7 Best Barbell Exercises for a Strong Core

The term “core” has been a buzzword in the fitness industry for many years now. Most of us physique-minded folks still only think of our abs when the term is brought up but there is much more to the core than a six-pack. In order to develop a strong core, you need to understand its makeup, and how building it can translate into bigger muscles and heavier lifts.


There are many muscles that make up the core and each has its own important role and function. Some of the major muscles are the internal and external obliques, the deep transverse abdominus and more superficial rectus abdominus, and erector spinae and nearby multifidi on your back. But even the glutes – maximus, minimus and medius – play a huge role in what is typically regarded as “core” strength.


The collective purpose of these muscles is to stabilize the spine. They help keep your posture upright and basically prevent you from falling over while sitting or standing, something you’ll notice infants have a difficult time doing. Your anterior core muscles prevent your back from going into too much extension. In terms of exercises such as a deadlift or kettlebell swing, having a strong core can help prevent over extension that can cause back pain and can help maintain proper posture during standing or overhead movements. Without a decent amount of core strength, you’d basically collapse or suffer catastrophic injury on all but the most mundane of tasks.


Actively engaging the core during heavy lifts such as a squat or deadlift not only helps us lift more weight, it protects our spine from injury, and falling into a poor movement pattern. This means contracting your abdominal muscles while continuing to breathe, and maintaining a neutral spine. So simply lifting heavy weights with proper form will help you build a stronger core.

But you may need more to help balance out your core muscles. Adding in 1-2 exercises each workout is a good start. In order to hit all the core muscles, you need to have a balanced routine. Pick 1-2 exercises from the following list and perform 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps, depending on your training load that day.

Hanging Leg Raise

Exercise                    Core Target

Ab wheel rollout               Anterior core, rectus abdominis

Hanging leg raise            Anterior core, rectus abdominis

Cable chop/cable twist    Obliques, rectus abdominis, multifidi

Cable pressout                 Obliques, rectus abdominis, multifidi

1 and 2-leg bridge           Glutes

Bird dog or
Back extension                Erector spinae  


In order to lift heavy weights, you have to have a solid core. You need a tremendous amount of stability with overhead pressing. The stronger our center is, the more stability we have holding a weight overhead. A strong core helps maintain balance in movements such as the single leg deadlift. To stabilize a heavy bar on our back and maintain a neutral spine will call upon a ton of core muscle to be active.

Poor form is usually an indicator of a weak core, so make sure you address all the core muscles from different angles. Not only will you have a strong core, but you will have a shredded midsection to go along with it.

For more training info from Justin Grinnell, CSCS, you can go to justingrinnell.com, or visit his gym’s website at mystateoffitness.com, his Facebook page, or check him out on Twitter.