The 10 Best Core Exercises For Football Players

A strong core is essential for any athlete, regardless of sport, and this is especially true for football players. A strong core helps transfer power, aids in balance and provides stability when engaged with another player.

Football players know this as well because core work is generally the first thing they all gravitate toward (or curls to be honest) whenever they’re given extra free time in the weight room. (Or they just want those six-pack abs for the beach.)

The issue I see all the time though is that most guys do the same three or four core exercises every single time. I believe we, as coaches, are guilty of this as well. We tend to program the same core exercises for our athletes that we’re familiar and comfortable with.

In this article, I’m going to try to help break you out of the monotony and give you ten of the best core exercises for football players so you’ll have plenty of fresh ideas for your core training.


Core Exercises For Football


I want to emphasize here that these are just some of my favorites. There are hundreds of exercises football players can choose from to improve their core strength.


Toe Touches


Toe Touches
Photo Credit (Dusan Petkovic / shutterstock.com)

I’m not going to list crunches, because I think we’re all familiar with those. Instead, I’m going to give you another simple body weight core exercise that is one of my favorites – Toe Touches. Like crunches, Toes Touches are easy to learn and easy to do (technically).

Having to hold your legs vertically in the air forces the lower abs to be engaged making them slightly harder than regular crunches.

But, the reason I really like Toe Touches for football players is it gives me insight into who is extremely tight in their hamstrings. Players with really tight hamstrings will struggle to get into a proper position and will struggle even more to maintain it.

If this sounds familiar then it’s time to start addressing those hammys.

How To

  • Lay flat on your back with your legs perpendicular to the floor (legs straight up in the air).
  • From this position, keep your chin off of your chest, keep your arms straight and raise your upper body toward your feet.
  • Touch your toes (or at least reach as high up your shins as you can) with your fingers and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat the exercise until your set is complete.

Coaching Points

Athletes with tight hamstrings may find it hard to keep their legs straight up in the air through the duration of the exercise. Work to keep legs straight and vertical as much as possible.

Keep hands relatively close to the shins throughout the movement. Swinging the arms toward the head at the bottom causes momentum which takes away from the quality of the movement.


Suitcase Crunches


Suitcase Crunches

Okay, let’s ramp up those (boring) crunches and add a new challenge to your core routine. Suitcase Crunches is an advanced variation to regular crunches.

Instead of laying your back, you’ll balance yourself up on your butt with your legs and back up off the ground.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Start by sitting on the ground, balancing on your butt with legs and back up off the ground.
  • Legs should be almost straight, feet roughly six inches off the ground. Torso should be leaned back at about a 30-degree angle.
  • From the starting position, crunch up, bringing the knees and chest together above the hips (like a suitcase shutting)
  • Lower back to the starting position and repeat until all reps are completed. (Feet and back should stay off the ground throughout the movement)

Coaching Points

If you keep your feet uncrossed during the movement, your groin will be forced to stay engaged. This creates a small added bonus to the exercise.


Planks


Planks

There are so many reasons that I love programming planks for athletes, especially football players.

First, it teaches and reinforces what it means to brace your core. Knowing how to properly, and effectively, brace your core is so important not only in the weight room but on the field as well.

Second, holding a plank can sometimes be as mentally challenging as it is physically challenging. I think anytime you can introduce situations (safely!) that get players out of their comfort zone and force them to strain is beneficial.

Finally, planks are extremely versatile. You can add weight or time to make them more challenging. You can switch to a side plank to incorporate more obliques and they also work great as a competition to finish a workout.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Start on the ground on your stomach.
  • Assume a push-up like position on your elbows and toes. Elbows should be directly under the shoulders.
  • Position your body in a straight line from the shoulders through the hips, knees and ankles.
  • Brace the core tight. (As if you’re going to be punched in the stomach)
  • Do not let the body slouch to the ground nor push the hips up high in the air.
  • Hold for the designated amount of time.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake that I see with Front Planks is athletes holding the position, but not properly keeping the core engaged and just allowing the torso to slouch. So, while they are technically up on their elbows and toes, all they’re really doing is straining the low back.

The other mistake I see is the exact opposite and that is athletes shooting their butts into the air, resembling more of a Down Dog position.

The difference between the two is the second, having your butt too high, is easier to notice and corrected more often. However, letting the body slouch during a plank is often allowed to pass as ‘good form’ when it is not.


Ab Wheel


Ab Wheel Sitting on Turf

There are two reasons I really like using Ab Wheels with football players.

One, they’re like the RDLs of the core world. It’s one of the only ways you can get great eccentric core work done. Almost every ab exercise possible focuses on the concentric part of the movement – literally ‘crunching’. Incorporating an Ab Wheel will add a whole new dynamic to your core training.

