Why anti-rotation exercises will tone your abs even better than sit-ups

Regular readers of Boot Camp might've noticed this so-called fitness column is actually mostly about dumb stuff I did back when I was a gym baby. This week's dumb stuff: all those endless sit-ups and side crunches in pursuit of a six-pack. I didn't care they kinda hurt my back – think of the abs! 

These days my core routine is more about anti-rotation exercises: as their name suggests, these movements build up core strength by resisting rotation. They're both functional (meaning they're useful out in the real world, not just in the gym) and great for a sharp torso. 

There are dozens of anti-rotation exercises, using all kinds of gym equipment – Google them. Here are four to get you started (for each exercise, do three sets of 10-12 reps each.) 

For beginners 

Shoulder taps 

Start in a high push-up position with hands shoulder-width apart and feet wider than your hips. Tuck your hips under and squeeze your butt like you're planking, and hold that brace throughout the movement.

Bring your right hand up to your left shoulder, then lower it to the ground. Only your arm is allowed to move – lock in your core to keep everything else rock-solid. Repeat with your left hand-to-right shoulder to complete one rep. 

Bird-dogs 

"Why is this exercise called a bird-dog?" I asked when I first learned this move. "No idea," replied my then-trainer with a shrug. I still have no idea. 

Kneel on all fours, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Extend your left arm out in front of you till it's level with the floor, as you straighten your right leg behind you (engage the muscles in your butt to lift it). Now slowly lower your hand and knee back to the floor, then repeat on the other side. That's one rep. 

Maybe that's too easy: if so, try it with your knees lifted an inch off the floor. Keep it slow – don't cheat by racing through it, or any of these exercises.

For gym junkies 

Kneeling Pallof press 

Kneel with your shoulder facing a cable machine, and the pulley set to chest height. Grip the handle in the middle of your chest with both hands (the hand closest to the pulley should be underneath) with your elbows tucked in. Slowly push your hands straight out in front of you without letting your hips or shoulders rotate, then slowly pull them back in to finish the rep. Keep your core braced and squeeze your butt. 

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I love a Pallof press. You can also do it standing or – if you don't have a cable machine handy – with a resistance band looped around a pole. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jack Hanrahan, CSCS. (@jackhanrahanfitness) on

Renegade row 

Start by grabbing two dumbbells (kettlebells also work). Place them on the floor, grip them tight, then get into a high push-up position on your toes – or from your knees if you're still a beginner. Pull one of the dumbbells back up to your midsection, keeping your elbow close to your body. Slowly lower it to the ground, then repeat on the other side to complete one rep. 

People I coach always make the same mistake on this exercise: they think this is a back exercise, not a core exercise, so they use heavy dumbbells they can't lift without rotating their hips. Keep the weight light and lock in your core to stop it moving. If you still can't stabilise, widen your feet or knees.

According to Sam Downing, the secret to wellbeing is just to keep it simple. A qualified personal trainer, fitness instructor and nutrition coach, Sam is also a writer focusing on everyday health.

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