Training: Core


The Rhino. Rocklands, South Africa

The Rhino. Rocklands, South Africa

Crunches and sit-ups – classic. Most of us have been told to do those since elementary school, as they are often included in ab exercise routines. Yet what sport actually uses an athlete’s abdominals in isolation lying on the ground? Running, gymnastics, volleyball, climbing; power and strength are translated throughout the body by utilizing multiple core muscles during both static and dynamic movement. Here are the main issues I have with basic core exercises such as crunches:

  • Limited range of motion
  • Little focus/coordination required
  • Low resistance
  • Flex spine forward – adds to the hunched “office desk” or “climber” posture
  • Boring ; )

This sparked my mission to find core exercises that would better compliment my training as a climber. A key principle of exercise physiology is specificity. Muscles adapt how they are trained, so the closer exercises are to desired skills, the better newly gained strength tends translate.

Specific to climbing, I wanted to

  1. Improve my ability to hold tension and keep my feet on when latching extended deadpoints
  2. Increase stability and strength in my core during lock-offs and long reaches

I’ve listed exercises below that I have found beneficial towards improving full body tension, leg mobility, shoulder stability, muscle coordination, focus, and balance. If you have never used a yoga ball before, some of these exercises may be a bit tricky. I’ve included exercises that allow you adjust the difficulty of certain drills and increase their difficulty over time.


Many of these exercises can be strenuous on the lower back if you are not used to planks, so begin with what is comfortable but challenging for you. Ultimately you want to be able to train again in 2-3 days, so getting so sore you can’t move for a week is not ideal : )

I’ve included a few sample workouts as well. Try these out and let me know how it goes!


Bird Dog


Start with hands and knees on floor. Lift one arm and opposite leg, hold for 6 seconds, return to starting position, then raise other arm and opposite leg.


Full plank position. Remember to breathe!


2-Step Bicycles

Unlike normal bicycles, keep one leg extended as if you are keeping your foot on a far away hold. Keep that foot extended as you straighten your bent leg, match feet, then bend the other leg.

Screen shot 2015-01-13 at 11.48.07 PM

Yoga Ball

Elbows on ball


Plank with elbows on ball.


Move arms in circles.



Extend elbows away from body.




Knee to ball. Make sure the rest of your body stays still, do not cheat to one side.20150113_210854




Lift straight leg behind you. Bend your leg and “stomp” the ceiling for added glute work.



Straighten leg, then keep it raised as you swoop it back behind you. Lower back to plank then repeat with your other leg. Focus on seamless transitions WITHOUT your core leaning from side-to-side.

Core for AthletesCore for AthletesCore for Athletes


Legs on ball


Hold plank for 20 seconds with your feet on the ball. This exercise is easier the closer the ball is to your hips.


20150113_210807Arm Lifts. Hold for 6 sec. Lower arm and repeat on your other side.




20150113_210810Twist arm up. Hold for 6 sec. Lower arm and repeat on your other side.




Mountain climbers. Bring your left knee to your left elbow. Extend back and repeat on your other side. 20150113_211153


  • Pause with your knee bent
  • Bring knee to opposite elbow


Lower into a pushup as you bring your knee forward. Push up as you bring your leg back, then repeat with your other leg.

  20150113_211159 20150113_211210 

Free Weight Resistance


Suitcases. When raised, you should be balanced on your tailbone, back straight and entirely off the ground.


Variation – Twist as you raise, brining your elbow to opposite knee. Be sure to keep your back flat, focusing on twisting in your lower spine and keeping your lower body still, shins PARALLEL with the floor. Avoid hunching your back and over-reaching with your hands.


Add Weight. This also forces you to keep your lower body in control. I like having this reminder, if you break form you’ll know it as the weight falls!

20150113_211417 20150113_211423


V-ups. Coordinate raising your torso and legs at the same time. Add ankle weights if available.

20150113_211328 20150113_211333


Incline bench lowers. Start with out weight. Keep back straight!

20150113_212012 20150113_212006 20150113_212012


Lower, bend arms, lower elbows to ears, raise elbows, straighten arms, then push hands to ceiling. Start without weight.

20150113_212006 20150113_21195820150113_21200020150113_21195820150113_212006 20150113_212012


Add weight. Start small, lowering your hands behind your head becomes very strenuous very fast.



Hold plank with a plate on your back. Do not sag!



With a plate on your back, shrug your shoulders in the plank position. Keep back flat.




Tap foot to the side. Keep your hips still, don’t cheat by sinking to one side. Bring foot back to center and repeat on your other side.



Added Challenge – After holding plank for ~20 seconds lower, then do 2-4 pushups.

Hanging From a Bar


Hanging from a bar, lift your knees, pause, then lower.


Bend your arms and engage stabilizer muscles to avoid shoulder pain, leaving space between your shoulders and ears.



  • Lift one leg at a time, either to the same side or across your body.
  • Straighten you raised knee.


Raise your knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keeping your thighs still, work towards raising your feet until your legs are straight. Lower and repeat.



Lift straight legs up to bar. Lower slowly.


Raise both legs straight up to 45°. Keeping your left leg there, lift your right leg to 90° or more. Lower it back to 45°, match feet and repeat with the opposite leg.

Workout Example

I tend to train core at the end of my workout session. As mentioned before, a main use of core muscles in athletics is stability. So, fatiguing these muscles before training full-body, dynamic movement that requires a strong mid-section is not really ideal and increases the risk of injury. When aiming to get worked:

  • Choose 3-5 exercises.
    • Complete 10-20 reps of each (5-10 reps per side), 20-40 seconds for planks
    • Rest 30sec-1 minute between exercises
  • Complete this circuit 1-5 times, resting 2-3 minutes between circuits


  • Bird Dog – hold for 6 sec, 5 reps each side
  • Elbow on ball, extend elbows forward – 12 reps
  • Twisting suitcases – 8 reps each side
  • Mountain climbers, feet on ball, with push up – 5 reps each leg
  • Plank with weight – 25 seconds [including 5 shoulder shrugs]

Begin to increase difficulty by increasing the number of circuits you do.

Once you can do 3-4 circuits, increase the number of reps until you can perform ~10 on each side or 20 total.

Then adapt the exercise to make it more challenging! i.e. straighten legs, add more weight, etc.


Huge thanks Austin and Joe for help with the visuals

Tags: , , , ,

One Response to “Training: Core”

  1. Krystyn March 21, 2015 at 8:35 am #

    Yes! Thanks for some engaging, practical and knowledgeable core exercises Lisa. xo

Leave a Reply