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Are you bored of doing endless crunches and planks, but still want a strong core?
If your answer to this question is a resounding ‘yes!’, then you should try the stirring the pot exercise.
This exercise takes a standard floor-based plank and elevates it to the next level.
The Stirring the Pot exercise is performed on an unstable base, such as a yoga (Swiss) ball.
This increases the demand on the core to stabilize your body as you 'stir the pot’. Many lifters will find this exercise quite difficult at first.
However, the benefits really make this exercise truly critical to core strength.
Since the exercise targets the core, there are also many functional applications to the stirring the pot exercise.
The 10 main benefits of the stirring the pot exercise are:
Before getting into the benefits and tips of the exercise, let's talk about the way to do this cool movement.
What Is The Stirring The Pot Exercise?
People are always looking for ways to make their ab workouts more interesting or more challenging.
The Stirring the Pot exercise is usually performed with a yoga ball, but it can be done with other equipment, or with none at all.
It involves doing a plank with your forearms resting on the yoga ball, then slowly moving them in circular motions whilst keeping the rest of your body stationary.
How To Perform The Stirring The Pot Exercise
This movement is simple and easy to execute. All you need is yourself, and a yoga ball. If you don’t have a fitness ball, you can use any kind of unstable surface that you can rest and move your forearms on.
Here’s a step by step on how to perform the Stirring the Pot exercise.
1. Kneel on the floor next to a yoga ball
2. Lean forward to rest your elbows and forearms on the ball
3. Keeping the front of your feet firmly on the floor, lift your body into a plank position. Your arms should be bent at 90 degrees
4. Keep your core activated and engage your glutes to keep your body in a straight line from head to toe
5. Maintaining this position, slowly move your forearms in a small circular motion. Keep every other part of your body stationary
6. Perform the desired number of circles going clockwise, then repeat in an anti-clockwise direction. An alternative option is to perform the exercise for a set length of time in each direction
7. Repeat for the desired number of sets
Follow these steps above, and you will be well on your way to correctly performing the stirring the Pot exercise.
If you’re looking for more guidance, here are some key coaching points to keep in mind when you attempt this movement in your next workout
Muscles Used In The Stirring The Pot Exercise
The Stirring the Pot exercise is a core-focused movement. It targets mainly the abdominal muscles, but also some secondary muscles.
Primarily, the Stirring the Pot exercise uses
This exercise also targets a number of secondary muscles including the lats, lower back, spinal stabilizers, internal and external obliques, and the rear deltoids.
10 Benefits To The Stirring The Pot Exercise
Swinging the old kettlebell every day does have many benefits. Lets discuss some of the main ones.
1. Strengthens Your Core
The Stirring the Pot exercise is an amazing core movement. It increases the strength of the abdominal muscles, particular the anterior core.
The Stirring the Pot exercise is great for conditioning the core muscles to stay activated for a period of time, improving your overall strength.
One study showed that upper and lower rectus abdominis activity was greater with prone position exercises such as plank variations compared to side position exercises .
2. Targets The Obliques
Most ab workout target the rectus abdominis and neglect the internal and external obliques.
However, this exercise targets the sides of the core due to the circular motion of the forearms. This is something that few core exercises do. Internal nd external oblique activity was significantly greater in the prone position on a yoga ball compared to other ab exercises such as sit-ups .
3. Translates To Other Movements
Strengthening the core muscles can benefit you in other movements. Having a strong core builds a solid base that you can build on.
Most compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bent over rows, and the bench press require a good level of core strength to help stabilize the body whilst lifting a heavy weight. If you have a weak core, you’ll find it much harder to lift heavy whilst maintaining proper form.
The Stirring the Pot exercise mimics the roll-out movement that people do using an ab wheel, or another popular movement called the pike. Studies show that this type of movement pattern is most effective for activating the upper and lower rectus abdominis. The movement also activates the external and internal obliques, and the latissimus dorsi muscles, whilst minimizing activation of the quads or pressure on the lumbar spine .
All of the above makes the Stirring the Pot exercise great for training you to activate your core whilst inactivating other muscles that should not be targeted with this movement. Therefore, perfecting your Stirring the Pot technique translates nicely into the rest of your workout.
4. Helps Prevent Injuries
Another advantage to strengthening your core muscles is that it can help to prevent injuries. In particular, those that result from having a weak anterior core and the spinal and pelvic instability that this can cause.
We all know that lifting with incorrect form leads to increased risk of injury. A lot of the big, compound movements require the core muscles to perform correctly.
So, strengthening your abdominals and obliques by practicing the Stirring the Pot exercise can help lower your risk of injury.
5. Simple And Beginner Friendly
The Stirring the Pot exercise could not be simpler.
