Core exercises for weightlifting
If you are a weight-lifter or athlete, having a strong core is essential for preventing injury.
But good core-stability means different things to different people, and each sporting discipline has its own specific requirements.
In this article, we discuss which muscles are your core muscles and which core muscles you need to strengthen for weight-lifting.
We also share some examples of good core exercises to help get you on your way.
What Are Core Muscles?
Our core musculature is made up primarily of our abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominus), spinal muscles, pelvic floor and diaphragm.
There are large muscles which we have relatively good conscious control over and small muscles which are harder to consciously engage.
Of course other muscles such as the hip flexors and gluteals, also contribute to core function, but for this article we’ll just focus on the large, controllable trunk muscles.
What Do Core Muscles Do?
When weightlifting, and particularly when performing heavy compound movements like a squat or deadlift, we need our core muscles to stiffen and provide support to our spine.
Our spines are designed to bend, twist and side bend and they are movements we absolutely should be able to do, but when we’re lifting weights, we need our spine to provide a pillar of support for our hips and shoulders to move from.
Think of your spine like a telephone mast – it’s not very stable on its own, but when you add the guy wires going out at diagonals to the ground, it becomes incredibly stiff and stable.
Your core muscles act as those guy wires!
Stiffening our spine also allows us to generate more power through our legs – so strengthening your core properly will increase your strength and power.
By providing a rigid conduit for force between your legs and shoulders, your spine directs the power generated from your lower body. If your spine bends as you lift, a large amount of that power is absorbed, much like compressing a spring.
Think of it this way. If you were trying to generate power and distance from a standing jump, where would it be easier from? Firm flat ground, or a wobbly canoe on water?
How To Strengthen Your Core Muscles
So how do you train your core muscles in a way that best helps them stiffen your spine?
Before getting to what exercises you should do, there are some exercises you should NOT to do.
Our chiropractors see lots of athletes and weight-lifters who routinely use sit-ups, Russian-twists or crunches to train their core.
Sit ups and crunches do work your abdominal muscles, particularly your rectus abdominus, but they do so using spinal movement.
This means they don’t very readily translate to weightlifting.
It’s the same with Russian-twists; you aren’t training your core muscles to stiffen your spine when doing these types of exercise.
When we’re looking for the best exercises for creating core stability and stiffness, we need a type of exercise called isometric exercises.
Isometric means that muscles are activating, but without causing any motion in your joints – i.e. the core muscles are working but your spine isn’t moving.
Below a few of our favourite isometric core exercises, but there are lots to choose from and variety is key to creating a super strong core!
As with any exercise regime, progression is key. Start at a level that feels too easy and work up gradually.
These exercises are very ‘spine safe’ – but if you are currently experiencing any pain or are unsure if these are appropriate for you, it’s always best to check with your chiropractor before you start them.
- The Bird Dog
This is a great exercise and when done properly, makes your core stiffen to allow for a stable spine during movement of the shoulder and hip. It’s safe for almost any level of exercise and I include it in almost of all my patient’s rehab programs!
Start on your hands and knees, hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Engage your core, then reach your opposite arm and leg out.
Make sure to keep lifted through your upper back and keep the lower back level – no twisting! Pause for 2-3 seconds then return to neutral and repeat on the opposite side. Aim to do 10 repetitions on each side.
- Pallof Press
The Pallof press is great for really working your oblique muscles, but requires stiffening and activation of the whole of your core. You have to keep the core stiff and neutral while the resistance band or cable machine is trying to twist you round.
To set it up either use a cable machine or a resistance band attached securely to something to the side of you – a bannister rail works perfectly for this.
Stand with the band to the side of you, with a neutral spine and slightly soften your knees. Hold the band in both hands and position your hands in front of your chest – there should be a small amount of tension in the band or cable at this point.
From here, engage your core and reach both hands out in front of you, making sure not to allow your hips or upper body to twist round.
Pause for 2-3 seconds then bring the hands back in. Aim for 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each side.
If this is too easy you can either step slightly further away from the band to add more stretch, use a stronger band or add more weight to the cable machine. If you’re not sure – its always best to start lighter and add more weight.
- Stir the Pot
This is a great core exercise and much harder than it looks! It can be done in a half plank position (i.e. on your knees) or in a full plank position for more of a challenge.
To do this place your forearms on a swiss ball with your shoulders positioned over your elbows. Transfer the weight onto your forearms and balance either between your feet and elbows or knees and elbows, dependent on which position your using – this is essentially a plank position on the ball!
From here, moving from the shoulders and keeping the spine still, move the ball in 10 small circles in one direction, then 10 in the other!
Remember, core exercises are for preventing, not relieving, pain. If you are in pain when you work-out you should have an assessment to find out why.
Our chiropractors have worked with thousands of weight-lifters and athletes in their careers and can help you get the best from your body, as well as quickly sorting any injuries that you may have.