You've probably tried a plank, but you may not realize how fundamental this movement really is when it comes to testing and developing your core strength. When done properly, it fires up all the major muscles of your anterior chain (the front half of your body), while strengthening the deep, stabilizing muscles of your abs and spine, helping protect your back from injury or pain.
The key here, of course, is to do it with proper form, which means keeping your elbows aligned directly beneath your shoulders, and maintaining a neutral, straight spine from heels to head. Aim for just 10-second holds to start, gradually building to 60 seconds.
Christian Heria, founder of the calisthenics training program Thenx.com, emphasizes that it's the isometric nature of the exercise that's so important, "Most athletes do concentric movements, but fail to work on isometric holds. Keeping time under tension in your muscles (when you hold any move) is essential in muscle development and creating a strong foundation in your physical capabilities."
And if you tend to have shoulder pain? Conrad says planks are a good way to build strength: "When your forearms are parallel to your body during the plank, it puts the shoulders in 'external rotation,' which gets the rotator cuff active, becoming a better shoulder stabilizer. When you link this with core activation for your body's overall health, it's game over!"
The Turkish get-up may not be an exercise you should attempt until you feel pretty solid on your ability to perform all the other exercises on this list. If you haven't seen one in action, it's essentially a compound, multi-move exercise that requires you to stand up from a lying position, using a specific sequence of movements where you maintain a neutral spine.
To be honest, it's tough, but it's also incredibly functional when it comes to total-body flexibility, strength, and range of motion through your major joints. Conrad says, "If I had only one exercise I was able to do for the rest of my life, the Turkish get-up would be it. It's the perfect combination of stability, core strength, and flexibility. When I get old and frail, and it becomes more difficult to get in and out of bed or up from a fall, the Turkish get-up will help me in this time of life or death."