The 5 Best Ab Exercises for Athletes

by Travis Hash

Build a strong core that not only looks good, but makes you a better athlete. Here's how.

When it comes to sports performance, you’d think crunches and sit-ups would be extinct by now. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. The problem for athletes? Most ab exercises don’t improve performance on the field or in the weight room.

Floor exercises like crunches primarily work the rectus abdominis. Good for that six-pack look, not so good for athleticism. Most of the stabilization of your spine and pelvis comes from your transverse abdominis and obliques. That’s critical during athletic movements. To really boost athletic performance, do these five moves.

1. Deadbugs

Not only will these hit your transverse abdominis, they’ll also allow you to practice a neutral spine position while going through limb range of motion. Once you’ve mastered the regular deadbug, add in some of the band variations shown in the video.

  • Keep your lower back completely flat on the ground. There should be no space at all.
  • Completely exhale as you lower your legs and arms to the floor. Inhale on the way back up to the starting position.
  • Keep the non-moving limbs still!

2. Partner Band Anti-Rotations

Anti-rotation exercises are often forgotten. Some lifters do at least some form of anti-extension work with planks, but rarely will you see anyone in the gym working on anti-rotation. Too bad for them.

  • Using a resistance band, set up in a standing, athletic position.
  • Keep your back straight (imagine flattening it on a wall) by activating your core.
  • Have your partner pull the band repeatedly as you try to maintain your starting position.

3. Fallouts

Lumbar extension is prevalent throughout the athletic and lifting populations. Fallouts are probably the most challenging anti-extension exercises out there. In the video, a single-leg variation is shown which adds an element of anti-rotation as well.

  • Set up in a slight forward lean.
  • Allow yourself to fall forwards without allowing your back to sag in the middle. Keep your core firm and your arms straight.
  • Once you’ve gone out as far as your can comfortably, shift your weight onto your heels to return to the starting position.

4. Pallof Press

This is an anti-rotation exercise with limb motion. Maintaining a neutral spine and firm core while being able to move your arms and legs is an important skill that’ll enhance sport performance.

  • Using either a cable machine or a band, set up in a kneeling position with your arms at chest height.
  • Set up away from the stack so that there’s constant resistance. If you’re using a band, set up far enough away that the resistance is challenging but not unbearable.
  • Press your arms outward while trying to keep your trunk in a fixed position.

5. Oblique Plank on Bench

This one requires a partner to anchor you down on the bench, but it’s the best anti-lateral flexion exercise out there.

  • Lay on your side on a bench or table. Make sure that you’re anchored in with a partner or other method that will not allow your lower half to move.
  • Line your hips up with the edge of the bench and try to lock in this position for 15-20 seconds without moving.