Core workouts will aim to strengthen your abs and lower back, giving you better strength and stability in all exercises you do, as well as improving your posture and stance. If you are aiming for that coveted six pack, these exercises will be crucial, as long as they are combined with a good diet.
Through these exercises, you will primarily target your rectus abdominus, the muscles between your sternum and pelvis bone, and your obliques, the muscles at the sides of your waist.
Because many core workouts can involve your lower back – a common area of injuries – it is important that you stop exercising if you feel pain there. If you have ten sit ups in your set, and you feel pain on the sixth repetition, for example, you should not attempt to finish the rest of your set.
You will actually find that many full body, upper body and lower body workouts will help to develop your core. However, to really build up your strength in this area of your body, you will need to target your midsection with specific exercises.
One great thing about core workouts is that they often require no equipment at all. Adding weights will help you get even stronger, but the most common workouts can be done very easily, needing nothing more than a bit of space for you to move around in.
How to do:
Sit ups are the most well known exercise for your core, and will ideally be done on a soft mat.
Lie down on your back with your feet flat on the ground, underneath something weighted, or have a partner hold them down to the floor. You legs will need to be bent at the knees, at a 90 degree angle.
Put your hands on either side of your head, behind your ears, with your arms bent. Although your hands are placed on your head, they should only touch very lightly, rather than being used to pull your body up during the exercise. Alternatively, you can cross your arms across your chest, if you find that more comfortable. The most important thing is to make sure you do not put strain on your neck during the sit ups.
Using your abs, lift your upper body from the floor towards your legs, stopping when you reach an upright position. Throughout this movement, you should be breathing out.
Once you have reached the upright position, hold the contraction for one second, then lower yourself back down with control, breathing in as you do so. You have now returned to the start position and completed one rep.
To increase the difficulty of this exercise, you can rest a weight on your chest, with your arms holding it in place. However, it is recommended to build up to this gradually, and use a suitable weight, so as not to injure yourself.
Crunches are similar to sit ups, and there are a number of variations to target different parts of your core. The main difference is that for sit ups, your whole upper body comes off the floor, and you rise to your knees – you actually sit up. With crunches however, your lower back remains on the floor, and you do not rise to your knees.
This instruction is for normal crunches, and essentially it will feel like you are trying to curl up into a ball.
Lie down on your back, with your feet flat on the ground and your legs bent at the knees, at a 90 degree angle. Place your hands on either side of your head, behind your ears. They should only touch your head very lightly.
Contracting your abs, lift your shoulders up off the ground. Do not lift your lower back, but instead push it down into the ground as you lift your upper body up. You should exhale during this movement.
Once your shoulders are approximately five inches off the floor, hold the position for one second, contracting your abs hard. Then, lower slowly back down to the floor, resulting in you completing one repetition. Inhale as you lower your upper body back down.
These are like the opposite of normal crunches. Lie down on your back, and bend your legs at the knees, at a 90 degree angle. Then, lift your legs off the floor, so your calves are horizontal and your thighs are vertical. This is the starting position.
Your arms should be flat on the floor alongside your body, reaching down as far down as they can go, with your palms spread on the floor.
Now, bring your knees to your chest by rolling your pelvis back and raising your hips off the ground, inhaling as you do so. Once your knees are as far towards your chest as possible, pause for one second, holding the contraction of your abs.
Then, slowly lower your legs back to their starting position, resulting in the completion of one rep.
Bicycle crunches (or the air bike exercise), are particularly good for your obliques, and are a bit of a mix of normal and reverse crunches, so it is recommended to familiarise yourself with those first.
Your starting position is the same as for reverse crunches, with your legs bent and up off the floor, and hands lightly placed on the sides of your head. Your elbows should be pointed at your knees, and your shoulders should be slightly above the ground.
Fully extend your left leg horizontally, and bring your right knee towards your chest. Lean up and forwards, keeping your lower back on the floor, just like with a normal crunch. You need to turn your upper body however, to get your left elbow to almost touch your right knee. This works your obliques as you crunch your core to the side. Breathe out as you do this part.
Then, lower your upper body back down to your starting position, (inhaling as you do so), and cycle your legs so that your left knee is now near your chest, and your right leg is fully extended.
Crunch again, but this time you bring your right elbow up by your left knee, before lowering your upper body once more to its original position, resulting in the completion of one rep.
Cycle your legs continually, at a pace which allows you to bring your elbow to the alternate knee each time, with control throughout.
The plank can be one of the toughest exercises around, but it is very good for your core. Lie face down on the floor, with your toes pointed down into the ground. Your forearms should be in line with your body, with your fists level with your eyes, but shoulder width apart.
Push your body up off the floor, with your toes and forearms bearing the weight. The most important part of this exercise is that your body remains completely flat and straight. You therefore need to work your abs and lower back to control yourself, keeping your back straight, and prevent your hips from dropping drop down.
This is a static exercise, and you need to hold the position for a set amount of time. The amount of time you hold it for depends on your individual fitness level, but over time you will want to increase the time held.
This variation of the plank works your obliques. Lie down on your right side, with one leg on top of the other, both fully extended. Prop your body up onto your right forearm and elbow, and place your left hand on your left hip, where it will remain throughout the exercise.
As said, your legs should be fully extended, with the outer side of your right foot supporting your bodyweight (along with your right elbow and forearm) during the exercise.
Your body will be off the ground, and you should form a straight line from the top of your head to your feet. In order to keep the position stable, you will have to tighten and work your abs and obliques.
Keeping your abs and glutes squeezed will help prevent your hips from dropping down. Just like the normal plank, hold this static position for a set amount of time. Once you have completed one side plank, switch onto your other side.
This is a very straightforward exercise. Lie down on your back, with your arms alongside your body. Angle your arms slightly out to the sides, with your palms down. This gives you a wider stance, which helps make you more stable during the exercise.
Keeping your feet together, lift your legs about 2 inches off the floor. This is the starting position.
Try not to bend your knees during this exercise, and make sure you keep your lower back on the floor, rather than arching it upwards.
Lift your legs up towards the ceiling, so that your legs are at a 90 degree angle to the ground. Pause for one second, then lower your legs slowly with control, back to the starting position, resulting in the completion of one rep.
Remember not to lower your legs completely to the floor until you have finished your set, they should always be off the floor during the exercise.
Lie down on your back, and extend your arms straight back behind your head, with your legs also fully extended.
Bending at the waist, simultaneously lift your legs and arms up towards each other, as if you are trying to touch your toes. Your arms and legs should remain fully extended during this move, not bent at either the elbow or knees, and you should exhale as you lift them up.
Your legs should be lifted to an angle of approximately 45 degrees from the floor, and reaching forward, your arms should end up parallel to your legs, with your hands almost reaching your feet. Your upper body should be off the floor, but your lower back should remain flat on the floor.
Hold this position for one second, and then carefully lower back down to the starting position in a controlled manner, inhaling as you do so, resulting in the completion of one rep.
If you want to make this exercise easier you could bend your knees. To make this exercise harder, you can:
- Raise your legs higher than 45 degrees each time
- Avoid lowering your arms and legs all the way back down to the floor between repetitions
- Hold a suitable weight/medicine ball