Core training has become the latest fad in exercise routines – and for good reason. Strengthening the core – abdominal muscles, muscles surrounding the spinal complex and hip flexors – can increase power, balance and stability, enhance athletic performance, improve posture and help prevent injury. Not to mention, that it is part and parcel to developing a “ripped” midsection.

The Saxon side bend, a rarely employed exercise in most gyms and health clubs, is one of the best movements for strengthening the core. It gets its name from its inventor, strongman Arthur Saxon who popularized this exercise in the 1800’s.

For those that employ the traditional side bend (holding dumbbells at the sides and bending from side-to-side), the Saxon side bend will prove to be a much more effective and challenging exercise.

Although I wouldn’t classify the Saxon side bend as an advanced exercise, it is more difficult to perform than it initially appears. It can be employed by anyone – novice to advanced trainers – but the key is to start with a very light weight and master the proper exercise form.

Technique is very important but weight is not. Most will find this movement requires a much lighter weight than expected. To be effective, and for safety, one must maintain complete control over the movement, which is performed through a fairly limited range of motion. As with any bending or rotational exercise, improper technique could leave the lower spine area susceptible to injury. As long as proper technique and weight are used the risk of injury is low.

How it’s done:

The Saxon side bend is performed using dumbbells. With feet spread roughly shoulder-width apart (approx. 18 inches) and knees slightly bent, hold the dumbbells close together overhead with arms straight and palms facing forward. Keeping the torso and glutes tight, hips still and the dumbbells together, bend to one side as far as is comfortable, without leaning forward or backward, and then repeat to the opposite side. Aim for 6-8 repetitions per side.

This exercise can be incorporated into any existing weight training program to improve core strength for a specific sport or to develop more complete abdominal and oblique muscles. I would recommend performing the Saxon side bend towards the end of a workout 1-2 times per week with 2-3 days between.

Kevin Ferrell, CA, CFT

Professional Health and Wellness Coach

Team Canada Bodybuilder

Co-founder, CRE8iON Fitness & Wellness Inc.