Work Your Abs With This Stability Ball Exercise From Celebrity Trainer Don Saladino

Celebrity trainer Don Saladino doesn’t like crunches. Instead, he prefers to “stir the pot," which refers to a total-body plank variation that is much tougher than its cooking-inspired name might suggest.

Last Thursday, the owner of NYC-based Drive495 gym, whose clients have included Blake Lively, Emily Blunt, Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Sebastian Stan, among others, posted an Instagram video of himself demoing the challenging core move. You can check it out, via @donsaladino, here:

“I never do crunches!” Saladino writes in the caption alongside the video. “Try ‘stir the pot’ for abs and core work.”

This exercise is “a core and abdominal movement that gives you a lot of bang for your buck,” Saladino tells SELF. Saladino isn’t a fan of crunches because the classic abs exercise involves flexing and extending your lower back, a movement that can increase the risk of lower-back injury (especially in those with existing lower-back issues) if done repetitively and improperly. He suggests instead doing core exercises that don't come with that risk—like the "stir the pot." Another plus of this particular move: It's fun and different, he says.

This movement requires total-body engagement and stabilization, particularly from your shoulders, core, hips, and glutes.

“I look at it as an enhanced plank,” says Saladino of the "stir the pot" exercise. In fact, it’s much more challenging than the OG plank, he adds. Because you are performing the move atop an unstable surface (a Swiss ball, also known as an exercise ball) and moving your arms as you do so, you are demanding more strength and stabilizing work from your entire body than you would if you did a stationary, on-the-ground plank.

With the "stir the pot" exercise, “the idea is to literally stabilize your entire body as much as possible while going through that clockwise and counterclockwise motion [with your forearms],” explains Saladino. To do so, you need to create—and then hold—tension throughout your entire body, from your shoulders to your core to your ankles. What's more, the fact that you are frequently switching the direction in which your arms are moving means you are forced to engage different core muscles at different moments. That dynamic element makes this move particularly great for hitting your core from all angles. “The stress to the abdominal wall is changing,” explains Saladino, and the movement “works every area of the core,” including the rectus abdominis (what you think of when you think abs), transverse abdominis (a deep core muscle that wraps around the spine and sides), and obliques (muscles on the sides of your stomach).

To be clear, the aforementioned OG plank, if performed correctly, can also be a great core-strengthening move. But if is the key word. “Just because you’re holding a plank doesn’t mean you’re creating tension in the abs and core,” says Saladino. Common form errors, like arching or rounding your spine or not tucking your tailbone and engaging your glutes, can reduce the tension on your core and place it on your lower back (which can increase the chance you'll strain it). Plankers may not realize they are committing these mistakes unless they’re in font of a mirror or under the guidance of a personal trainer.

The "stir the pot" exercise, on the other hand, provides more obvious feedback on your form. If any major muscle group isn't engaged as you perform the reps, your hips will fall out of place and/or your torso will move, explains Saladino. Because you're balancing on an unstable surface, you'll notice these form errors much more quickly than you would in an on-the-ground plank.

Because "stir the pot" requires full-body tension and strong core activation, you should be able to perform a standard plank on the ground before attempting the move.

You should be able to maintain an on-the-ground plank with full-body tension for at least 10 seconds before attempting the "stir the pot." When doing this standard, grounded plank, you should be able to create enough tension throughout your body so that if someone bumped into you mid-movement, you’d be able to hold yourself steady. If you can hold a plank with that level of tension for at least 10 seconds, you can progress to the move below, says Saladino.

Also, because it does require a certain level of shoulder strength and stability to execute, if you have a history of shoulder injury and/or pain, this may not be the move for you. Double check with your doctor or physical therapist before attempting it.

Here’s how to do the "stir the pot" move:

  • Get on all fours with a large exercise ball directly in front of you.
  • Place your forearms and wrists on the ball. Your wrists should be shoulder-distance apart, and your hands and triceps should not be touching the ball. Place your feet about hip-distance apart, though you may want to adjust your stance based on how difficult the move feels for you (more on that below).
  • From here, press through your toes to lift your knees off the ground, keeping your feet hip-distance apart. Squeeze your glutes and legs, and brace your core so that your body forms one long, straight line from your shoulders to your hips to your ankles.
  • Maintaining total-body tension, rotate both forearms in a clockwise direction so that you move the ball in a small circle. Pause and then rotate your forearms in a counterclockwise direction, again moving the ball in a small circle.
  • This is 1 rep. Do 10 reps.

Be sure to keep your hips as still as possible as you perform each rep and try not to don't rotate them as you rotate your arms. “You should feel like someone could put a glass of water on your back and your back’s not going to move,” says Saladino.

If you find your hips moving or the movement is otherwise too challenging, spread your feet farther apart, he suggests. To make it more challenging, narrow your stance. When you have the stance that feels right for you, perform 10 reps of this move and “you will feel it,” says Saladino—in your core, shoulders, and pretty much your entire body.

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