How to Strengthen Your Core for CrossFit

The core is at the heart of virtually every CrossFit move that you do. As the link between your upper and lower body it is your functional power base. It is also responsible for midline stabilization. As a CrossFitter you don’t have to be doing specialized ab exercises like crunches or the plank. That’s because every exercise that comprises your WOD demands midline stabilization, and, as a result, is giving you a good workout.

What you do need to do is to develop your strength CrossFit core and learn how to engage the core properly when lifting.

The Core and Kinetic Chain

Most movements use several joints and many muscles—either as prime movers, assist muscles, stabilizers, or antagonistic muscles. The link and coordination between these joint movements is called the kinetic chain.

The key to most linked movements is the core or mid-section—the abdominal muscles, deep lateral stabilizing muscles, and spinal extensor muscles. The core is critical to most CrossFit movements because it transmits forces between the lower and upper body. The rectus abdominis is an important stabilizer and force transmitter. The muscle is designed to transmit stresses around the spine, which increases the efficiency of the obliques—the muscles on the sides of the abdomen. The rectus abdominis is more important as a spinal stabilizer than as a major muscle in trunk movement.

3 Core Strengtheners

Rather than having a separate time set aside to do your core workout, you should build a few essential moves into your warm up routine. Here are three simple exercises that you can incorporate immediately.

Rack Holds

Load an Olympic barbell with what to you is a relatively heavy weight for you and place it in a power rack at shoulder level. Now simply lift off the bar into the rack position, with the bar resting across your clavicles and your elbows up. Hold this position for 30 seconds, being sure to keep your core tight. Pull you abs in as much as you can, while maintaining a straight back. Now re-rack the bar and rest for 15 seconds. Do this three times.

Get into the habit of doing these rack holds before every WOD that you perform and you will be programming into your subconscious the pulling in of your core every time you lift a weight.

Gymnastic Ring Inversions

This one is a pretty advanced gym move, so you will want to work up to it, using a training partner to help you flip into the initial position at the start.

Set up a pair of gymnastic rings so that they are around the level of your belly button. Now take a hold of the handles and flip yourself upside down so that you are completely inverted, with your toes pointing to the ceiling and your head a few inches from the floor.

Your goal here is to keep your body in a straight line. Work as hard as you can to prevent your body from curling up. This will require a great deal of core stabilization. Try to do the same rep scheme as you just did with your rack holds – 30 seconds on / 15 seconds off for 3 sets.

Barbell Roll Outs

Place an Olympic barbell on the floor and load it with a 45-pound plate on each side. Know kneel in front of the bar and grasp your hands together at the center of the bar. You will now roll the bar out in front of you (just as if you were using an ab wheel). Keep your core tight and do not round your lower back. Hold the extended position for a hold of 3. Now slowly bring the bar back to the start position, using your core to pull it back.

Perform 3 sets of 15 reps, with a 15 second rest between each set.

4 Core Stabilization Moves

 Two-Leg Bridge

Lie on your back with both knees bent and your feet flat on the ground at shoulder width. Perform a light tuck of your pelvis, making your lower back flat and depressing your lower ribs. Focus on holding this posture. Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up while pressing down through your heels. Stop when you feel like you are unable to control your hips. The height is not important with this exercise, so do not try to go too high. When this is well-controlled, add a resistance band to your knees; make sure that your knees stay as wide as your feet. Hold the top position for two to three seconds with each repetition.

Bridge Progression:

A bridge is designed to improve activation and strength of the gluteals while focusing on stabilization of the core. Pay close attention to control of your pelvis, lumbar spine, and rib cage to maintain a neutral core posture. Keep your arms at your side with your hands flat on the ground. Applying light pressure through your hands into the ground will help to increase core stabilization. Perform two to four sets of ten to fifteen repetitions. Increase the intensity by using a higher-level resistance band as tolerated. A bridge can be made more challenging by using a more unstable ball, such as a smaller medicine ball or something firmer like a basketball.


To perform a basic elbow plank, lie face down on the floor, with elbows positioned underneath your shoulders. Raise your shoulders and hips so that you are supported from your forearms and feet. Keep your core engaged by holding your glutes and abdomen tight. Do not let your lower back sag downward, and maintain a straight posture through your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders. If you are unable to achieve thirty seconds with good control, perform on your hands and feet or elbows and knees. When you are able to hold these positions for thirty to sixty seconds, revert to the elbows-and-feet position.

Plank Progression:

The plank position is important in the development of core stabilization. To maximize benefit from a plank, it must be performed with correct technique, keeping the body in a straight line and the core in a neutral position. Controlled breathing is also important. Perform three to five sets of thirty to sixty seconds. Rather than using a timer, consider counting a set by number of breaths. Perform five to ten breaths in a set. Counting breaths forces you to focus more on the control of posture and less on just completing the duration. Quality is imperative!

Foot Walk-Outs

Perform a plank from your elbows and feet like you did in the previous exercise. Slowly walk your feet apart by performing slow alternating steps, about six inches each time. Stop the walk-out when your feet are a comfortable width apart. Focus on squeezing your glute to lift the leg that you are moving. Make sure your lower back does not dip as the leg is in the air. When your feet are apart, slowly walk them back together.

Side Plank with Resisted Lowering

Here you will perform the same side plank as above while holding a dumbbell in the hand that is in the air. Slowly raise and lower the weight, leading with the thumb in both directions.

Side Plank Rotations

Start in a side plank from your forearm and feet. Keep your top foot in front of the bottom. Rotate your body forward toward the top leg that is in front and roll into a basic stomach plank on your forearms, then roll to a side plank on the opposite side. When you are in this position, remember to keep your top leg positioned in front. Slowly rotate back and forth from side to side, pausing briefly in the regular plank position when face down between each rotation.

Putting It All Together

The exercises presented here will achieve four things that will benefit your CrossFit performance:

(1)  Train you to activate your core n every CrossFit move

(2)  Improve your midline stability

(3)  Enhance your core stabilization

(4)  Make your core more powerful

As mentioned at the outset, you do not need to set aside a separate core workout. Simply add two of these moves to your CrossFit warmup.

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