Want to improve your big lifts fast? Improve your core strength. The deep muscles of the core—the obliques and transverse abdominis—are critical for that purpose. You and I both know that ordinary crunches and situps are not going to work the muscles in a way that develops the serious strength we’re looking for.
Now, when you think of the obliques, you may think of rotational exercises like trunk twists; however, one of the primary functions of those deep core muscles is what’s known as anti-rotation—which means preventing rotation of the torso.
Anti-rotation is a much more powerful concept for targeting the deep core muscles than simple rotational exercises. Not only can you use a lot more resistance, but it’s also much safer for the spine without the rotation—and, yes, the strength you develop will carry over to rotational movements such as swinging a golf club and throwing a punch, in addition to increasing the stability of your core dramatically during the big lifts like squats, deadlifts and overhead presses.
The beauty of the exercise I’ve got for you here goes a step farther than standard anti-rotational core exercises in that it also works the muscles of the lower back with the deadlift. The combination is an incredibly powerful and complete core-strengthening movement.
To perform this one, you’ll just need a barbell, some plates and something solid to brace one end of the bar on; for example, a wall, machine or plate tree.
Load your plates onto just one end, brace the other end against that solid object, and then get into the bottom position of a deadlift at the loaded end, with your body parallel to the bar.
Set your right foot right up against the plates, and grip the bar on the end with your right hand, as shown in the accompanying photo.
Now, because you’re gripping the fat end of the bar, you’re also going to be challenging your grip strength in addition to your core. Make sure your lower back is tight and arched. I also recommend holding your breath briefly as you come up off the floor in order to better maintain core stability.
Now stand up.
Because you’re supporting the load by just one arm, you’re placing massive cross-tension through the deep muscles of your core in order to prevent spine rotation. Your goal here is to keep your shoulders level as you come to the top.
This exercise is very similar in concept to a suitcase deadlift, in which you hold the bar at your side in one hand and stand up—except that balancing the bar in your hand is not an issue with this version.
You’ll also notice in the finish photo that my body shifted over toward the side as I came up. That’s a natural movement due to the arced path of the bar as you lift one end.
When using heavier weights like this, your can keep grip strength fresher by alternating reps from side to side, or you can do these rest/pause style, where you take a short break between reps to refresh your grip.
When you’re using a lighter weight—one that doesn’t limit your ability to grip the end of the bar—you can do all your reps directly in a row like a normal set.
Give this one a try the next time you work your abs and core. The loads aren’t so heavy that you need to work it as a deadlift—it’s absolutely fine to work it as a core exercise.
I recommend starting with a fairly light weight the first time you do these, especially if you’ve not done any heavy anti-rotational, one-sided lifting before. Your obliques and transverse abdominis will be maximally challenged.
As you get stronger with them, you can work up to doing two sets with heavier weights—three to five reps on each side—then one back-off set with lighter weight for higher reps, like 10 to 12 on each side.
You’ll get a stronger core to help you lift more weight on your big exercises, better anti-rotational and rotational strength and power (for athletic performance), and you’ll help prevent back pain by strengthening literally everything in your core all at once.
Editor’s note: To get a copy of Nick’s Muscle Explosion—28 Days to Maximum Mass, visit his Web site, www.28DayMuscleExplosion.com.