Having a strong core is fundamental for all-round health and wellbeing.
Your core includes your abs, obliques, and lower lats.
A strong core helps promote better posture and avoids injury and lower back pain. A strong core also helps empower better movement and helps support all kinds of functional movements you do throughout daily life.
Core muscles are also key for stability and balance.
Strengthening your core is also vital for sport, active hobbies and anyone who enjoys adventurous travel. A strong core will basically make any movement easier. From hiking and kayaking to badminton and cricket, having strength and stability from your trunk will enable easier movement. You’ll be able to channel that power to feel stronger in other parts of your body too.
The following core strengthening exercises are proven to help develop defined abs and a strong core.
To trade belly fat for flat abs, these core exercises need to be accompanied with a balanced diet that includes healthy foods and no junk food. Different diets work for different people, so without going into the specifics, it’s just important to appreciate that building washboard abs is a 2 way process: exercise and diet. Both need to commitment and hard-work to see results.
The core exercises below are separated in beginner exercises and advanced exercises. All of them can be done in the comfort of your own home and you can mix and match different exercises to create your own customised workout.
Core Strengthening Exercises You Can Do at Home
Grab an exercise mat, your favourite workout music and let’s get to work!
Core Exercises for Beginners
The following exercises are beginner-friendly and great for those looking to get started with core exercises.
You can start slow and steady, doing a few repetitions for each movement and over the weeks, slowly increase the amount of repetitions and sets you do for each exercise.
Planks are a great core exercise.
Adopt the position you would for a push-up but rest your forearms on the floor. Tuck your elbows in so they are shoulder width apart.
Your legs should be extended with your toes touching the floor.
Avoid your glutes raising too high – the perfect plank position should look like…well… a plank! Your back should be straight.
As you hold this position, its really important to squeeze your abs and core muscles.
To begin with, just try and hold that position for a few seconds and then rest. Repeat this until you feel comfortable with your form and slowly increase the amount of time you hold it for.
If you’re a busy person, there’s no excuses for not doing planks – you can do it while watching TV or waiting for the kettle to boil.
There are also lots of plank variations so once you’ve got the hang of the basic plank, you can increase the difficulty by attempting some of the variations. The side plank is a good alternative to get practising. This follows the same movement, but you are performing the plank on one side instead of laying flat. This targets the obliques and helps shape your core and avoid developing a flabby belly.
Sit-ups are probably the most common core and ab exercise.
They developed a bit of a bad reputation but this is largely just due to bad form and people using a swinging motion instead of a slow and controlled movement.
Performed correctly, sit-ups still offer a highly effective way to strengthen your core and develop those washboard abs.
Lay on the floor with your knees bent. With your arms either folded across your chest or resting behind your head (or raised in the air), tense your core muscles and raise your torso towards your knees.
Similar to planks, there are lots of sit-up variations, so you can keep alternating them to keep your workout fresh and interesting.
Crunches are another great exercise for beginners.
Similar to sit-ups, lay on the ground with your knees bent. Tense your core muscles and raise your torso off the ground. Unlike sit-ups, we’re not going to go all the way to our knees.
Instead, the movement is quite small, but keeps the abs working hard for the whole movement.
Side crunches are a great alternative and will work the core from a different angle.
Leg raises are a personal favourite and guaranteed to get those core muscles working.
Leg raises also test balance and stability, helping leverage the whole core, as opposed to isolating the abs.
Lay flat on the ground and with your legs straight, raise them in the air. To begin with you can just try and raise them off the ground. Once you feel more confident, raise them higher.
This movement will engage your core, glutes, legs and back, providing a really effective all-round exercise that is perfect for those wanting to maximise every movement in their workout routine.
The bird dog is a popular movement in both yoga and physio therapy. It engages the core and promotes better posture, as well as combating back pain.
The bird dog exercise is a great warm-up movement that helps get your body ready for a workout. If you feel any pain or discomfort in this basic movement, it may be a warning sign.
For the bird dog, start on all fours. Raise one arm forward and the alternative leg backwards. Repeat for both sides. As your arm and alternative leg are raised outwards, try and hold that position for a few seconds. This will test your core and balance.