Two, because in my experience, guys love doing them. They get really competitive with them. Anytime you find something that players will go ‘all-in’ on – do that thing.

If you don’t have an Ab Wheel, don’t worry. Placing two 25-pound bumpers on a barbell will work just as well.

How To

  • Start on your knees with your hands on the Ab Wheel handles.
  • Brace the core hard and begin rolling the wheel forward.
  • Roll out until you feel you’re about to fall and then begin pulling the wheel back.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Don’t allow your hips to stay behind you as you begin to roll forward. Hips should stay relatively in line with the knees and shoulders, similar to a Plank.


Med Ball Slams


Incorporating a medicine ball into your core routine is a great way to add resistance to some of the bodyweight exercises we’ve already gone over as well as generate explosive power.

These next three core exercises are some of my favorites that utilize a medicine ball.

Med Ball Slams

Med Ball Slams is the perfect example of a dynamic core exercise incorporating a medicine ball. A Med Ball Slam is essentially utilizing your core to generate as much power as possible flexing at the torso and releasing that power in the form of slamming a med ball into the ground.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a medicine ball and stand tall with feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
  • Reach the medicine ball high overhead.
  • Using the core, pull the body down – hinging forward at the hips.
  • Follow through with the arms and release the ball.
  • Let the ball slam into the ground, catch it off the bounce and repeat for the designated number of reps.

Coaching Points

First and foremost, test how ‘bouncy’ your medicine ball is before starting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen athletes almost have their face smashed by a medicine ball bouncing much harder and rebounding much faster off the ground than they were anticipating.

The biggest mistake I see with Med Ball Slams is athletes not utilizing the core and simply throwing the ball down with their arms. The bulk of the force should be generated by aggressively using the core to hinge forward. If done correctly, it should almost (and actually might) lift your feet up off the floor.


Seated Med Ball Twists


Seated Med Ball Twists

Seated Med Ball Twists is one of my favorite rotational core exercises.

Make sure to focus on rotating through the core and not just moving your arms from side to side. I see this error in technique all the time by players who are only concerned with bouncing the ball on each side.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Start by grabbing a medicine ball and taking a seat on the floor.
  • Slightly bend the knees and raise your feet roughly six inches off the floor.
  • Start by rotating your torso to the left and lightly tapping the med ball against the ground.
  • Now turn your shoulders and rotate your torso to the right and, again, lightly tap the ball against the ground.
  • Keep legs mostly still and maintain the feet off the floor throughout the movement.
  • Continue rotating back and forth until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points (Common Mistakes)

The biggest mistake I see with my athletes when doing Seated Med Ball Twists is moving the ball back and forth primarily with their arms instead of rotating through the core. The focus should be on the rotation. The ball touching the ground is simply an added bonus to the movement.

Speaking of the ball touching the ground – there is no need to bang the ball off the ground as hard as possible each rep. Stay in control of the movement and the med ball and lightly tap it on the ground.


Med Ball Side Toss


Med Ball Side Toss
Photo Credit (Srdjan Randjelovic / shutterstock.com)

Med Ball Side Toss is another rotational core exercise utilizing a medicine ball. It’s essentially a more dynamic variation of the Seated Med Ball Twists that we just went over.

Find a sturdy wall or, better yet, a partner. Get in a good athletic position – feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent. Load the starting position by slowly rotating the ball to the back hip and then aggressively rotate and release the ball toward your partner.

I love Med Ball throwing movements like Slams and Side Tosses because of how much power players are able to generate. Definitely beats laying on the ground and doing crunches every day.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a medicine ball and stand perpendicular to a sturdy wall*.
  • Distance away from the wall will vary based upon the type of medicine ball you have**.
  • Stand in a good athletic position, feet shoulder width apart, hips and knees bent.
  • Begin by rotating away from the wall, reaching the medicine ball toward the back hip.
  • Now, aggressively rotate toward the wall, turning on the ball of the back foot, opening the hips toward the wall and releasing the ball into the wall.
  • Catch the ball off the ball, reset and repeat. Once all reps are completed switch sides.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake I see athletes make is using their arms (and not their hips) way too much to throw the ball. Power for the throw should primarily come from rotating the hips and torso and the arms should be secondary.

*If you have a partner, you can throw to each other instead of into a wall.

**The distance away from the wall will vary depending on what type of medicine ball you have. If you have a hard rubber medicine ball then be prepared for the ball to bounce a good ways back off of the wall. If you have a soft Dynamax-type medicine ball then you can stand much closer as the bounce off the wall will be much less.


