The Perfect Core Exercise for Every Major Sport

Ten core exercises for 10 sports. Perform the one that is perfect for your sport.

An athlete's core plays a vital role in his or her ability to perform functional athletic movements. Your core is your center of gravity, the base where all muscle activation either occurs or passes through. Every athlete's core muscles are different and used differently, depending on their sport. That's why athletes should perform core exercises that are sport-specific and that mimic the movements they use on the field or court.

Here are some core exercises to help increase athletic performance in ten major sports.


Medicine Ball Slam

The Medicine Ball Slam builds explosive strength in your core essential for basketball, where most movements such as sprinting, rebounding and driving to the basket are explosive.

How to Perform:

  • Get into a partial Squat holding a moderate to heavy medicine ball in front of you.
  • Using your whole body, raise the ball overhead, then explosively slam it to the floor.
  • Catch the ball on the rebound and quickly transition into your next repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x15


Medicine Ball Rotational Throws

This exercise builds explosive rotational strength in the core, hips, and shoulders. It mimics the hitting motion of baseball and softball players, allowing them to have a stronger, quicker swing.

How to Perform:

  • Assume an athletic stance with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Stand with partner or wall 5 yards to the left.
  • Explosively rotate through your core and throw the med ball at your partner or the wall.
  • Maintain tight abs and a stable lower body during rotation.
  • Receive medicine ball back and continuously repeat for specified reps.
  • Perform set with partner or wall to right.

Sets/Reps: 2x10-15 each side


Supine Straight Leg Raise & Hold

This is a classic football drill that most players did back in their Pop Warner days. It builds strength and endurance in the hip flexors, lower abdominals and quadriceps, which tend to fatigue and feel heavy toward the end of a game.

How to Perform:

  • Lie on your back with your legs straight and your hands either out to the side or underneath your lower back.
  • Keeping your legs straight and feet together, lift your legs off the ground to about 45 degrees.
  • Hold that position for 60 seconds; that's one rep.
  • Bonus: perform a basic Crunch during this movement to target your upper abdominal muscles.

Sets/Reps: 3x60 seconds

Cross Country/Track

Sprinter Sit-Ups

As its name indicates, this exercise benefits sprinters and athletes in sports requiring explosive speed. It mimics the sprinting motion, helping to train the core muscles to activate in the correct pattern to enhance running mechanics.

How to Perform:

  • Lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms at your sides.
  • Simultaneously sit up and bring one knee up toward your chest.
  • Extend the arm behind you on the same side as your raised knee.
  • At the same time, bring your opposite arm forward, bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • After you reach the top of your Sit-Up, lie back down, extend your leg and place both arms back by your sides.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg. That's one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x15


Scissor Crunches

Scissor crunches are similar to V-Ups, but they also target the transverse abdominals and oblique muscles. They mimic a soccer player's kicking motion, helping to build explosive kicking strength by working the core muscles.

How to Perform:

  • Lie on your back with your arms straight above your head and your feet on the ground.
  • Simultaneously lift your right hand and left foot toward each other, keeping both straight.
  • Once you touch your hand to your foot, reverse the motion until you reach the starting position; that's one rep.
  • Perform all reps on one side, then switch to the other side.

Sets/Reps: 3x15, each side


Flutter Kicks

Flutter Kicks require core strength to resist movement, similar to many sports. They effectively mimic the kicking motion of the backstroke in swimming, but they are beneficial for athletes in any sport.

How to Perform:

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs straight.
  • Lift both legs about 45 degrees.
  • Keeping your core braced, glutes flexed and legs straight, perform a kicking motion, alternating your legs up and down.
  • To alleviate lower-back discomfort, place your hands under your lower back and/or simultaneously perform and hold a crunch, which will naturally cause your back to flatten.

Sets/Reps: 3x60 seconds


Medicine Ball Wood Chop

Wood Chops are an ab exercise that require full core engagement, targeting every muscle between the hips and  shoulders. Holding a weighted medicine ball makes them more difficult, helping to increase rotational strength needed for spiking the ball.

How to Perform:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent, holding a medicine ball with your arms straight, hanging down in front of your body.
  • Tip your hips back slightly and bend your knees, moving into a quarter squat as you rotate your shoulders a bit to the right, so that when your arms are straight, the medicine ball is just to the right of your right knee.
  • Engage your core and keep your arms completely straight as you swing your arms up and across your body in a diagonal motion, straightening your knees and hips until the medicine ball is held over and slightly to the left of your left shoulder.
  • Throughout this motion, keep your hips pointing straight ahead. Twist through your waist and shoulders rather than your hips and legs.
  • Reverse the movement until you reach the starting position; that's one rep.

Sets/Reps: 3x15 each side


Cable Paloff Press

The Paloff Press is one of the most basic and important core exercises, especially for golfers. It targets the entire core, helping you rotate faster, and prevents injuries to your lower back. Just ask Tiger Woods.

How to Perform:

  • Stand next to a cable tower perpendicular to the machine and grab the handle at about chest height.
  • Squeeze your glutes and core and relax your shoulders.
  • Push both arms straight out, hold the finish for a few seconds and return to the starting position; that's one rep.
  • Perform all your reps facing one direction and repeat facing in the other direction.

Sets/Reps: 3x15


Dumbbell Single-Arm Wood Chop

This exercise mimics the backhand motion tennis players like Roger Federer have made famous. It builds strength in the hips, shoulders, forearms and lower back essential for a strong back swing.

How to Perform:

  • Start in golf posture, holding a dumbbell in your right hand and place your left hand behind your back.
  • Internally rotate your shoulder so the thumb of your right hand points to your left hip.
  • Simultaneously extend the weight away from your body and externally rotate your shoulder so your thumb now points behind you.

Sets/Reps: 3x15 with each hand


Dumbbell Renegade Row

This variation adds weight via dumbbells, incorporating extra resistance to increase strength. It not only builds core strength, it also  strengthens your biceps and rhomboids as well.

How to Perform:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells that are challenging but not too heavy.
  • Get into a standard push-up position with your hands grasping the dumbbells in a neutral grip on the floor and your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Resisting the tendency to rotate your body, lift one dumbbell off the floor, perform a Single-Arm Row and place it back on the floor.
  • Repeat with the other arm. That's one repetition.

Sets/Reps: 3x15 each arm


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock