Core training is a hot topic across the different disciplines of fitness. Your core (or trunk) is the central pillar of your movement. While you may know the core by its anatomical components, you should also consider it as a functional engine of total-body stability and athletic prowess.
Your core directly supports your performance in Olympic lifting. Strong abs, obliques, and a solid lower back are critical for maintaining your posture in the snatch or clean. Further, your core also provides sensory feedback to your nervous system and acts as a physiological anchor to help keep all the moving parts of a lift in their correct places.
If a strong core is essential to lifting big on the platform, you need to train it properly. A stable, well-developed trunk is one that is resistant to unwanted motion, but can effectively control a loaded barbell. For weightlifters, crunches and sit-ups won’t suffice on their own.
Here are 10 of the best core accessories that you as a weightlifter should include in your training, as well as some extra info about how they can benefit your performance.
Best Core Exercises for Weightlifting
- Hollow Hold
- Dead Bug
- Glute Bridge
- Single-Arm Carry
- Ab Rollout
- Barbell Side Bend
- Barbell Overhead Sit-Up
- Hanging Leg Raise
A “hollow” position of the body is what sets the core musculature in place. It’s a rigid isometric contraction that braces the midsection by “clamping down” your ribcage so it aligns with your pelvis. This position is the precursor for all types of dynamic, loaded movement. The hollow brace is highly involved in weightlifting movements such as the pull, squat, or press.
Benefits of the Hollow Hold
- It’s an accessible first building block of activating the core.
- The position solidifies the trunk in place while you train under load.
- The isometric contraction is a good way to beef up your abs.
How to Do the Hollow Hold
Lay on the floor on your back with your knees bent. Your lower back should be slightly arched and off the ground. Exhale deeply and fully, and contract your abdominals to “press your back” into the ground. From there, extend your knee such that your legs are straightened and off the ground.
The plank is a progression of the hollow hold in which you support your body on your arms and legs. With your trunk and legs off the ground, your core has to resist the downward force of gravity by maintaining total-body tension. The plank is a great way to practice basic isometric contraction that should translate to your lifts.
Benefits of the Plank
- The plank helps you develop spatial awareness between your core and limbs.
- The position holds tension against gravity, which is a necessary stepping stone to bracing against a heavy barbell.
- The position strengthens the shoulders, wrists, and upper body musculature.
How to Do the Plank
Set up your plank on your hands and knees. For the basic plank, bend your elbows and plant your forearms on the ground. Extend both your legs and balance on the balls of your feet. Engage your glutes so that your abdomen is in a tight hollow hold position. Hold still for time.
The dead bug is a fantastic basic core movement that teaches you how to move your limbs in space while maintaining a braced abdomen. Since weightlifting is so dynamic and involves a lot of quick motion, you have to know how to keep your core locked down while your arm is over your head or your legs are bent.
Benefits of the Dead Bug
- It’s a dynamic movement that trains fine motor control and isometric strength.
- The dead bug is unilateral, which helps you learn to move one limb at a time under control.
How to Do the Dead Bug
Lie on the floor on your back with your legs in the air and knees bent. Your arms should be straight and pointed at the ceiling. From here, collapse your core into a hollow brace. With your lower back flush against the ground, slowly lower your left arm behind your head while extending your right leg. Return to the starting position and do the same with the opposite arm and leg.
Your glutes contribute to core strength by holding your pelvis in place. Without strong glutes, you’ll probably feel unstable as you try to align your core properly to lift. Your gluteal muscles have incredible strength and power potential, which can protect your core from unwanted motion — if you know how to activate them.
Benefits of the Glute Bridge
- The exercise teaches you to contract your glutes in isolation.
- Stronger glutes may help balance out any anterior-posterior strength discrepancies.
- Stronger glutes will help you generate more vertical motion on your barbell.
How to Do the Glute Bridge
Lay on the floor on your back with your knees bent and feet planted flat on the floor, parallel to each other. Brace your core and then contract your glutes to push your hips upward until you’re in a straight line from your kneecap to your shoulders.
