3 Challenging Core Exercises with A Streamlined Spine

Streamline Spine Hard Core Exercises
Photo Courtesy: Dr. G. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS

By Dr. G. John Mullen, Swimming World Contributor

A common issue from coaches is not being able to find hard core exercises which challenge the body, especially where the body is maintaining a streamline position. Some have heard of the spinal flexion theory, the idea that doing too many spinal flexions will result in a spinal disc failure, pain, and injury. The research supporting this theory was done in porcine models, with their muscles and other soft tissue removed.

I’ve discussed the issues with extrapolating information from this study previously and feel there are flaws with this study, most notably, assuming everyone will react the same to the same amount of spinal flexion. Nonetheless, limiting the amount of spinal flexion is likely necessary for reducing the incidence of low back pain.

This is the dilemma for many coaches:

How can you build an elite swimmer’s strength without flexing the spine?

I discuss a plethora of exercises in my e-book, Swimming Core Training, here are a few new exercises which keep the spine in a straight line, yet challenge the swimmer to maintain streamline.

Challenging Core Exercises

1. Plank Walk

The plank is a staple in swimming core exercises, but many find it too easy. The plank walk increases the lever arm of the body, increasing the stress on the anterior core. While doing this, make sure your abdominals are braced, you do not arch you low back, and stop if you have any shoulder pain.

2. Side Plank with Band Shoulder Extension

Too many don’t think out of the box and get stuck in doing monotonous core exercises, not hard core exercises. Simply adding an additional movement to an exercise can make it more challenging. The side plank with band shoulder extension is an example of how to advance a common core exercise. Higher band resistance can be used to further increase the difficulty of this exercise.

3. Bridge with Shoulder Extension

Activating the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) is necessary to keep the low back, knees, and hips healthy. This focus can also help breaststroke, starts, turns, and other swimming movements. Make sure you are not arching your back during this exercise and are far away from the resistance band, with an appropriate band resistance.

If you are looking for a further progression, perform this one one leg, but keep the hips high.


Having too easy of core exercises shouldn’t be a problem for swimmers. Simply consider adding an additional movement, adding external manual resistance, and/or removing a limb.

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 *All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

*All swimming and dryland training and instruction should be performed under the supervision of a qualified coach or instructor, and in circumstances that ensure the safety of participants.