As a fitness editor, I love nothing more than a slightly offbeat workout challenge — from dead bugs every day to counting 5,000 steps and comparing the tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch and Garmin Forerunner 265, I’ve tried it all. Next on my list of challenges is a popular standing ab exercise — the cup march. To find out more, I grabbed one of the best adjustable dumbbells and marched from my living room every day for seven days. Read on to find out what happened.
What is a cup march?
A cup march is an exercise that can be performed holding a barbell or kettlebell close to your chest, as you would in a cup squat, or in front of you – the farther the barbell is from your body, the harder your core is on this relocation work. This exercise not only activates your shoulders, glutes, and hips, but also targets the abs, as your core has to work hard to stabilize your body as you move your legs. Like many standing ab exercises, this is a great functional exercise because it mimics a movement you might make in everyday life, such as going up the stairs while carrying a baby, or carrying a heavy shopping bag.
How to do a cup march
Let’s see how to do a cup march. Again, you need some sort of weight for this exercise, whether that’s a kettlebell or one of the best adjustable dumbbells.
- Start by standing on an exercise mat with your feet hip-width apart and your core engaged.
- Hold a barbell or kettlebell in both hands, like a cup, or lifted and away from your body – the farther the weight is from your body, the more difficult this exercise will be.
- Keeping your core engaged, march one leg up toward your torso, bending at the knee, then lower your leg back to starting position and repeat on the other side. Your weight should be transferred from side to side, forcing your stabilizer muscles to work to keep your upper body stable.
- Complete all of your reps, alternating sides, before lowering the weight back to the floor.
I did this standing ab exercise every day for a week – and was surprised by the results
I traded my traditional ab workouts for the cup march for a week, doing 50 reps a day for seven days. This is what happened:
I found the exercise more difficult than I thought
I’ll admit, I didn’t expect this one to be particularly challenging, but it didn’t take me long to realize I had underestimated the move. Of course, as with all abs exercises, form is important here, and I found myself having to slow down to make sure my core stayed engaged and my back straight as I marched. Think about sucking your navel into your spine as you raise and lower your legs during this movement – it’s important not to let the lower back arch. If you notice your back arching during this move, lower the weight or drop it completely.
Every day I challenged myself to add 10 reps to my challenge, and on the last day, 110 marches later, I really felt the movement in my obliques—the muscles that run down the side of the torso.
I’ve raised the bar by making this change
As mentioned above, make this move more challenging by lifting the weight up and in line with your face and keeping it away from your body. This forces your shoulders to work harder to hold the weight throughout your march.
As with many of these week-long challenges, it didn’t take long for me to get a little bored with the practice. To mix things up, I did a day of overhead marches instead, and instantly regretted it. As the name suggests, for the overhead march, hold the dumbbell overhead with one hand as you march each leg toward your torso. Switch halfway between the arm holding the barbell.
It only took me a few reps to realize I should switch to a lighter weight for the one-arm marches. As a reminder, when it comes to selecting the right weight for your workouts, the last few reps should be challenging, but not impossible. At no point should the weight compromise your form.
I will try more standing abs workouts in the future
So, what have I learned from a week of practicing with the cup march? First, I enjoyed this challenge and felt like it really forced me to work my deep core muscles to keep my torso stable. But compared to planks and sit-ups, it was easy to see how this core exercise would translate to my running and lifting weights. As a runner, I often find it difficult to use my core and keep my body upright – my race photos often show me leaning over a bit towards the last miles of a marathon as my body gets tired. Doing these types of standing abdominal workouts allowed me to work on my core strength and translate it into my running.
Of course, a week is not long enough to see visible results or any real change in the core. If visible abs are your goal, focus on your overall body fat percentage. Cardio, your diet, sleep, stress and hormones all affect your body fat percentage – here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage and why it matters.
One thing is certain: I will definitely practice this move again in the future, especially now that I’m working on my next training block.
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