Do it: With your feet shoulder-width apart, lift a barbell off the rig, centering it evenly across your shoulders. (This version of the squat targets the core, not the legs, and so you should be using far less weight than you would for a traditional back squat.) Send your glutes back like you’re lowering into a chair, bending at the knees as deeply as possible. Press through your heels to return to the starting position for one rep. Do 12 reps for one set.
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To do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with the barbell on the back of your shoulders. Lower your body toward the floor, sending your hips back and down and bending your knees. Push through your heels to return to start position, keeping your back flat and head up throughout the movement. Try to do 8-10 reps for 3 sets (resting 45-60 seconds between sets).
Try adding four or five to the end of your workout to challenge your core a little more, or turn them into a standalone workout—try doing 12-15 reps of each exercise and then repeating the circuit (of four or five exercises) three to four times, to start. If you feel tension in your lower back during any of these exercises, stop and reset, making sure your abs are really engaged and that your back is not arched. You can also try starting with fewer reps. If you still feel discomfort, skip that exercise and try a different that allows you to keep your spine in a safer position. (It's also helpful to read up on which abs exercises tend to be irritating for lower-back issues beforehand if that's a concern for you.)
But instead of just trying to perform as many reps as possible, slow down and really focus on the quality of the movement—especially the eccentric, or downward motion, of the exercise, he says. “The eccentric contraction is the most important phase when sculpting any muscle.” Plus, focusing on quality over quantity will help protect your back (some experts say crunches can be potentially troublesome for guys with back issues.)