There are so many exercises that could be in the top 6 and I am sure I am leaving out a lot of good ones, but I narrowed it down to 6 exercises that are not predominantly ab exercises (with the exception of two) but I find really engage my core. Getting a nice mid-section isn’t about doing 1000 sit-ups a day. There are three different planes of movement (sagittal, frontal, and transverse) and you need to make sure you are engaging your core in all three in order to have a strong core which will decrease the chances for abnormal movement of the spine.
1. Overhead squats- I was telling another figure competitor last week that I believe that overhead squats are one of the top ways to engage your core. As you slowly go down into a full squat position with weight overhead, you must engage your core in order to stabilize the weight.
2. Power snatch- The full squat snatch is most likely as beneficial as the power version when it comes to engage your core since you are catching it in the same bottom position as your overhead squat, but since we can put that in with overhead squats, I will talk about the power snatch. Since you are standing up with the weight and pulling it above your head within a matter of 1.5 seconds, you must engage your core in order to move heavy weight to the overhead position, especially when you aren’t going into a full squat. Since this is a highly technical movement, make sure you have correct form before doing this exercise.
3. Pull-ups- The pull-up is probably one of the most core engaging upper body exercises you can do (I am thinking push press or shoulder press are up there as well). If you aren’t squeezing your abs as you are pulling your body over the bar, there’s a good chance you aren’t able to do many reps. If you can’t do body-weight pull-ups, grab a band and use that for assistance. You could use the assistant machines if you don’t have another option, but I think it really hinders your ability to engage your abs and it does not allow you to use the same mechanics compared to using your bodyweight or even a band for that matter. I would also suggest using a lat pull down machine vs an assistant machine because you should be able to really squeeze your abs as you pull down the bar to your chest.
4. Toes to bar-Now I am not talking about the kipping toes to bar, I am talking about the strict version. This is one of two ab exercises listed, but I think it is one of the best ones that i’ve come across. If you struggle to get your toes to the bar, try straight leg raises as high as you can get them, or knee raises instead.
5. Barbell Rollouts- These can be done on your knees or from a standing position, but make sure to keep your shoulders tight as you roll outward with the barbell. Once you go out as far as you can, pull the bar back in and make sure to engage your abs throughout the whole movement!
6. Sprints- Now this isn’t really an exercise per say, but it may be the best thing to do for your core. Sprinting will take its toll on your body, so make sure you properly warm up (15 min warm up at least) and include some short distance runs (I usually do the distance I plan on running for my sprints–unless you are doing sprints over 100m) where you start off moderate and then increase your speed with each one in order to get your muscles ready to sprint. Make sure if it is your first time doing sprints in a while, you start off with a shorter distance and fewer sprints. You may feel fine as you are doing them, but you should expect to be sore all over the following day!
Not sure how to do some of these movements properly? Go to youtube and type in the exercise and watch videos of people doing the movements and tutorials for each exercise in order to have a better understanding!