Even if you’re a beginner, you will easily be able to pick up the method. Even a complete newbie to the gym will likely find it simple to pick up. As long as you have a decent level of core strength, you can perform this exercise.
6. Improves Stability
Any plank variation improves stability. The Stirring the Pot takes this to the next level by adding in the unstable base. You are literally holding yourself up using only your forearms on a yoga ball that could roll out from underneath you at any moment.
This makes you engage every core muscle, and focus on staying in place as you move your forearms in the circular motion.
You are trying not to rotate, flex, or extend your muscles throughout the movement. Therefore, practicing the Stirring the Pot exercise improves your ability to stabilize your whole body.
7. Adds Variety To Your Workout
A lot of people don’t want to train their abs at the best of times, let alone after a tough workout or on the weekends when you’d rather be relaxing at home.
The Stirring the Pot exercise adds variety to your normal ab routine, which can motivate you to get your core workout done. It’s something a little different and unique compared to standard crunches.
8. Can Be Altered For Difficulty Level
The Stirring the Pot exercise is a more advanced movement. If you’re completely new to training, you might have a weak core. In this case, you might want to start your ab workouts with something easier than Stirring the Pot.
That’s what I love about this exercise – it can easily be made less challenging, or much more difficult.
You can regress the movement into either doing a plank on the yoga ball, or doing a traditional floor-based plank. Both of these are less challenging than Stirring the Pot, but they are a great place to start. Once you’ve perfected these, you can progress onto the Stirring the Pot exercise.
When you first move onto the yoga ball, start with a wider foot stance to give you a more stable base. As you get used to the movement and your stability increases, you can start to make your stance narrower.
After a while, if you start to find Stirring the Pot too easy for your newly-strengthened abs, you can progress further by increasing the number of reps or the time of each rep to make it more challenging.
9. Requires Minimal Equipment
We all love convenience, especially when we’re working out in a packed gym right after a hard day at work. You’re in the gym wanting to finish off your workout with some abdominal exercises, but the ab crunch machine is taken. That’s where the Stirring the Pot exercise is perfect.
This movement requires little equipment. Quite literally, all you need is yourself and a yoga ball or any unstable surface that you can move around on. As long as you have these things, you can go to a corner of the gym and get in a great ab workout before heading home.
10. Easily Programmable
Due to its simplicity and easy setup, the Stirring the Pot exercise can be incorporated into almost any training program.
Regardless of your health and fitness goals, this exercise will benefit you by strengthening your core and increasing your stability, which is helpful in most gym-based exercises.
Whether you’re a powerlifter looking to maximize your deadlift, or you’re a cardio lover looking to increase your endurance, programming the Stirring the Pot exercise into your routine will be easy.
Try adding in 3-5 sets of this exercise at the end of your normal routine. Alternatively, you could even throw in a few sets in the middle of your workouts. Either way, there’s no excuse not to do them when it’s so easy to add them into your workout!
Tips To Performing The Stirring The Pot Exercise
Some top tips and coaching cues for performing the Stirring the Pot exercise that everybody should take on board are
Common Mistakes To The Stirring The Pot Exercise
Although the Stirring the Pot exercise looks simple (and it is), there are some common mistakes that I often see people making with it. Here are some of them.
1. Looking Up Or Down
As I’ve mentioned, aim for your whole body to form a straight line. If you move your head up or down, your spine will be out of alignment, and you’re at risk of injuring yourself.
2. Dropping Your Hips
This causes the lumbar spine to round, increasing the pressure on the lower back. Make sure you contract your core to maintain stable hips
3. Lifting Your Hips
Similar to the last point, some people raise their hips, which makes the exercise much easier by lessening the tension on the core. Keep your hips in line with your spine to avoid this
4. Rounding The Shoulders
Try not to roll your shoulders forward or tense your traps. The position of your scapulae and pelvis affects the activation of the core muscles by helping to stabilise the body .
5. Bending At The Knees
This makes the exercise much easier by moving the load onto the lower body and bringing in the quads to help. Make sure your knees are locked out by contracting your quads and focusing on squeezing your glutes to stay stable
6. Changing Elbow Positioning
Your elbows should stay at 90 degrees throughout the whole exercise, even as you are moving your forearms. This ensures the exercise is targeting the core muscles correctly and makes it easier for you to maintain proper scapular positioning.
When To Use The Stirring The Pot Exercise
When you’re bored of your normal ab routine, it might be time to throw in the Stirring the Pot exercise. It provides some variety and switches up your workout. This will help to keep you motivated to do your ab workouts, which is something that many of us struggle with regularly!
