Introducing a variety of exercises to your fitness routine is important—not just as auxiliaries to compound movements, but even for the core muscles. In fact, the more exercises you add to your core training, the stronger it gets. So that means going beyond crunches and adding more rotational moves and even static holds. It is fascinating how a strong core will take the load off your back muscles in doing basic tasks through the day.
“The current drive behind core conditioning comes in part from studies conducted in the 1990 showing that before they move an arm or a leg, people with healthy backs automatically contract their core muscles, especially the transverse abdominal muscles, which wrap from the sides of the lower back around to the front,” says a Harvard Healtharticletitled Core Conditioning—It's Not Just About Abs. It adds that a good core “helps create a firm base of support for virtually all movements.”
One particular core exercise that my social media algorithm has been throwing at me for the past week is called ‘around the world’, and is quite easy to attempt. This exercise mostly requires a single kettlebell for the ease of grip, but any kind of weight will work. Again, this is an anti-rotation exercise, very much like the kettlebell drag which has been covered in detail here. Anti-rotation exercises force one to keep their core intact and still while the rest of the body moves in a particular plane or direction.
The ‘around-the-world’ can be done standing or on a mat while you sit on your knees at 90 degrees, with a straight back. As with any exercise, you can add variations to it but the initial move is quite simple: keep the weight in one hand and move it around the torso and switch to the other arm behind the back. The exercise requires a constant pass-over from one arm to the other, in order to transfer the weight while keeping the core engaged and still. This also explains why the move is called around-the-world—you can also think of your core being a star around which a planet rotates. The video below is the simplest form of the exercise:
Doing around-the-worlds for a few minutes a day alone will not build abs, but it will certainly aid you in the process. It is mainly a stability exercise which will make other more difficult moves, like the hanging leg-raise, or the hollow hold, easier to do. Also try to keep your shoulders relaxed when you move the weight around your torso so that the traps do not kick in. Once you get used to the basic around-the-world, try playing around with the distance between your feet (or knees) while you do it. The closer the feet, the more advanced the exercise since you will have to work harder as compared to if your feet are farther apart (which provides a larger base for the body to move).
But one can turn a stability exercise into a more robust ab-building exercise by adding a few tweaks. Mark Wildman, who specialise in training casts of action movies like Wonder Woman and Star Trek: Beyond, calls this tweak an around-the-world with a high catch. He explains the move on his YouTube channel: “As we rotate, we are going to bring the kettlebell from a low [position] to a high [position]. We will use the other hand to stop the weight and then change direction. So decelerate force, accelerate force, and change hands behind your back,” he says.
What Wildman wants you to do is a few around-the-worlds to warm up before adding a challenge to the pass-over from one hand to the other. Think of it as using the acceleration of one rotation to bring the weight, for example, from the left arm towards the right shoulder, and using the right hand to decelerate or hold the kettlebell there for a second or two. Then, with controlled pace, use the left arm to rotate, change hands behind your back, and this time, use your left palm to decelerate the next rotation. For many, especially those into martial arts, this will mimic the motion of a big upper cut or a hook. The video below will make it easier to understand.
Wildman also says that one must lock out the arm which is carrying the weight before passing it over to the other one behind your back. This version of the around-the-world is also important for those playing sports, because it teaches the body to absorb force, restart the move, and absorb it again. The hold, or the deceleration, will happen as if a cricketer is taking a catch, cupping the ball in the nook between shoulder and jaw. Wildman’s last message is the most important. “Learn the move with light weights because there are a lot of muscle being used here which aren’t used in this way.”
Which is exactly what you want when you are adding more variety to your workouts.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.