A strong core requires an equally strong lower back — this is especially true in weightlifting movements. To stay upright while you pull on a snatch or clean, you need significant posterior chain strength. You can think of the hyperextension as a reverse hip hinge and a good way to train rigidity in your spine under load.
Benefits of the Hyperextension
- Directly stimulates posterior chain development.
- Provides a good way to isolate your lower back without using heavy weights.
- Teaches you how to maintain a rigid and erect spine under load.
How to Do the Hyperextension
To perform the hyperextension, you need a glute-ham raise bench or an elevated flat surface to lie on. With your legs flat on the pad and your torso hanging off the edge, contract your lower back until you raise your trunk up to be parallel with the ground. Your body should be in a rigid, straight line from head to toe.
Weightlifting is a bilateral sport. You use both sides of your body simultaneously to send a snatch or jerk overhead. As such, you should probably include some unilateral core training to stave off any side-to-side inconsistencies or prevent injury.
Benefits of the Single-Arm Carry
- Single-arm carries help to prevent any potential imbalances in your core or posture.
- Unilateral movement identifies weaknesses that may not be obvious while working with the barbell.
- The dynamic movement especially targets the asymmetrical style of the split jerk.
How to Do the Single-Arm Carry
Grab a single dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand. With it held at your side, clamp your core down and walk in a straight line without allowing your torso to tilt to the side you’re holding the weight on.
For added difficulty, you can hold the weight out to the side or even over your head with a straight arm. Make sure you practice carries with the weight on both sides.
Your core is placed under an immense amount of stress when it has to contract and stabilize your spine while your arms are over your head, such as in the snatch or even the squat jerk. To have good overhead stability, you need to train your core in a way that simulates that posture.
You can use the ab rollout to teach your core to remain clamped down and braced while your arm drifts back behind your head.
Benefits of the Ab Rollout
- This exercise trains the ability of your arms to extend fully overhead against weight with a tight core.
- Rollouts help train your bilateral balance and overhead stability simultaneously.
How to Do the Ab Rollout
You’ll need an ab wheel to perform the rollout, but a loaded barbell can work in a pinch as well. Start on your knees with a slight forward lean in your torso and the wheel directly under your shoulders. Brace your core and slowly roll it out in front of you with straight arms.
Take things slow, as the rollout gets exponentially harder the further you go. Only roll as far as you can maintain a contracted and aligned core. Once you hit your limit, or your torso touches the floor, reverse the motion by using your lats to “pull” your torso back to the starting position.
Weightlifting largely takes place in the frontal plane of movement, but you shouldn’t neglect your obliques. A simple barbell side bend is a great way to target the sides of your core as part of a warm-up for training or during your accessory work.
Benefits of the Barbell Side Bend
- This exercise isolates the obliques to increase hypertrophy.
- Side bends address imbalances that may occur in bilateral movement.
How to do the Barbell Side Bend
Place a barbell on your traps like you would for a standard back squat. Put your feet close together, directly under your hips or even closer. With an upright torso and your elbows pointed downward, squeeze your glutes and tilt your torso to one side. You should feel an intense contraction in your obliques. Reverse the motion, and then tilt to the opposite side.
A stable overhead position with a strong core secures a good lift. The barbell overhead sit-up mimics the same core action that is involved in finishing a snatch or jerk. Your core must support your trunk while your shoulder goes through its full range of motion under load, all of which occur in weightlifting training as well.
Benefits of the Barbell Overhead Sit-Up
- Helps develop your shoulder mobility.
- Teaches you to constantly push up against a loaded barbell.
- The dynamic movement imposes valuable balance training overhead.
How to Do the Barbell Overhead Sit-Up
Lay on your back with your feet firmly planted on the floor and a barbell fixed over your head with straight arms. Contract your abs to perform a sit-up while taking care to ensure your arm remains vertical throughout. The angle of your arm should not change as you bring your torso up.
If the movement is too challenging, you can scale it down and use a PVC pipe, dowel, or light kettlebell instead.
Your core strength in weightlifting also affects your ability to perform a hip hinge. Most core exercises work your abs by flexing your trunk while your legs remain still, but your abdominals also pull your legs into a bent position.
