In recent years there has been a massive interest in core training and core stability, and with it a plethora of information, gadgets, ideas, and other factors that have affected the way that people train their cores.
Whilst some of this is positive and has helped to get people thinking about different ways to train the core, there are many exercises and methods that are much more simple, effective and won’t cost you a dime.
There hasn’t been much emphasis on these methods, outside of perhaps the gymnastics and climbing community. My goal is to share these methods with you, so that you can train your core to be as strong as humanly possible.
Why Is Core Strength so Important?
The core is responsible for nearly all stabilization, and every movement that the body makes has its basis in a solid foundation from the core.
The muscles of the core fire 40 to 50 milliseconds before an actual movement (be that a hook, cross, or bob and weave) take place.
This is so that the arm, leg, or other body part has a solid foundation on which to anchor the movement. As a result of having a strong core, you will improve posture, balance and positioning, three essential attributes in boxing.
If your core is not very strong, or is not as strong as it could be, then it doesn’t matter how strong the other body parts are; you will always be at a distinct disadvantage to someone who has greater core strength. As the saying goes, “you cannot fire a cannon from a canoe“.
Simple Core Strengthening Exercises
The exercises in this section will concentrate on the muscles in the front of the torso. These muscles are responsible for flexion of the spine, or bending forward from the waist. Most people know these muscles as the six-pack.
The plank has to be the easiest and simplest exercise for the stomach, and is the best starting point for those who are new to core training, or those who are not really sure of their strength or fitness levels.
- To perform the plank, place your forearms on the floor, stretch the rest of your body out and support yourself on your toes.
- You can also just hold the top part of a push-up position. Both variations are the same, so just choose the one that you prefer.
- Keeping your torso straight, hold this position for as long as possible.
As soon as your hips start to drop and your form starts to deteriorate, place your knees on the ground and rest.
- To exercise your abs even more, raise one leg upwards slowly and back down, then repeat.
2) Dish Hold
The dish is a basic gymnastics position that generates a lot of tension in the core.
- To perform the dish, lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms by your sides.
- Lift your shoulders, upper back, and legs off the floor, ensuring that you lower back and middle back do not arch, and remain in contact with the ground. Your arms can either be stretched above your head, or in front of you (as if you are trying to reach your toes).
- Hold this position for as long as possible.
3) Swiss Ball Plank
Swiss balls are used for core training by many people, and especially for core and stability exercises. Nearly all gyms will have one, they can be bought for very little money for home use.
The swiss ball plank is much more challenging than the normal plank variation we have looked at already. This is because the ball is free to move around, forcing your muscles to control not only the body, but the movement of the ball as well.
- To perform the stability ball plank, put your forearms on the ball. Space them apart so to increase your control.
- Support yourself on your toes and keep the body straight. Move the ball forward until you feel a strain on the core muscles.
- Hold yourself in this position for as long as possible.
- You can also do it in reverse, with your forearms on the ground and your toes on the swiss ball instead.
You can check out a variety of swiss balls here.
The oblique’s (or sides of the torso), are responsible for lateral flexion of the torso, or bending at the waist from side to side.
4) Side Plank
The side plank is the easiest of all of the oblique movements, so that is where we will start for this group of exercises. It is exactly the same in principle to the normal plank, but is performed with the body in a side position to place more of a demand on the muscles on the side of the torso.
- To perform the side plank, place one forearm on the ground directly below your shoulder.
- Stretch your legs out placing the side of your foot on the ground with the other foot resting on top of it.
- Keep your body as straight as possible and then hold this position. Your hips will want to drop down to the ground so keep your core muscles engaged to stop this from happening.
- To exercise your oblique’s even more, raise your outer leg upwards slowly and then back down, then repeat.
5) Weighted Side Bends
Weighted side bends are really good for developing flexibility in the waist, and also place a huge demand on the oblique’s. The reason for this is that they stretch the muscle before forcing it to contract, which makes the movement much harder to execute.
