Once you become a dad, exercises that focus on functionality and durability should supersede traditional strength training. Why? Because you need your body to be nimble, balanced, and, most importantly, useful, for all the kid-carrying, car seat-hauling, toddler-chasing being a dad requires. And a strong core is one of the most important components of a useful, durable body.
Many read “core” and think crunches. But your core refers to the chain of muscles that runs from your inner thighs to your upper back. Yes, it includes your abs, but also your hamstrings, hip abductors, butt, lats, and traps. These are the muscles that, among other things, help you hinge, bend, pivot, lean, and balance better. And they’re the ones you use every day.
Here then are 7 essential exercises for strengthening your core, as offered by Dan Gaz, an exercise specialist for The Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. Add them to your standard workouts and you’ll become you’ll be a fitter, more functional, and more durable dad.
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
In addition to strengthening your lower back and hamstrings, this one-legged movement increases core stability and balance while fixing muscle imbalances.
How to Do It
Standing with a dumbbell or kettlebell held at your side, lift the leg opposite the weight. Keeping your standing knee slightly bent, hinge at the hip and extend your free leg behind you. Lower the weight until your back is parallel to the ground. Then, rise up to the upright position. Switch sides. Begin with a light weight and perform 5 reps on each leg. Progress to 10-15 on each leg, 2-3 sets.
Try Not To: Perform the movement too quickly. This puts strain on the lower back, which could lead to you and an ice pack getting busy on the couch.
“This targets the deeper abdominal muscles as well as the glutes and hamstrings which are often weak from sitting,” says Gaz. “They’re also helpful for pelvic tilt and the lower back.”
How To Do It
Lie flat on your back with your hands by your sides and your knees bent, feet on the floor about hip-width distance apart. Push your hips up off the floor, keeping your back straight. Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.
Start by holding at the top position for 15 seconds, progressing to 30 seconds and then 45 seconds. Perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Try Not To: Mess up your footing. “In the starting position, when your hands are resting at your sides, you should be able to reach your heels,” says Gaz. “If your feet are too far away you could put a lot of strain on your back.”
One of the most important core exercises. In addition to working your abdominals, the plank engages your hamstrings, butt, back, and shoulders
How To Do It
Place your hands on the ground, shoulder-width apart and extend both legs backwards as you would for a push-up. (You should be pushing through your heels so your calves are lengthened and rolling your shoulders down your back so you’re not over-engaging your trap muscles.) Draw in your navel so you’re bracing with your abdomen and squeeze your butt. Dare your partner to rest their glass on you.
Gaz says to start by holding for 15 seconds and then build up the amount of time you hold by increments of 15 seconds until you reach to 1 minute. If you can hold for 1 minute easily, increase the number of sets.
Try Not To: Let your lower back sag. You want to keep your core and butt engaged to prevent any dip.
“This taps into your stability at the hips and helps you lengthen through the shoulder and the hip,” says Gaz. “It builds up good postural control.” It also gives you an excuse to say “bird dogging.”
How to Do It
Get on all fours, keeping your spine and neck in a neutral position. Simultaneously extend your left leg behind you and reach your right arm forward, while keeping yourself stable and core engaged. Hold for 3 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat, extending your right leg and left arm. Perform 2-3 sets of 15 reps.
Try Not To: Move too quickly. “Bird Dogs are best done slowly with control; momentum is not a good thing,” says Gaz. If your hips rock side to side, then you’re going too quickly.
This movement, per Gaz, is an excellent glute and ab strengthener as well as nice stretch for the hip flexor.
How To Do It?
Lay on your stomach. Raise both your arms and both your legs at the same time as though you’re being tied into a bow, keeping only your waist and belly button in contact with the ground. Hold, then lower yourself back down. Start by holding for 15 seconds. Build up the amount of time you hold by increments of 15 seconds, up to 1 minute. If you can hold for 1 minute easily, increase the number of sets.
Try Not To: Fall out of sync. If that happens, you’ll put undue stress on one area. Gaz advises going slowly at first, making sure your upper body and lower body are moving at the same time.
Medicine Ball Chest Press/Pass
This simple compound movement targets the upper body and your overall core stability.
How To Do It
Stand about 3 to 4 feet in front of a wall, holding a medicine ball with both hands. Slightly bend your knees and engage your core. Bring the ball to your chest and throw it at the wall. Catch the ball when it bounces back to you. Perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Try Not To: Lean forward. “You want a tall, upright posture,” says Gaz. “If you lose stability, you’ll put the effort into your lower back.” And don’t let the ball hit you in the teeth.
Medicine Ball Rotational Side Toss
This weighted twist-and-throw engages all your core muscles — and forces you to focus on hand-eye coordination.
How To Do It
Stand about 3 to 4 feet perpendicular to a wall, holding a medicine ball with both hands. Slightly bend your knees and engage your core. Throw the ball at the wall. Catch the ball when it bounces back to you. Perform 2-3 sets of 10 reps on each side. Maybe nickname yourself Atlas while your at it.
Try Not To: Go too heavy. “This should feel like a golf swing. Too heavy of a weight and you won’t be able to do it in a fluid fashion,” says Gaz. “It should be a fairly smooth motion.”