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Ditch the Crunches: A Cardio Routine That Targets the Core

Help participants get out of a core rut with a specialized miniroutine that approaches muscles from different angles while elevating heart rates. Mix 30-second cardio intervals with athletic, integrated core exercises that load the upper body and lower body simultaneously. Here's how you do it: Teach continuous movement as you alternate between 30 seconds of "cardio core" and 2 minutes of recovery-pace core work (which includes the transition time from one move to the next). Use dumbbells for added load in every plane of motion as you bend, stand, reach, rotate, catch and brace.

A Sample Menu

Following are some suggestions and samples of both elements:

Cardio: Demonstrate the exercise, and cue students to do as many reps as they can safely do in 30 seconds. Encourage them to go breathless. All moves include dumbbells but can be done without them if necessary.

  • forward jump with snatch
  • lateral hop lunge with overhead arch
  • standing broad jump with chest press
  • lateral jump to vertical jump
  • sumo jump-squat with snatch
  • split-lunge hold while holding dumbbells overhead
  • power skater with reach
  • tuck jump with 180-degree hop

Recovery-pace core work: Self-select reps, and cycle through for 2 minutes:

  • lateral walking plank with superman reach
  • static crab with alternating elbow and knee pulls, then reverse plank
  • plank variations (choose two): ski jumps, donkey kicks, frog jumps, jacks
  • alternating forward lunges while passing dumbbell between legs
  • side plank with three hip pulses, low front hover and alternating hip-taps
  • halo with lateral lunge, forward lunge or reverse lunge
  • squats with knee-lift oblique crunch, alternating crossover crunch or sumo prisoner oblique crunch

Put It Together

Below are two examples of how the concept works in action.

Jumping Dumbell Snatch

Interval One

Jumping dumbbell snatch (cardio):

  • Start with feet in narrow position, holding dumbbell with both hands (at thighs).
  • Jump or step forward and catch dumbbell overhead in a snatch (brace core).
  • Land in wide squat to absorb landing.
  • Jump or step back to narrow feet.
  • Return dumbbell to thighs, and repeat.

Lateral Walking Plank

Lateral walking plank with superman reach (recovery pace, 4 reps each; 2 minutes):

  • Begin in standard plank position.
  • Add superman: Extend opposite arm and leg (alternate).
  • Add walking plank, moving to side.
  • Repeat superman reach.
  • Repeat walking plank, opposite direction.

Lateral Hop Lunge

Interval Two

Lateral hop lunge with arch (cardio; max reps in 30 seconds):

  • Start with feet hip-width apart.
  • Lunge R, step-hop together, lunge L while sweeping dumbbell overhead to lateral thigh.
  • Push glutes back and down; keep knees in line with toes.
  • Brace core and lift chest.
  • Bend elbows for shorter lever/easier modification. Straighten arms for longer lever/harder modification.

Static Crab

Static crab with alternating elbow and knee pulls (4 reps), then reverse plank (10 count hold):

  • Sit on floor with hands behind hips.
  • Lift hips and brace core.
  • Bring opposite elbow to opposite knee; alternate.
  • Do reverse plank with straight legs, glutes lifted.
  • Repeat for 2 minutes.

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