The core of the body consists of the lower back, abdomen, pelvis, and hips.
These body parts work together to support your spine and keep you upright, so they’re absolutely essential to keeping you stable and injury-free while doing all sorts of different movements in everyday life, in sports, and while training with weights at the gym.
If your core isn’t strong, you’ll have difficulty moving effectively and you could get injured when trying to perform certain exercises like squats or deadlifts.
What Are Core Structural Exercises?
Core structural exercises focus on functional training to improve balance, stability, and muscular strength.
Core structural exercises are exercises that help to build up your core muscles and improve posture.
Many exercises like push-ups, lunges, planks and various yoga positions can be considered core exercises.
Core structural exercises are typically great for helping you achieve stronger midsection and lower back health as well as overall core stabilization.
You might not see core structural workouts often in gyms but they should be one of your top choices for effective weight loss, increased flexibility, improved circulation, prevention of back pain, and a strong upper body.
Any multi-joint exercise will typically work your core as well.
When you do multi-joint or compound exercises your core muscles always come into play to help stabilize you.
Some examples of these kinds of exercises are squats, push-ups, and overhead press.
What Is Structural Strength Training?
Training your core should never be done as a series of isolated movements (single-joint exercises), or worse, as a bunch of exercises, you simply do because they look cool.
The core is everything from your lower back to your neck, shoulders, and even parts of your legs—and it functions as one cohesive unit that keeps everything aligned properly.
If you have poor posture, have aches and pains, or aren’t moving with optimal efficiency throughout all planes of motion, chances are good that structural strength training will benefit you greatly!
Another way to look at this is functional training. Exercises that benefits your day to life.
Movements that will add value you lift. So never mind crunches, push-ups are far better than working your full core.
Plus it’s a movement that you will do in your day-to-day life.
Like those times when you need to check under the bed for something, you do a push-up to get yourself back up again.
So the next time you fall over you need to be strong enough to get yourself back up again. Crunches add no real benefit to your day-to-day life.
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10 Best Structural Core Exercises
Of the many exercises that you can do to strengthen your core, here are some of the best structural core exercises you can do to improve your balance and stability.
In their most basic form, squats are a compound exercise that strengthens your quads, hamstrings, and glutes as well as your core.
Squats also build bone density and work to tone your lower body.
They’re probably one of the best exercises for overall core structural strength training.
You stand with your feet hip-width apart and toes facing forward, knees slightly bent but not locked.
Lower yourself by pushing through your heels until you’re in a deep squat (knees should be just over or at 90 degrees).
Pause, then raise yourself up again by pressing through your heels until you’re standing tall again.
Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps every other day for strength training; do 3 sets of 20-25 reps every day for muscle toning if you want to lean out; keep increasing repetitions until you get to 60 reps total per set once or twice weekly if you want cardio that doubles as muscle-building exercises.
Let’s look at 3 other squat variations that are great for forcing your core to stabilize and work even harder.
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This squat variation is one of the most effective core-strengthening exercises. The focus here is on strength, not pure power, so you’ll want to keep your reps low: 2-3 per set with 90 seconds of rest in between.
Focus on maintaining a rigid torso and sitting back into your hips instead of breaking at your knees and using momentum to get up.
If you want to work on explosive power, try adding plyometrics or super-slow negatives (explained below). In general, follow these steps:
- Stand tall with feet shoulder width apart
- Squat down until thighs are parallel to floor; push hips back as far as possible
- Hold for 1 second4. Slowly return to standing position
A Zercher squat is a functional exercise that targets your core while also strengthening your legs and lower back.
You can either hold a barbell or dumbbells to complete these squats, but it’s important that you have a barbell placed in front of your thighs for balance purposes.
To execute, you want to hold the bar in the crook of your elbows, then squat down as low as possible.
Once you’ve reached parallel, stand back up and repeat for a high-intensity workout.
The Zercher Squats place more emphasis on stabilizing muscles than many other core exercises; there’s less room for swinging so you’ll be forced to keep better form throughout each rep.
The Overhead Squat is often called a core stability exercise.
It requires tremendous core strength and stability to maintain proper form throughout.
Core structure exercises like squats require you to engage your core in order to maintain proper posture, balance, and alignment.
The overhead squat emphasizes abdominal engagement while also requiring significant upper body strength and mobility (and can serve as a great shoulder rehabilitation exercise).
Be careful to perform these exercises with good form or risk injury!
Also make sure you warm up before performing these exercises as they place an intense load on your joints and muscles, including your back!
If you have any preexisting conditions or injuries it’s best to check with a doctor first before engaging in full range of motion movements like squats.
