Core strength is important for maintaining good posture, balance, and stability, and it can also help
improve athletic performance and prevent injuries. Here are 8 exercises to improve your core strength and tips on how to maintain proper form.
Core Strengthening Exercises
Planks are a simple but effective way to strengthen your core. Start by getting into a plank position with your arms straight, hands shoulder-width apart, and feet hip-width apart. Hold the position for 30 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds. As you get stronger, you can try holding the plank for longer periods of time, or adding variations such as side planks or plank jacks.
If you hold a plank on your hands or forearms make sure they are directly under your shoulders and shoulder-width apart.
Tuck your tailbone a little and think of pulling your belly button up to the ceiling to ensure your abs are engaged and you keep your spine neutral. You don't want your hips above your shoulders or dipping too low.
Crunches are another classic exercise for strengthening the core. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your hands behind your head. Lift your head, shoulders, and upper back off the ground, then lower back down. Start with sets of 10-15 reps and gradually increase as you get stronger.
Exhale when you crunch up and exhale when you go down. Don't hold your breath, counting out loud can help make sure your breathing during this exercise.
Tuck your tailbone and pull in your lower abdomen. This will help keep your core engaged and protect your lower back.
For a more intense workout, you can bring your feet closer to your body.
Ab Crunch Variations
90-Degree Leg Crunch
Vertical Leg Crunch
Jack Knife Crunch
3. Russian Twists
Russian twists are a great way to work your obliques, which are the muscles on the sides of your abdomen. Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lean back slightly then twist your upper body from side to side. You can lift your feet off the ground or keep them planted. Start with sets of 10-15 reps on each side.
For a more challenging variation, you can do seated Russian twists with a medicine ball. Using the medicine ball adds more weight and resistance making your abdominal muscles work harder.
Pinch your shoulder blades slightly and lift your chest to ensure your back stays straight and you are not hunching or rounding the lumbar spine.
When you lean back, hinge from the hips and tuck in your lower stomach to keep your core engaged and protect your lower back.
Twist from the core and keep both hips planted on the ground.
4. Mountain Climbers
Mountain climbers are a dynamic exercise that works your core, as well as your shoulders, back, and legs. Start in a plank position, then bring one knee towards your chest while keeping the other leg straight. Switch legs and repeat the motion, keeping your core engaged the entire time. Mountain climbers can be done on your hands or your forearms for a more difficult exercise.
Plant your hands under your shoulders, shoulder-width distance apart. Engaging your core will keep your body stable and keep you from moving your body weight forward or backward too much.
Similar to holding a plank, make sure your hips don't hike up and you don't arch your back. This can cause additional stress to the hips, back, shoulders, and wrist. Keep your spine in a neutral state.
5. Bird Dog
Bird dogs are a great exercise for strengthening your core and improving your balance. Start on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Lift one arm and the opposite leg off the ground, then lower back down. Repeat on the other side. Start with sets of 10-15 reps on each side.
Your stabilizing arm should be planted directly under your shoulder and your knee directly under your hip. When you raise your arm, lift it no higher than your shoulder. When you bring your arm into your body bend it to 90 degrees. When you kick your leg back, lift it no higher than your hips. When you bring your leg into your body bend it to 90 degrees.
When you crunch your elbow to your knee tuck your tailbone and pull in your stomach. Your back will have a slight arch as you crunch.
When you return back to your starting position, keep your back straight in a neutral position.
6. Leg Lifts
Leg lifts are a great way to strengthen your lower abdominal muscles. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and your legs straight. Lift your legs off the ground and hold for a few seconds, then lower back down. Start with sets of 10-15 reps and gradually increase as you get stronger.
Flex your feet and engage your quads to keep your legs straight.
To protect your lower back you can place your arms roughly 45 degrees from the body or right next to the side of your body and your hands right next to your bottom to help stabilize your body and protect your lower back.
Pull in your stomach and tuck your tailbone to keep your abs engaged and your lower back against the ground. If your core protrudes up you miss out on the full benefits of the exercise.
7. Bicycle Crunches
Bicycle crunches are a variation of the classic crunch that targets your obliques and lower abs. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your hands behind your head. Lift your head, shoulders, and upper back off the ground and bring your right elbow towards your left knee while straightening your right leg. Switch sides and repeat the motion, alternating between right and left.
Flex your foot when your leg extends away from you. When you bring your leg into your body, bend your knee to 90 degrees. When you pull your knee towards your core stop when it is directly over your hips and point your toes.
Tuck your tailbone and pull your stomach into the ground.
Twist from your core, not your hips. Keep both hips evenly on the ground.
8. Bent Knee Boat Pose Roll Back
Bent knee rollback is a variation of the boat pose that helps with building, strength and balance, all while working your core, and hip flexors and promoting a long, straight spine. Start in a seated position with your legs together and your knees bent to 90 degrees. Lean back just enough to come to the very back of your sit bones (similar to the posture of the Russian twist) and lift your legs up so your shins are parallel to the ceiling. Point your toes, squeeze your inner thighs together, and engage your core. Send your arms forward and place your hands on the back of your knees or quads. Keep your hands behind your knees the whole time, tuck your tailbone and rock backward onto your back then roll back up to your seated position. Hold for a second then roll back down. Start with sets of 10-15 reps and gradually increase as you get stronger.
Use your core to rock you back and forth not the momentum of your body.
Keep your knees at a 90-degree angle the entire time. When you roll back keep from pulling your knees into your chest.
When you roll back stop just before your shoulders touch the ground.
The slower you roll back and up the more intense it is for your core.
Remember to start slowly and gradually increase the difficulty as you get stronger. It's also important to
maintain good form to avoid injury and get the most benefit from your exercises. As with any exercise
program, it's a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before starting a new routine.