Want to get a stronger core? Whether you want to run a marathon or just have more energy to look after the kids, core strength can help. No matter what your fitness goals are, strengthening your abdominal muscles will help you improve your overall fitness.
Your core muscles are those deep muscles within your back and stomach that support your core – which constitutes your abdominals, back, and hips. These major core muscles include the obliques, transverse abdominis, erector spinae, pelvic floor muscles, diaphragm, and rectus abdominis.
We often neglect these muscles, but the good news is that you can improve your core strength quickly – after a month of core strength exercises, you should start to notice improvements. Gyms and at-home tools like the best ab rollers can help, but you can also strengthen your core using just your own body weight.
Once you’re all ready to go, here’s how to strengthen your core, including a few exercises you can do at home – no gym membership required.
Why is core strength important?
Core muscles are so much more than six-pack abs – they’re actually essential to your posture, mobility, and wellbeing. Fitness trainer and author Julia Buckley explains, “I really can’t overstate the importance of strong core muscles. The core is the powerhouse of the whole body. These muscles are involved in every activity from the most intense workout to a gentle walk, keeping us moving correctly, efficiently, and safely.
In fact, even when we’re not moving our core works to support our posture – you definitely do not want to experience the painful back problems which commonly result from poorly functioning core muscles. A strong core makes us move better in every way and it also improves our posture, both of which make us look and feel fitter, youthful, and more energetic”.
What exercises are good for core muscles?
If you want a stronger core, you can find it through plenty of popular types of exercise. Pilates and yoga are two fantastic options since these workouts put such a big emphasis on balance, strength, and flexibility. Pilates in particular was designed around deep core muscle strength, as a strong core is the foundation of Pilates movement.
With an emphasis on breathing, concentration, and precise movement, you might find that practising Pilates and yoga on one of the best yoga mats can give you a bit of daily mindfulness as well, which we can all benefit from. However, if you just can’t get into yoga or Pilates, don’t worry – there are plenty of other great sports that can build core strength.
Rowing and kayaking are two powerhouse exercises for the core, as paddling means your torso is constantly rotating, working the abdominals and obliques. You’ll be working your chest, arms, and shoulders as well, so both rowing and kayaking can be a killer cardio workout and will help you work up a sweat.
Other sports that can build core strength include swimming, volleyball, cycling, tennis, and weight lifting, so there are plenty of choices to suit your fitness interests.
Try these moves to strengthen your core
With an exercise mat and a bit of floor space, you can work on your core strength at home, even without a gym membership. Although you might think strengthening your core is all about endless sit-ups, we have good news – that’s not the case!
Buckley explains, “It’s definitely not all about crunches, although there is a place for those. The core is involved in EVERY exercise so being more mindful of really activating the muscles of the midsection during your whole workout is really key. For example, when you’re doing push-ups be sure to pull in your belly, keep your back very straight and squeeze your glutes. In squats, make sure your abs, especially lower abs, are engaging, keep your back straight and hips aligned, chest up”.
If you want to start a new workout routine, you might be wondering which moves are best for the core. “A few examples of great core-specific moves are glute bridge, bird dog, dead bug, plank, hollow holds/scissors, yoga boat, v-ups, Russian twists, and bicycle crunches”, says Buckley. Looking for a simple core workout for beginners? Check out some of the below moves.
A plank may look easy, but this bodyweight exercise can be deceptively hard. To plank, place your palms on the ground, directly under your shoulders – as if you were going to do a push-up. Then, lift your knees up and keep your toes on the ground, lifting your body up and keeping your head, spine, and legs all in alignment.
You can pull your stomach towards your spine and engage your glute muscles to really work your core. Hold for 20-30 seconds and try to build up the length of time you can hold the position. If you find it too challenging, you can modify the plank by placing your knees on the ground.
Although a glute bridge is great for your backside, it’s also a good exercise for core strength. To try it out, lie on your back, bend your knees, and keep your feet on the ground and your arms by your side.
Pulling in your abs and squeezing your glute muscles, raise your hips and back off the mat. This should create a straight diagonal line from your shoulders up to your hips and then your knees. Hold for a few seconds and then release – you can start with ten sets and then build up from there.
Leg raises will really help you feel the burn – in a good way. They target the abs, but it’s also an effective exercise for improving your coordination and balance.
You can think of leg raises as a reverse crunch – to do it, lie on your back on your mat, keeping your head and neck on the ground and your arms by your side. Then, keeping your legs straight, lift your legs up towards the sky until your butt comes off the ground. Then, slowly lower your legs, keeping them hovered just slightly off the ground if you want to make the exercise more challenging. Your movements should be slow and controlled, with your abdominal muscles activated.
Aim for ten again and build up your strength over time, increasing your reps.
These exercises can help you improve core strength and can also assist with weight loss when combined with a healthy diet. However, if you have any injuries or health concerns, always talk to your doctor first to make sure these exercises are right for you. Even just a few minutes of core work per day can make a big difference, so don’t be discouraged! While it might feel challenging at first, you’ll be amazed at how much your body can achieve over time—and your core will thank you.
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Katie Dundas is an American freelance writer and fitness enthusiast and graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, now based in Sydney, Australia. She’s passionate about the outdoors and loves swimming, diving, running, and long walks with her very energetic dog, but she’s also partial to reformer Pilates.
She’s written for travel and lifestyle publications including BBC Travel, Outdoor Fitness & Adventure, Business Insider, Fodor’s, TechRadar Pro, Lifewire, and ScubaDiving.com.
Her top fitness tips? Find an exercise or sport you enjoy, as it means working out becomes something fun–not a chore. It’s also great to work out with friends as it keeps you accountable.