Hanging Straight Leg Raises


Hanging Straight Leg Leg Raises

Hanging abs are some of my absolute favorite core exercises.

Not only are they very challenging ab movements, but they also provide extra benefits as well. They’re a great way to sneak grip strength into your workout and many also work the shoulders, back and biceps as well.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Find yourself a pull-up bar and grip the bar with an overhand grip.
  • Engage your lats so your body doesn’t go limp once you begin to hang.
  • Now hang from the bar and keeping your legs straight, drive them up to hip height (or slightly above hip height).
  • Finally, actively lower your legs back to the starting position – don’t allow the legs to just swing down.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

The biggest issue that most of my athletes run into when doing Hanging Straight Leg Raises (or any hanging ab exercise for that matter) is how to keep from swinging out of control.

To keep from swinging, you have to actively lower your legs back down. If you ‘let your legs go’ and just allow gravity to take over you’ll completely lose control of the movement. Timing and rhythm are also both important for Leg Raises and you can’t achieve either if you’re not in control of your legs throughout the movement.


Windshield Wipers


Windshield Wipers
Photo Credit (maxpro / shutterstock.com)

One of the hardest core exercises to do, hands down, is Windshield Wipers. It takes a tremendous amount of core strength and will stress your entire core (and your upper body and grip).

If you progress to the point where you can knock out a set of ten Windshield Wipers, you should feel pretty good about your core strength.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Find yourself a pull-up bar and grip the bar with an overhand grip
  • Engage your lats so your body doesn’t go limp once you begin to hang from the bar.
  • Now hang from the bar with a slight flex at the elbow
  • Keeping the legs straight, flex the core and lift the legs up until your toes touch the pull-up bar.
  • From this position rotate your feet to the left about two to two and a half feet.
  • Now swing them back to the top and over to the right about the same distance.
  • Continue to rotate back and forth from the left to the right and back until all reps are completed (or until a break is needed to reset)

Coaching Points

As mentioned at the top of this guide, this is an extremely challenging ab exercise. I would highly suggest mastering other hanging ab exercises like Knees to Elbows and Toes to Bar (both listed below under variations) before beginning to attempt Windshield Wipers.

Because you’re almost hanging upside down while doing Windshield Wipers, the grip plays an extremely critical role. If you ever feel you’re struggling with your grip AT ALL, you should stop your set immediately.


Hyperextensions


Hyperextensions

Too often when players think about doing ‘core work’ they only think of working their abs. However, low back work is just as important, but it’s often either overlooked or just ignored.

Hyperextensions are one of the best movements you can do in a weight room to focus on building a strong low back. Hypers will also work the glutes and hamstrings, making them a great lower-body exercise as well.

If you don’t have access to a Glute Ham Machine, you can try either Supermans or Back Crunches. Both also work the low back and require no equipment.

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • First, you are going to want to get the glute-ham raise machine adjusted to the correct length.
  • I recommend adjusting the machine so that your hip crease is at the end of the padding of the machine.
  • Locking your feet in, facing the ground, keep a neutral spine by focusing your eyes on the floor below.
  • Take in a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and keep your hands on the handles until you are ready to perform the eccentric movement.
  • Once ready, take your hands off the handles, extend your body, keep your arms at your side, and control your body down until your torso is about perpendicular to the floor.
  • Pause for 1 second in the bottom of the position to maintain stiffness in the muscles before coming back up.
  • After 1 second of the isometric hold, pull yourself back parallel to the floor, engaging the glutes, hamstrings, and low back, while also keeping stiffness in the abdomen and upper back.

Coaching Points

Hyperextensions are surprisingly easy to mess up. One of the easiest ways to make a mistake is going down too fast and “whipping” yourself back to the starting position. As with any exercise, the setup, initial breath before eccentric movement, maintaining control, pausing, and breathing out during concentric contraction are important.

Hyperextensions are a great movement to use for accessory work after the main work is done for the session, warm-ups, and rehabilitation.

It is important for the lifter to maintain a neutral spine, maintaining tension in the abdomen and upper back. Remember to breathe in and hold the breath during eccentric (lowering your body) and breathe out as you perform the concentric movement (bringing your body back up).

Final Thoughts

There are dozens of core strengthening exercises and core stability exercises to choose from so there is no need to get in a rut of doing the same movements over and over again all the time.

You also don’t have to limit yourself to just bodyweight abs, like crunches and sit-ups, either. Grab a medicine ball or find a pull-up bar and add some variety (and difficulty) to your core routine.

Finally, don’t forget about that posterior chain! Exercises like Hyperextensions, Supermans or even Back Crunches can help strengthen your low back – an important part of your core.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to check out my 11 favorite upper body exercises for football players.

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