The Stirring the Pot exercise can be used either as part of a larger workout, or as a standalone exercise to train your abdominal muscles. Adding in a couple of sets of this exercise to your routine will increase your core strength and stability, regardless of your goals.
It will challenge any gym goer, but in particular it will be difficult for beginners. I recommend doing this exercise if you already have a certain level of core strength. If you’re completely new to the gym, try working on increasing your core strength first.
Once you have perfected the traditional plank, and the yoga ball plank, you should definitely start using the Stirring the Pot exercise to take your ab workouts to the next level.
Who Should Perform The Stirring The Pot Exercise?
The Stirring the Pot exercise is suitable for anybody. It is a low-risk exercise, so even beginners can safely attempt this movement. It also requires minimal equipment, so can be performed anywhere, whether you’re in a gym or not.
If you are looking to improve your core strength and stability, the Stirring the Pot exercise will be a great addition to your workout. It’s a perfect progression from the traditional plank if you’re looking to make it more challenging.
This exercise is a great way to switch up your normal ab routine. You could add it in after your usual ab workout, or use it to replace your current routine if you’re bored of it. For those of you who have never tried the Stirring the Pot exercise, it will provide new challenges for your core muscles.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Reps Should I Do?
Assuming that one rep is one ‘circle’, I recommend starting with 15 reps in each direction, and working your way up to around 30 reps each way. An alternative method that I prefer to use with my clients is performing circles in each direction for a set amount of time (usually 30 seconds each), as it saves having to count all the way up to 60 with every set.
How Do I Stop My Hips From Dropping?
Dropping your hips is a common mistake people make with this exercise. Focus on tightening your core muscles, and squeezing your glutes to keep your hips in alignment with the rest of your body.
What Should I Do If The Stirring The Pot Exercise Is Too Difficult For Me?
If you find the Stirring the Pot exercise too difficult, there are other options.
Simply doing a standard floor-based plank is a great place to start. It uses the same muscles and body positioning as the Stirring the Pot exercise, but is much easier because you are doing it on a stable base (the floor) as opposed to an unstable base (a yoga ball). This means it requires less core strength to keep you balanced.
To progress from the standard plank, you can try holding the plank on a yoga ball with no movement. Begin with holding for 30 seconds, then up to 60 seconds. Once you’ve got this perfected, you can start trying to ‘stir the pot’.
Will This Exercise Make My Abs Visible?
The Stirring the Pot exercise will help to strengthen your core muscles. It can stimulate hypertrophy in those who are untrained, which can make your abs more visible. However, this only applies to those of you whose abs are not already developed to a certain level. Unfortunately, it’s hard to overload the Stirring the Pot exercise, so there is a limit to the hypertrophy you can stimulate.
Also remember that working out is never the full story when it comes to your fitness. Your diet needs to be optimal for you to maintain a good physique. If you have a higher body fat percentage, it’s likely that you have fat covering your abdominal muscles. If this is the case, simply doing ab exercises won’t make your abs visible above this layer of fat.
Long story, short – it's important to work out your abs with exercises like Stirring the Pot, as well as maintaining a body fat percentage within a certain range.
As with any core movement, it’s important to make sure you are engaging your core with the Stirring the Pot exercise. If you make sure you have correct form and practice it often, this exercise will provide many benefits for you.
The Stirring the Pot exercise is a great way to add something different to your normal ab workouts. Not only does it activate your abdominals, but it also targets several secondary muscles, and enhances your stability. If you’re worried it will be too challenging for you, start with a traditional plank, and work your way up from there.
Try the Stirring the Pot exercise in your next workout and you won’t be disappointed.
 Escamilla RF., et al. Muscle Activation Among Supine, Prone, and Side Position Exercises with and Without a Swiss Ball. Sports Health. 2016 Jul;8(4):372-9. doi: 10.1177/1941738116653931. Epub 2016 Jun 14.
 Escmailla RF., et al. Core muscle activation during Swiss ball and traditional abdominal exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010 May;40(5):265-76. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2010.3073.
 Cortell-Tormo JM., et al. Influence of Scapular Position on the Core Musculature Activation in the Prone Plank Exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Aug;31(8):2255-2262. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001689.
DISCLAIMER: This article is for intended for educational purposes only and not as an individualized exercise prescription, therefore no one can be held liable in the occurrence of injuries, damages or monetary losses as a result of the information.
About The Author
Athina Crilley is a Biochemistry graduate and a qualified health, nutrition, and recovery coach. She believes that health and fitness is a lifestyle and should be enjoyable. Athina currently works with online clients to achieve their goals and creates helpful and informative content online through her podcast and social media platforms. She has also written and published a book all about her struggles and recovery from an eating disorder called ‘Diaries of An Anorexic’.