You should be doing this exercise for functional core strength

A fitness expert says it’s one of the best core exercises out there

Woman with her abs exposed and holding a bottle of water
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Having a six-pack may look nice, but a strong core is way more beneficial. It aids better balance and stability, which can help reduce the likelihood of injury, and it can help you execute exercises (especially your compound lifts) with better form too. I love finding new core exercises for this exact reason and recently I’ve been trying a new one shared by Dr Aaron Horschig, who claims this is the best core exercise that you’re probably not doing. 

The exercise in speaking is what’s called a ‘suitcase carry’.  It involves walking with a single kettlebell held to one side of your body – just as you would carry a suitcase, hence the name. As well as challenging your deep core muscles and frontal plane stability (as your body has to work extra hard to keep the pelvis level) it also works your shoulders, arms, forearms and legs. 

When I gave it a go myself, I naively thought it would be quite easy, especially as I had got pretty good at farmer carries (another exercise that had transformed my core), but you carry a kettlebell in each hand instead. “You don’t have to go very heavy," says Dr Horchig "because just very light weight is a challenge on your spine to keep it from tipping over".

He wasn’t wrong. At first I tried using a 16 kilogram kettlebell, but I could feel my body tilting down to one side and the kettlebell was just smacking all over the side of my leg. I dropped down to a 12 kilogram kettlebell instead, which was a lot more manageable to keep my pelvis tipping from side to side. 

Man doing kettlebell suitcase carry

(Image credit: Getty Images)

I did these for a week at the start of my workouts and they were easy to slot in, as Dr Horschig says you only need to aim for three rounds of 45 to 60 seconds. By the the time I got to my third workout of the week I found my form had really improved; I could move quicker with the kettlebell and I found I wasn’t wobbling as much from side to side during other exercises where I have a tendency to sometimes topple  (sandbag lunges).

Once this exercise becomes ‘easy’ one tweak that Dr Horschig says you can do to make it more challenging, is by flipping the kettlebell upside down. “Because the weight of the bell is up in the bell area it’s going to be a lot more challenging.” Needless to say I dropped the weight considerably (to six kilograms) when I gave this a go as it was hard. There were also many times the kettlebell just toppled over.

T3 Active Writer doing suitcase carry advanced version

(Image credit: Future)

Either way, it was great to test out two new exercises, both of which I’m going to keep in my training. You don’t even have to do them as many times as I did a week, as Dr Horschig says two times a week is plenty. Plus, if you don't have a kettlebell, you could use a single dumbbell or a weight plate. Remember, as well as working your abdominal muscles, it'll work your entire core to help you move more functionally and healthily throughout life.

How to do the suitcase carry

  • Pick up your weight in one hand and hold it at the side of your body
  • Engage your core, push your shoulder down and engage your lats
  • Keeping your gaze straight ahead, walk forwards and make sure your core remains tight throughout

Tip: Dr Horschig says poke yourself in the stomach every once in a while to make sure it remains stiff

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.