If you’re trying to create your next weighted core workout, then we have the exercises for you. With a dumbbell and a kettlebell weight you’ll be able to create a diverse workout for the abs that doesn’t have any crunches in it.
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Looking to add some intensity to your core work and not sure which are the best weighted exercises to use? Well, look no further, here we have 22 of the most effective weighted core exercises for you to add into your training today so you can build a strong and robust core that will be aesthetic and performant.
Core strength is important for athletes as it is a vehicle to transfer force from the lower body to the upper (1) This means athletes who require strong cores should be training this physical characteristic just as if they needed a strong back or legs.
It’s important to understand which sports core training will have an impact on when considering this claim. It’s unlikely that core training will have a statistically significant effect on running performance. Not to say that runners should never do core training, buts its unlikely to have a large impact on your 5k time. That being said, to a rugby player who needs to dynamically rip an opposing player out of a maul, to think dynamic trunk strength wouldn’t be beneficial would be naive. Each sport requires different physical characters and fitness levels, some benefit from having a strong trunk much more so than others.
According to Mike Boyle, a widely respected strength and conditioning coach, "Rotational core exercises are incredibly important for athletes because most sports involve movement in multiple planes of motion, including rotation. A strong, stable, and mobile core is essential for optimal athletic performance and injury prevention. Rotational exercises can help improve rotational power, increase thoracic spine mobility, and enhance overall core stability, which translates to improved sports performance.” (2)
One of the main benefits of using a weighted ab exercise is its ability to improve balance. It has been shown that core training can have a statistically significant (3) difference to balance in middle-aged men. As balance is such a key component to health as we age, using core training as a supplement to general day to day health gets more and more important. Improved balance requires more than just just ab workouts, so make sure you use the variety of movement patterns discussed below.
Strength and conditioning coaches are in agreement about how important core training is for balance, here is a quote from Nick Tumminello a renowned strength and conditioning coach about the relationship between core strength and balance. "Core training should be an integral part of any balance training program. Strong core muscles help stabilize the spine and pelvis, allowing for better balance during movement. Core exercises can help improve proprioception, or the body's ability to sense its position in space, which is essential for maintaining balance.” (4)
When we add more resistance to exercises we increase the amount of stimulus put on the system which in turn leads to better adaptation. In other words adding weight where appropriate can help you build much stronger abs and core. This isn’t to say that bodyweight exercises are not effective it just means some movement patterns, like resisting rotation cannot be developed without weights.
Using weight in core exercises can be a valuable tool for improving core strength and function. However, it's important to start with lighter weights and gradually increase the weight as strength and form improve, to avoid injury.
These movement patterns wouldn’t be able to be worked without some form of resistance, meaning using weights is the best way to develop these movement patterns. These movements are so important to develop and yet most people only focus on the anterior core (abs) and never develop their full trunk and core muscles. Thankfully all the exercises below will give you plenty of examples of exercises you can use to develop a well rounded core for both aesthetics and performance.
Weighted carries are one of the most effective ways to work the body in unison, as one works without too much emphasis on a specific muscle group. Although the main adaption is the core and trunk musculature, it works in conjunction with the entire body, creating systemic adaptation. These types of carries can help people see huge progress in their core strength, and since they are such a low skill level these adaptations can be gained by a practitioner of any level.
Both of these methods are effective ways to add core training with weights into your movement regime. Neither is superior to the other, it’s usually just a question of which fits better into your timetable.
Full body resistance training is one of the best ones to use resistance training to stay fit and healthy. It involves training multiple parts of the body within one session rather than putting emphasis on a specific muscle group. This often means you can stay very fit and healthy with two resistance training sessions a week, while incorporating other movement sessions into your schedule like low intensity cardiovascular training.
Finding balance between the different core movement patterns is important to think about when implementing these into your training sessions, the four key core movement patterns are;
“Anterior core stability exercises teach the body to resist excessive lumbar spine extension (arching), and encompass a variety of drills” say Eric Cressey from Cressey Sport Performance.
Resisting rotation exercises require the trunk to resist against a force that is pulling on it to rotate. A perfect example of a resisting rotation exercise is the Pallof Press . These styles of exercise are most effective for working the oblique musculature.
Rotation exercise are excellent for athletic populations as they help develop dynamic trunk strength which is crucial in some contact sports. Exercises like cross chops are particularly effective at creating this stimulus.
Finally anti-lateral flexion exercises like the suitcase hold and farmers carry require the body to resist lateral flexion while a weight attempts to pull the body out of position.
During your week of training you should always try and implement these different kinds of core training, leading to a well rounded and strong core. In the sample circuit below you’ll see how three of them have been added to the session. Be sure to look at the label on each exercise and you will see which movement category the exercise falls under.
A final note should be made on progressive overload , this is the principle of progressively adding intensity to a certain exercise or movement pattern. This is extremely effective with these style of weighted core exercises where you can progressively add weight.
This principle should be used with core exercises just like with other movement patterns. If you start your anterior core exercises with deadbug holds and over the course of 6-12 months you progress to hollow holds, you have progressively overloaded the anterior core movement pattern and successfully adapted to it. The same could be said if you started doing suitcase holds at 6kg and build up to a point where you can use 18kg, you've gotten significantly stronger.
These are some of the best options for weighted ab workouts. Using these can have the benefit of increasing strength in one of the key movement patterns while simultaneously improving core stability. Here is a great example of an asymmetrical movement that greatly challenges the core.
“ Tall Kneeling Cable Press to Overhead Lift - Asymmetrical presses are usually only a big challenge to rotary and lateral core stability, but adding the overhead reach component kicks up the anterior core challenge.”
Complete 4 rounds
The core is so much more than just the abdominals (rectus abdominus), its a very large group of muscles that connect the upper and lower body that consists of:
All of these groups of musculature come together to make the core muscles. This is why so many different styles of movement patterns can be used to improve the core muscles. When programming to improve the core musculature, it’s important to remember just how many muscle groups are involved and where clients and athletes may have specific weak points.
Yes. Some exercises more than others but the majority of weightlifting exercises work the core musculature. Using mainly free weights and weights exercises that require core stabilisation you can see dramatic improvement in core strength through just lifting weights.
Yes, dumbbell exercises can be an extremely effective tool for improving core strength and are featured in the list above numerous times. Additionally weight plate exercises can be an excellent weighted ab exercise along with some barbell exercises.
Add weight once you feel like the weight you’re currently using isn’t providing enough stimulus, this can be a fine line, get some help from a personal trainer if you need advice from an expert. Try and following the principle of progressive overload as mentioned above, when you feel like you have adapted to a stimulus, increase the weight incrementally.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.