Benefits of the Hanging Leg Raise
- Hanging from an overhead bar forces your core to work overtime to stabilize your trunk while moving your legs.
- Provides ample range of motion for more time under tension.
How to Do the Hanging Leg Raise
Hang from a pull-up bar or other fixed station with an overhand grip. Brace your core in a hollow hold and squeeze your entire body to prevent any fluttering or swaying. Slowly raise your legs up as high as possible.
You can perform leg raises with an extended knee for added difficulty, or you can keep your knees bent to reduce the challenge on your abs as you adjust to the movement.
The “core” is a catch-all term for the many muscles that make up your abdomen and their various movement-related responsibilities. In order to properly train your core, you need to understand some basic anatomy. There’s a lot more going on beyond having six-pack abs.
The rectus abdominis is the long sheet of muscle that runs down the front of your abdominal wall. It’s what you probably think of when you think of your abs. The muscle is responsible for controlling flexion and extension of the torso — think of how hard you have to work to resist collapsing in a heavy clean or front squat. That’s your rectus abdominis at work.
The obliques are muscles that run down the sides of your core to support twisting and bending motions of the trunk. Functions of the obliques are flexion and extension of the torso in the frontal and rotational planes.
These muscles are also responsible for the overall resistance of unwanted rotational motion, such as when you receive a barbell in a lopsided or unbalanced way.
The transverse abdominis is the deep layer of internal abdominal muscle. It provides central substance to the larger core muscles when you brace your abs. Functions of the transverse abdominis include protecting the internal organs and holding the trunk in place.
Your diaphragm is the part of your core that controls breathing. The muscle lies between your chest and your abdomen. In a lift like the snatch or clean, your diaphragm is activated by filling your lungs completely to hold firmly against the abdominal pressure created by your core muscles. A tight lift is reliant on contraction of the diaphragm.
The erector spinae are the large muscles that run down your backside. This major muscle group supports the upright posture of your spine. Functions of the erector spinae include extension of the abdomen, and even come into play to help tilt or twist your torso when needed.
Your glutes could also be considered a part of your core for the role they play in stabilizing your pelvis. In order to achieve a braced hollow position, your hips must be in extension, which is simply not feasible without engaged glutes.
In weightlifting, your glutes also produce much of the athletic power you need to drive a barbell to arm’s length.
Benefits of Training the Core
Core training pays off in your lifting because it unifies all the other moving parts. Read on to learn more about how beneficial core work can be to your performance.
Your central nervous system controls human locomotion and plays a direct role in the function of your core. All movement patterns start in the brain and then action is signaled to the corresponding muscle groups via nerve receptors.
A well-developed core can help you integrate a higher quality of movement by acting as the “baseline” through which motor function commands travel. Without a strong core, your legs can’t effectively push against a heavy weight.
The core has to hold your body tight from the moment your barbell breaks off the ground. Core activation is involved in all lifts and movements to some degree, whether or not you’re doing crunches on an ab mat.
When it comes to weightlifting, extra core training will help you maintain a tighter and more stable posture overall, especially in the pulling and recovery phases of either the snatch or clean.
Symmetry and Balance
Core work — especially unilateral exercises — helps to establish a stable structure from which you can generate force or utilize your strength potential. If you’re comprehensive and diligent about your core training, you’re likely to see better returns with a barbell in your hands in terms of stability and confidence.
It’s possible for a lift to go awry in a way that challenges your core control, and you’ll be thankful you trained to be more stable in practice when it comes time to save a big lift.
Your core carries a lot of weight, both figuratively and literally, in the gym and on the lifting platform. Olympic lifting may feel like enough of an ab work in its own right (and it certainly does challenge your midsection), but you shouldn’t neglect training your abs in isolation.
Some dedicated ab work once or twice per week can pay off when you least expect it. When you’re setting up to attempt a new personal record clean & jerk, the last thing you want to worry about is whether your abs can bear the load. Stay on top of your core training, and you can approach the bar with confidence every time.
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