What are core muscles and why should they be strong?
In simple terms, the core of the body includes muscles in your torso. The major muscles of your core are found in your stomach and mid- back area. These muscles are important because they facilitate daily functional movements and support proper movement patterns.
When these muscles are weak because of inadequate training, you are prone to injuries, especially in your low back area. It is therefore important that you must focus on building a strong core not just for looks but for the ability to move your body easily.
These core muscles include the pelvic floor, the rectus abdominis (six-pack abs), transverse abdominis (deeper abdominals), internal and external obliques, erector spinae (muscles along your low back) and the diaphragm.
There are a lot of exercises out there that promise to give you a strong core and flat abs but very few do deliver on that promise. To cut the fluff and give you only what works, here are the most effective core exercises that I use to get a tight and strong core and can work for you if you’re ready and willing to put in the work.
Pick any of these exercises to incorporate into your routine or do all of them separately as a stand-alone workout.
This is a tough exercise that requires a lot of abdominal strength and balance to be able to execute properly. The easiest way to master it is not by starting with the full version which involves beginning from lying flat on your back then shooting straight up to a V-Up. Rather, the best way to do it is by following these simple steps:
- Sit on a mat with your knees bent
- Gently lean back until your torso is at a 45-degree angle balancing on your sit bones
- Engage your abs then lift one leg keeping the knee bent and shin parallel to the floor. If stable, lift the other leg to balance in a half V-Up. You can hold you’re your legs for support if wobbly.
- Once you are comfortable with the previous step leg go off your legs. Straighten your arms in front of you and then gently straighten your legs depending on your stability.
- Hold 30 seconds or more.
2. 3-Point Plank
The plank is a staple for all core workouts. However, doing the regular plank becomes less effective easily. If you can comfortably do the plank for a minute, there’s no point doing it longer than that. To get the most out the plank, you can introduce a new challenge by reducing the base of support.
To execute a 3-point plank:
- Begin by lying flat on your stomach
- Prop yourself up on your elbows and feet making sure that your upper arms are straight from your shoulders down. Keep your body as straight as possible.
- Once you have performed a perfect plank, lift your right arm and extend it forward while keeping your shoulders and hips square
- Hold for the stipulated duration.
3. Russian twist:
This is one of the best exercises to get rid of stubborn love handles. Avoid the temptation to only swing their arms from side to side without moving your torso. The only precaution about this exercise is that it tends to be a bit hard on the low back. Therefore, if you have any problem with your low back, you can skip this exercise or do it without any resistance to learn the proper technique first.
How to properly execute this exercise:
- Sit on the floor with your feet flat and knees bent.
- Lean backward to form a V-Shape and straighten your arms in front of you.
- Twist your torso to the side making sure that you are moving your shoulders and not just your arms while exhaling.
- Move back to the starting position then repeat the same movement to the opposite side keeping your chest and chin up.
- Repeat for the stipulated number of repetitions.
- To make the exercise challenging, you can hold a medicine ball or dumbbell to add resistance to the movement.
- Check out the video below
4. Pilates Swimming
This is by far the best exercise to fix your posture and strengthen the entire back muscles ranging from your rear shoulders, upper and mid-back, lower back, your glutes, and hamstrings. However, the primary focus of this exercise is to strengthen your lower back and glutes which contributes immensely to a stable and functional core.
- Begin by lying face down on a mat with your arms and legs fully extended
- Engage your back and abs then lift your arms and legs off the ground
- Simulate the swimming movement by kicking your legs up and down in rapid succession
- Repeat for the required number of repetitions or do it for a specified amount of time say 30 seconds
5. Swiss ball Roll-out
You will need either a stability ball, barbell with small round plates at the end or an ab wheel. This is an advanced exercise and you must make sure you have no injuries in your shoulders and back to be able to do this exercise properly.
How to do it:
- Begin by kneeling down on a mat with the ball in front of you. Fold the mat into two to provide enough cushioning for your knees.
- Lightly place your hands on the ball and engage your core by tightening your abs.
- Keep your arms locked and hips tight and then roll the ball forward until your arms and torso are in a straight line.
- Pull back to the starting position and repeat the movement for the required number of repetitions.
6. Side Plank Dips
As earlier mentioned the regular plank becomes too easy and boring when without any variation. In order to make exercises that are traditionally effective, you’ll need to keep changing them by adding dynamic movements.
Here’s how to execute this move:
- Start by lying down on your side with your legs straight and your body well aligned.
- Prop yourself up to elevate your entire body into a side plank balancing on your feet and elbow.
- Once in a plank, add some movement by dropping your hips to the floor and lifting them back up to complete one repetition.
- Repeat for the stipulated number of repetitions then repeat on the other side.
7. Bicycle Crunches
This crunch variation is one of the most effective oblique exercises that can help work your midsection if done correctly. Remember to do it in a slow and controlled manner.
- Start by lying on your back with your hands at the back of your head. Don’t clasp your hands to avoid pulling on your neck.
- Lift your feet off the mat and bend your knees to 90 degrees.
- Inhale then bring your right elbow to the left knee keeping your back on the mat and working through your core. It’s not a must to touch your elbow to the knee but squeeze your abs to the full range of motion.
- Switch sides and continue alternating in a controlled manner for the required number of repetitions.
8. Swiss Ball Knee Tucks
This exercise engages your abs differently from doing the seated knee tuck. Your core is forced to work harder to hold the ball still. And, you will be challenged throughout the whole range of motion.
How to do it:
- Begin in a pushup position with your hands shoulder-width apart and your shins on the ball. Lower your butt down to keep your body in a straight line
- Contract your abs and pull your knees to the chest in a slow controlled manner lifting your butt a bit.
- Push the back to the starting position by straightening your knees and rolling the ball in reverse
- Repeat for the required number of repetitions.
9. Side Plank with a Twist
Side plank with a twist is a classic Pilates move that helps work your obliques. It also targets your hips and glutes. If you’re looking to tone your waist and get that slim look, this should be your go-to exercise.
- Get down on a mat and prop yourself up into a side plank position. You can either stack your feet or place your top foot in front of the bottom foot.
- Place your top hand at the back of your head with your elbow pointing skyward and align your body perfectly.
- Exhale and bring your shoulder to the ground simulating a digging motion with your elbow while maintaining a tight core.
- Go back up to complete one repetition. Repeat for the required number of repetitions then change sides.
10. The Glute Bridge
This exercise promotes proper balance by ensuring that all the muscles of the core on the front and backside of the body are working as intended. If you have a desk job or sit for long hours, this exercise will help strengthen all muscles of the butt and will help keep your pelvis aligned. When your pelvis is properly aligned, you are less likely to suffer from low back issues that arise as a result of weak glutes caused by prolonged sitting.
Here is how to do it:
- Begin by lying on your back, feet shoulder-width apart and your knees bent.
- Gently lift your butt from the ground and squeeze your glutes until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Pause momentarily for a second or two, and then slowly lower back down to the starting position.
- Repeat for the required number of repetitions.
- There you have it. Grab your mat and let’s build a leaner and stronger core.