches or deep ‘TVA training’ type routines - the is short sighted and I think where a lot time is wasted. If we look at the research we can see that Klaus Wirth, Hagen Hartmann, Christoph Mickel, Elena Szilvas, Michael Keiner and Andre Sander (1) found that:

"No proof has been found for special training exercises for deeper core or segmented stabilizing muscles. Furthermore, there is no evidence that classical strength-training exercises, for example, squat, deadlift, snatch, and clean and jerk, affect ‘global’ muscles only or lead to imbalances between the muscles of the trunk. Data proving this hypothesis do not exist for (back pain) patients, healthy controls, or athletes. Studies inspecting EMG recordings of several core muscles have shown simultaneous activity that varied in extent and on- and offset depending on the motor task. This is why stressing the importance of a few single muscles is not justified, and classification into ‘local’ and ‘global’ muscle groups is inappropriate. Therefore, we recommend the use of classical strength-training exercises as these provide the necessary stimuli to induce the desired adaptations.”

If we begin to think of core training as anything that involves the torso, we can begin to look at things in a less black and white manner and how to improve performance.

Recently Benjamin Lee and Stuart McGill (2) found that a mixture of ISO exercises increased impact force in the jab, cross, combination and knee strikes whereas dynamic core exercises increased velocity in the jab, cross, combination and knee strikes. They used a combination of exercises including:

  • planks and side planks
  • pallof presses
  • suitcase carries
  • inverted rows
  • racked walks
  • woodchops
  • back extensions
  • barbell twists
  • medicine balls throws

As you can see from the list, these are not what you would just ‘core exercises’ but strength exercises that have some effect on the torso as a whole. To train the core effectively choose a wide variety of exercises and I would recommend anti-extension and anti-rotation Isometric exercises as well as dynamic exercises in multiple planes of movements for a effective core training program.

Daniel Iaciofano


Core Stability in Athletes: A Critical Analysis of Current Guidelines - http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs40279-016-0597-7

The effect of core training on distal limb performance during ballistic strike manoeuvres - http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640414.2016.1236207?scroll=top&needAccess=true