4 Core Exercises To Actually Improve Your Squat and Deadlift

You need more than planks alone.

No matter what your gym or athletic goals are, squats and deadlifts play a major role in getting stronger and injury prevention, plus they’re the foundation of your  power and hypertrophy too.

To get better at both you need to spend some serious time under and over the bar. But you also need to give special consideration to the programming and accessory exercises, which will help prevent injury but also improve your performance in the squat and deadlift.

Making sure your mid-section is up for the challenge of lifting heavy weight is a priority.


Why A Stronger Core Is Important For Squats & Deadlifts

The core has many functions but its most important is resisting movement while you’re moving. Think anti extension, anti-rotation, and anti-flexion.

When you’re squatting or deadlifting, keeping your spine neutral and body in good alignment is important for good technique and preventing injury.

Surprise, surprise a stronger core makes this happen. Think of your core as a bridge between your lower and upper body. When the bridge cannot stand the weight on it, it begins to break and bad things start to happen.

Because you are only as strong as your weakest link.

Don’t let your core be your weakest link. Program these four exercises from some of the smartest minds in the fitness industry.

[Related: Not training anti-rotation? Check out our guide to the Pallof press]

Back Extensions

From Travis Pollen, PhD

Strong hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors are a must for squats and deadlifts. What’s one exercise that targets the entire posterior chain in one fell swoop? Back extensions.

There are two ways to do back extensions, depending on which muscles you specifically want to target:

  1. The first way is to emphasize the hamstrings and glutes, with the erectors working isometrically. In this case, you want to move from the hips, thrusting them into the pad as you come up and squeezing your abs and glutes hard at the top. A little chin tuck and upper back rounding is okay here, and there’s no need to come up past parallel.
  2. The second way is to focus more on the erectors through dynamic spinal extension. You can even go into some lumbar hyperextension at the top. This technique is the reason the exercise is sometimes called “back hyperextensions,” although like I show in the first version, you can do the exercise without hyperextending.

To avoid pre-fatiguing these important muscles, program back extensions after your main lifts. In terms of loading, bodyweight is a good place to start, focusing on the mind-muscle connection. Once you’re doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps comfortably, progress by holding a dumbbell at your chest.

One thing to watch out for is a huge head rush coming out of the exercise. Move out of the working position slowly to avoid it.

[Related: Learn the difference between the glute ham raise and back extension]

Adductor Tension Rollover

 From Kevin Mullins, CSCS

Using the adductor rension rollover is excellent for activating the muscles deep in the core, the spiral sling, and the link between lat tension and hip flexion.

When combined with traditional deadlift or squat methodologies that promote more abduction and external rotation, this opposite action serves to completely activate the system in preparation for the more challenging movements.

Consider using this primer paired with banded glute bridges or heavy goblet squats as your prep your body to take on the heavier pattern.

Another benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked with this exercise is the additional strengthening of the obliques and hip flexors, two areas that when left unchecked can lead to unwanted rotation at the peak tension point in either the squat or deadlift.

Pullover Dead Bug

From Jason Leenaarts, Coach & Owner of RevFit

One of the issues I often see is that when left to bodyweight, some people just go through the motions and don’t keep tension in the core with this exercise. This particular variation aims to solve that problem.

When you slow the movement down, you’re focusing on the tension in the abdomen and the tension created by keeping the lumbar spine from arching as the leg extends out and down.

In addition, you’re focusing on the tension created by allowing the kettlebell to work back behind your head. When we coach bracing for the squat and the deadlift, it’s that 360-degree focus that we want from front to back of the midsection.

I love how this particular dead bug variation gives the lifter a better idea of what tension under load feels like without the barbell.

[Related: 3 core blasting variations of the dead bug]

One Arm Front Rack March And Scorpion

From Dr. Bo Babenko, DPT

Unilateral spinal loading helps fix hidden imbalances and ultimately gets our entire strength system to keep growing. I like this variation, as the marches and lunges place unique challenges on the obliques and require the core to adapt to frequent changes.

This isn’t meant to be “muscle confusion”, rather this is a targeted way to challenge the core as a supplement to any other demands we place on the spine from squats to deadlifts to holding a baby.

And I always like to throw in the scorpion stretch to continue to “wring out” the juices of the spine.

Wrapping Up

The reason you put yourself under strain doing squats and deadlifts is to improve. But spending more time under and over the bar will only get you so far. Intelligent programming of these four core exercises will prevent injury and improve your technique.  

Featured image via Bojan Milinkov/Shutterstock