In the first part of this series, we explored how you can improve core strength and endurance with isometric exercises. Planks, side planks and the other exercises that don’t involve motion are highly effective by themselves, but to enable your body to deliver midline stability in unstable conditions, you need the ability to preserve proper trunk position while moving. Which brings us to this week’s Paddle Healthy focus on movement-based core exercises.
While we’ve broken up core exercises into dynamic and non-dynamic groups, they’re not mutually exclusive. You can mix and match to improve your strength and endurance in your stabilizing muscles from head-to-toe, for example, performing planks, medicine ball rotations and side planks during one workout, and glute bridges, mountain climbers and hollow holds in another. It’s also a good idea to incorporate compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and dips into your routine, to further develop core strength that will help you paddle at a higher level with correct posture and, hopefully, keep you injury-free. —Phil White
This is one of the most effective and challenging core exercises because it combines stability through the hips, shoulders, abdominals, and lower back, with high aerobic demands (i.e. you’ll be out of breath the first few times you do it if you’re working hard enough).
How to do it: Get into the top of the pushup position, and alternate bringing one knee up to your chest and back to the starting position. Go slowly at first and add speed as you feel your work capacity increasing.
Form tip: Pace yourself. One of the mistakes for beginners is trying to go all Usain Bolt in the first few seconds, only to find they can’t maintain the pace with proper form.
Make it harder: Another great thing about mountain climbers is that there are so many variations. Instead of moving each knee to your chest, try going to the inside or outside of the opposite elbow. You can add even greater rotation to replicate the trunk twist in your paddling stroke by bringing the knee to the side of your body between your opposite hip and shoulder.
Duration/sets: Start with three sets of 45 seconds and increase both, as needed to push yourself.
Medicine Ball Swings (AKA Woodchoppers)
A lot of gym exercises just train us to move more efficiently through one movement plane, such as jumping straight up or lunging forward. But, life is multi-directional, so your training should be too. Medicine ball swings are one of the best exercises to develop power and stability on your SUP board, as they mimic the twisting element of the paddling stroke.
How to do it: With slightly bent knees (think: a quarter squat), and holding a medicine ball in both hands by your left hip, twist your upper body to the right and raise the ball overhead. Then, put the ball down to the right hip and reverse the motion.
Form tip: Initiate the twist with your trunk instead of trying to make this an arms- and shoulders-only exercise. Try to keep each part of the exercise fluid and the same speed, the same as an efficient paddling stroke or golf swing.
Make it harder: Too easy? Grab a heavier medicine ball, or use a 25-, 35- or 45-pound plate instead. You can also deepen your squat.
Reps/sets: Start with 10 reps on each side for three sets.
No, we’re not going into car repairs on you. Instead, this is another exercise that will not only increase your heart rate, but also challenge you to maintain stability through a rotational movement to both sides of your body.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your arms out to the sides so your upper body is in a ‘T’ shape. With your feet together and legs extended, raise both legs until they’re straight up in the air (or as close as your hamstring flexibility allows). Keeping your legs straight, lower them toward your left side until you feel your obliques contract, move back to the center, and then to the right.
Form tip: Keep your lower back tight and perform this exercise slowly. You’ll feel it in your back immediately if you’re doing it wrong.
Make it harder: Do a similar motion on a pull-up bar, using either arm harnesses or just your arms, but pull your legs up across your body, either with knees bent or legs straight, depending on what feels more natural. Your forearms won’t thank you, but you’ll get stronger throughout your core.
Reps/sets: Start with five reps on each side for three sets. Yes, the rep count is lower, and you’ll soon see why! You can always add more reps or sets if you’re not feeling challenged.
Medicine Ball Slams
There’s a reason CrossFit athletes have a love-hate relationship with the medicine ball: it’s great for developing core strength. but can be a killer at the end of a tough Workout of the Day (WOD). One of the best exercises with this tool is the medicine ball slam, which not only builds core strength, but also power in the arms, back and shoulders.
How to do it: Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and a medicine ball in both hands, raise the ball overhead as you rise up on your toes and then explosively slam it into the floor. Pick up the ball and repeat. When possible, use a leather or synthetic leather ball, as this can go wrong really fast with a rubber ball.
Form tip: Contract your abs and glutes throughout the exercise to generate maximum power and protect your lower back.
Make it harder: Add a jump at the beginning, slamming the ball down and away from your feet as you reach the peak of your jump. Or, do this and use a heavier ball.
Reps/sets: Three sets of 10 reps.