V-Ups conclude the beginner core exercises and offer up another great all-round movement to test your core (along with other muscles).
For V-Ups, lay on the floor with your legs and arms stretched out. Tensing your core, bring both your legs and arms together so they meet in the middle.
While performing this movement, your body should adopt the shape of a V.
Advanced Core Exercises
These exercises are designed to be a bit more challenging.
Once you’ve got the hang of the beginner movements, these additional advanced core exercises are a great way to take your workouts to the next level.
Hanging Leg Raises
Hang leg raises are a fantastic all-round bodyweight exercise.
They go beyond just a core exercise and will engage your back, arms and glutes. This makes them a great exercise for those looking to get the most out of any movement in the gym.
You will need somewhere to hang from. Most gyms will have bars and rigs, or similarly, you can buy calisthenics equipment that is perfect for this sort of movement.
Hold the bar with your hands and hang with your legs in a vertical position. Tense your core and bring your legs to a horizontal position, keeping them as straight as possible.
This movement is relying on your core being strong enough to lift your legs.
Your ability to maintain straight legs will also indicate your flexibility – if you’re struggling to keep them straight, it may indicate you need to work on your hamstring flexibility.
If hanging leg raises are proving a little difficult, try hanging knee raises to begin with. This is exactly the same movement, but you’re legs are bent at the knee so you are just raising your knees up.
Russian twists engage the whole core and will improve your range of motion from your torso.
Sit on the floor with your feet raised off the ground slightly. Twist your torso from side to side, holding for a second at each side.
If your feet are on the ground, it makes the movement much easier – but we’ve put this movement in the advanced core exercise list, so feet off the ground please!
Just holding that position is quite hard and will require good balance. Once you start twisting from side to side, your body needs to stay balanced while your core is tensed and rotating your upper body.
To increase the difficulty, you can hold a medicine ball. Medicine balls are weighted and will require more strength and power to twist.
Wood chops offer a great functional movement that will engage the core as well as lots of supporting muscle groups.
Wood chops can be performed with dumbbells or cables.
Start by holding the dumbbells or cables in the air, above one shoulder, with your arms stretched out. With an explosive (yet controlled) movement, bring the dumbbells or cables across your body, to the opposing lower leg.
Your core, arms, shoulders, and back will all need to work in unison to support this movement.
The angle of the “chop” will largely influence how the core muscles are worked. To keep this exercise fresh, you can keep changing the angle, from high chops to horizontal chops.
Side bends may seem like quite a basic movement, but they require very precise form to ensure the core is engaged.
Start by standing upright, with legs shoulder width apart. Hold a dumbbell (or kettlebell) in one hand, and slowly lower your upper body to that side. Raise yourself back to the starting position and repeat.
Ensure you are moving by tensing your core. This shouldn’t be a swinging movement, instead it should be very controlled. You can also use special fitness equipment to perform variations of side bends.
Exercise Ball Knee Tucks
Knee tucks with an exercise ball involve core strength as well as careful control over your movement.
Starting on all fours with an exercise ball behind you, place both feet on the ball, so you adopt a plank position.
Tensing your core, you want to bring your knees towards your stomach. The exercise ball allows you to do this smoothly. The exercise ball helps provide a platform for you to tuck your knees in.
This movement involves a strong core and good balance. It is great for anyone looking for a challenging movement that they can practice over and over again.
Holding the bars, with your legs stretched out, you want to raise your legs up so your body and legs form an L shape.
It is a position that gymnastics will practice and it engages your core as well as triceps, shoulders, chest and glutes. It’s a fantastic all-round functional movement for those who want to feel in control of their bodies. It’s also something that is very practical for lots of sports and activities – surfing in particular needs this type of total body control.
How Many Times Should You Train Core?
The optimal amount you should train your core is very personal and depends on a range of factors. Fitness level, targets, other workouts, etc, will dictate the best core training plan.
For beginners, doing a handful of core exercises 3 times a week would be a great starting point.
Similarly, you may decide to dedicate a day for just training core.
You can have success with either approach.