There are many variations to the push-up.
Two of my favorites are close-grip and diamond push-ups.
Although you’ll likely be able to perform more push-ups if you have longer arms, these versions may be easier on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders than standard push-ups because they target different areas of your muscles.
To perform a standard push-up (or strict as it is sometimes called), assume a plank position with your arms extended and abs tight throughout each repetition.
Lower yourself until your chest nearly touches an elevated surface like a bench or platform, then return to start position.
Perhaps one of the best overall exercises, deadlifts can be done just about anywhere.
Squat down and grab a barbell with a shoulder-width grip, your hands slightly over your knees. Stand up straight to lift it off of its supports.
The weight should sit at waist level—if it doesn’t you may want to lower it.
This movement primarily targets glutes and hamstrings, but also engages muscles all over your body, including core stabilizers like abs and lower back.
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This exercise builds functional strength in your chest, shoulders, and upper back. It also works your core to stabilize you as you press weight away from your body.
This move should be a staple of every person’s workout routine, no matter how fit they are.
Start by using a barbell or dumbbells and build up to performing handstand push-ups.
To perform: set the bar up in a squat rack at shoulder height.
Grab the bar at shoulder width and walk into the bar so it’s easier to lift off and rest on your chest.
Now press the bar up above your head until lockout.
Lower the bar back down into the starting position and repeat for reps.
As a primarily back and arm exercise, pull-ups work your lats, rhomboids, traps, rear delts and biceps to effectively create that tight V-taper look.
For best results and safety, use an overhand grip (palms facing away from you).
Be sure to pull your shoulder blades together before you start.
Start with a short set of one or two repetitions to gain momentum, then increase by adding sets as well as reps.
If you can’t complete at least 10 repetitions comfortably within three sets total, move onto another exercise such as push-ups or inverted rows.
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The hollow hold is a staple of many core and structural exercise routines.
While it’s an advanced position, a lot of people are able to advance through it by pushing through their belly button.
Start by laying on your back, bringing your feet together, and point your toes with straight legs.
Bring your hands above your head and lift your shoulders and feet off the ground bringing your body into a dish shape.
Now hold for as long as you can.
The plank is one of my favorite core structural exercises.
It’s a tried-and-true beginner exercise that works well for people of all fitness levels and experience with exercising.
I can’t speak for all planks, but when I do planks in my own training—generally after deadlifts or other single-leg exercises—I try to build up to holding them for 30 seconds or more.
Pro tip: When doing plank variations, be sure not to let your hips sag toward the floor—keep them as high as possible.
This will help you create a deeper range of motion and reduce your risk of injury. Want to take it up a notch?
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This exercise works your entire backside—and it’s probably one of my favorite go-to exercises for building total-body strength.
It doesn’t require much equipment, either.
It is simple to perform: all you need are two heavy dumbbells or kettlebells.
The concept behind farmers’ carries is simple: grab a pair of heavy dumbbells and walk with them while making sure that they stay at arm’s length from your sides.
For greater core activation try holding just one heavy weight on one side of your body.
Then swap to your other side.
When performed correctly, lunges are an excellent exercise for building core strength.
In addition to working your hamstrings and glutes, lunges will also engage your core muscles (especially your quadratus lumborum).
The key to a successful lunge is learning how to transfer force from your feet into your hips and torso.
To do so, take a large step forward with one leg.
As you bend that knee, try to keep it directly over your foot—not sticking out past it—and try not to let your front knee drift too far in front of your toes.
Transferring energy from one foot to another as you lunge will help strengthen and protect both knees from injury.
To complete each rep, return slowly back up until you’re standing straight again.
For greater core, activation try doing them with a single kettlebell held overhead in one hand.
Alternate your lunges for 10 reps before swapping hands. This is a great exercises for forcing your stabilizers to work even harder.
A deadhang is an exercise that involves keeping your arms straight while holding onto a bar or other support and hanging there without any additional help from your muscles.
It doesn’t look like much, but it’s actually a powerful exercise that works all of your major muscle groups and helps you develop strength, endurance, balance, flexibility, and concentration.
Deadhangs are often used in tandem with other exercises or movements.
For example, you can do them immediately before or after another type of hang to create a quick break in action; they can also be alternated for a more challenging set-up.
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Final Mop Up
The benefits of strength training will amaze you.
From building muscle to improving your metabolism and reducing your risk of injury, there’s a lot to gain from including structured exercise in your weekly routine.
Start slowly and increase your workout intensity over time to take full advantage of these incredible benefits.
As you can see all of these exercises can be done with a wide variety of equipment barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and even resistance bands.