To perform the weighted side bend you will need a bar of some kind. To start with this can be something as simple as a broom handle.
As you progress and develop more strength, you may wish to start using a barbell that you can add weight to.
- To perform weighted side bends, stand with your feet wider than shoulder width apart, making sure you feel as stable as possible.
- Hold the bar you are using with a wide grip above your head. Make sure that your elbows are not fully locked out. Not only can you support a heavier weight this way, but you can also lean further.
- From here, lean over sideways, making sure that you bend from the waist. Pay particular attention to your arms. You do not want your shoulders or your arms to come anywhere near your head.
- Lean over as far as your flexibility allows. You should feel a big stretch in the muscles in the sides of your torso.
- From this bent position use only the muscles in your sides to return to the starting position. This counts as one repetition. Make sure to work both sides equally as to not develop any strength imbalances.
You can check out a variety of dumbbells here.
Many people think of the core as only consisting of the muscles of the stomach. The lower back is part of the core, and so we should not train the abdominals at the expense of the muscles at the rear of your body.
6) Dorsal Raises Back Arch
Although developing the front and sides of the core is important, we should not neglect the lower back. An excellent exercise for this is the dorsal raise back arch. This is a simple movement.
- To perform this exercise, lie on your front with your arms and legs stretched out.
- Now attempt to raise your chest and legs up at the same time. Bend your arms and put your fingers on your temple, or to make it more difficult, you can stretch your arms out in front of you. Your body should form a very shallow “U” shape.
- Lower down to the start position. This counts as one repetition.
- Alternatively, you can just raise and lower your chest without lifting your legs.
7) Opposite Arm Leg Lifts
This is a beginner level back exercise that really helps to improve the strength of the entire core.
It also helps to improve posture by working all of the muscles in the posterior chain, which is the technical name for all of the muscles that reside in the back of the body. It also improves balance due to the uneven nature of the exercise.
- Get on your hands and knees with your head relaxed and your back in a flat position.
- Keeping as much control as possible, raise your right arm out in front of yourself, until it becomes horizontal. At the same time do the same with your left leg. Your arm and leg should reach this extended position at the same time.
- Now pull your arms and leg back in at the same time, and repeat the movement with the opposite arm and leg. This counts as one repetition.
- To make it a bit more strenuous, you can hold some light weights while doing this or you can do this exercise when you’re in the dorsal raise / plank position.
This exercise often catches many people out, the most common problem being a lack of balance and control when both limbs are in the air. To remedy this, try lifting your hand off of the ground first, and then following with your leg. This will enable you to “set” your position before your body becomes too unstable.
8) German Hang
The German hang will develop strength and flexibility in the shoulders and back, and prepare the body for the progressions towards the back lever (see example of the German Hang here).
- To get into the German hang, grasp the pull-up bar or rings with an overhand/underhand grip.
- Keeping your elbows locked out, tuck your legs up to your chest and rotate backwards. Do not worry about your shoulders. This movement feels awkward at first but is completely natural.
- Keep rotating round until you are facing forwards again. You may now extend your legs down to the floor. You are now in the German hang position.
Incorporating core training into your existing exercise program is quite easy. As the core exercises in this article are broken down into three different areas, we can simply perform movements from each different area once a week, to equal three different training sessions in any given week.
For example, on Monday you could train the front of the core, on Wednesday you could train the oblique’s, and on Friday you could train the back. This would leave you with plenty of time to train other parts of the body, and would also give you time to rest in between training days.
On the other hand, many people have had excellent results from training their core everyday. Bruce Lee was known to do this, and many would argue that he had one of the best cores, both in terms of aesthetics and its functionality. The best method is to try a number of different approaches and see which one works best for you.
Written by: Margaret Simpson
To get the most out of your training, I highly recommend the following articles:
► How to Increase Punching Power
► 10 Tips to Improve Boxing Footwork
► Boxing Basics
► Top 10 Best Heavy Punching Bags
► Top 10 Best Boxing Gloves