Friday, March 07, 2008

Favorite Core Exercise - Unilateral Overhead Dumbbell Squats

I cycle through a lot of core exercises, depending on my mood and my attention span. Since I seldom do crunches or sit-ups anymore, I'm always looking for something to challenge my core muscles.

I've been having my clients do overhead squats, which is exactly what it sounds like. Press a barbell overhead and commence to squatting. This really doesn't put much stress on the legs with the weights they can use for this exercise, although it does work well to finish off the legs after a good workout. Rather, this is all about the core.

Any time we hold weight overhead, our core muscles (abdominals, obliques, and spinal erectors) are all activated to keep the trunk from collapsing under the weight. Add any kind of movement, such as squats or lunges, and they have to work even harder. This is a better way to build core strength than any combination of sit-ups and crunches ever will.

So, in my workout today, I decided to do unilateral overhead dumbbell squats. Fun! Here is the description at T-Nation:

This one has to be experienced to truly appreciate its effectiveness. If you want to train core stability, then lift heavy objects over your head! Use two dumbbells for this exercise — a heavy one and a lighter one (50-60% of the load of the first dumbbell). Taking a shoulder-width stance, hold the heavier dumbbell in your left hand by your side, and the lighter dumbbell pressed up over your head.

Now, maintaining an erect torso, squat down, keeping your body weight in the center. The offset load will create a large torque through your back and midsection. Fight your body's natural tendency to want to lean to one side!

I did 15 reps on each side with a 50 lb overhead and a 60 lb at my side (I'm sure I could do more) -- I could feel my obliques and lower back working hard.

I'm guessing that this might be hard if you don't already have good core strength, so start light and see what you can handle before going to the heavier weights. Add this into your program twice a week (with hanging leg raises and/or floor-wipers on the other days) and I promise you will have a solid and sexy core (assuming good diet) by summer.

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