Think of your core muscles as the sturdy central link in a chain connecting your upper and lower body. The necessary motions either originate in your core, or move through it.
No matter where motion starts, it ripples upward and downward to adjoining links of the chain. Thus, weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function. That saps power from many of the moves you make. Properly building up your core cranks up the power. A strong core also enhances balance and stability. It can help prevent falls and injuries during sports or other activities. In fact, a strong, flexible core underpins almost everything you do:
- Everyday acts. Bending to put on shoes or lift a package, turning to look behind you, sitting in a chair, or simply standing still — these are just a few of the many mundane actions that rely on your core and that you might not notice until they become difficult or painful. Even basic activities of daily living, bathing or dressing, for example: call on your core.
- On-the-job tasks. Jobs that involve lifting, twisting and standing all rely on core muscles. But less obvious tasks, like sitting at your desk for hours, engage your core as well. Phone calls, typing, computer use and similar work can make back muscles surprisingly stiff and sore, particularly if you’re not strong enough to practice good posture and aren’t taking sufficient breaks.
- A healthy back. Low back pain, a debilitating, sometimes excruciating problem affecting four out of five Americans at some point in their lives, may be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles. When back pain strikes, a regimen of core exercises is often prescribed to relieve it, coupled with medications, physical therapy, or other treatments if necessary.
- Sports and other pleasurable activities. Golfing, tennis or other racket sports, biking, running, swimming, baseball, volleyball, kayaking, rowing and many other athletic activities are powered by a strong core. Less often mentioned are sexual activities, which call for core power and flexibility, too.
- Housework, fix-it work and gardening. Bending, lifting, twisting, carrying, hammering, reaching overhead, and even vacuuming, mopping, and dusting are acts that spring from, or pass through, the core.
- Balance and stability. Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance. Viewed this way, core exercises can lessen your risk of falling.
- Good posture. Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture trims your silhouette and projects confidence. More importantly, it lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply. Good posture helps you gain full benefits from the effort you put into exercising, so if your strength training routine involves using dumbbells or a weight set, don’t neglect your core.
Weak, tight, or unbalanced core muscles can undermine you in any of these realms. And while it’s important to build a strong core, it’s unwise to aim all your efforts at developing rippling abs. Overtraining abdominal muscles while snubbing muscles of the back and hip can set you up for injuries and cut athletic prowess. If washboard abs are your holy grail, it’s essential to trim body fat through diet and aerobic exercise and build strong abdominal muscles through frequent core exercise sessions.
- Kneel on the floor and hold an ab wheel beneath your shoulders.
- Brace your abs and roll the wheel forward until you feel you’re about to lose tension in your core and your hips might sag.
- Roll yourself back to start.
- Do as many reps as possible with perfect form and end the set when you think you might break form.
2. Arms-High Partial Sit-up
- Lie on your back, and knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Raise your arms straight overhead, keeping them pointing up throughout the exercise.
- Sit up halfway, then steadily return to the floor.
- That’s one rep.
- Load the bar with 10-pound plates and kneel on the floor behind it.
- Your shoulders should be over the bar.
- Brace your abs and roll the bar forward, reaching in front of you until you feel your hips are about to sag.
- Roll yourself back.
4. Barbell Russian Twist
- Grasp the bar near the very end again—this time with both hands.
- Stand with feet at shoulder width.
- Swing the bar to your left, pivoting your feet as needed.
- Then swing to your right.
- Lie back on the ball with feet shoulder-width apart on the floor.
- Your lower back should be supported by the ball.
- Place your hands behind your ears and tuck your chin.
- Curl your body up off the ball until you’re sitting up.
- Suspend yourself over the parallel bars at a dip station.
- Bend your knees slightly and raise your legs in front of you until they’re parallel to the floor.
- This will build you a magazine-worthy six-pack.
- Lie on your back with legs straight and arms extend out at your sides.
- Lift your heels about 6 inches off the floor and rapidly kick your feet up and down in a quick, scissor-like motion.
- Set a barbell on a power rack at about shoulder height (if you don’t have a rack, clean it to your shoulders).
- Grasp the bar with hands at shoulder width and raise your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
- Take the bar out of the rack and let it rest on your fingertips—as long as your elbows stay up, you’ll be able to balance the bar.
- Step back and set your feet at shoulder width with toes turned out slightly.
- Squat as low as you can without losing the arch in your lower back.
- Set an adjustable cable pulley to shoulder level (or attach a band to a sturdy object) and grasp the handle with both hands.
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart, perpendicular to the anchor point and arms extended, far enough away from the machine so there’s tension on the cable.
- Twist away from the machine as if you were chopping into a tree.
- Keep your feet stationary.
- Lie on the floor and hold onto a bench or the legs of a heavy chair for support.
- Keep your legs straight and raise them up until they’re vertical.
- Lower back down, but stop just short of the floor to keep tension on your abs before the next rep.
- Sit on the floor in the top position of a sit up.
- Holding a plate with both hands, extend your arms in front of you.
- Explosively twist your body to one side and then twist back.
- Alternate sides.
- Hold the ball with both hands and get into pushup position on the floor.
- Drive one knee up to your chest, then quickly drive it back while you raise the opposite knee.
- Get into pushup position with your toes on the ball.
- Bend your hips and roll the ball toward you so your torso becomes vertical.
- Roll back so your body is straight again and extend your spine, then roll the ball up your legs so your body forms a straight line with arms extended overhead but hands still on the floor.
- You should look like Superman flying downward.
- That’s one rep.
- Pull with your lats to return to the pushup position and begin the next rep.
- Here are even more ab moves that use a stability ball.
- Get into push-up position and bend your elbows to lower your forearms to the floor.
- Hold the position with abs braced.
15. Pullup to Knee Raise
- Hang from a pullup bar with hands outside shoulder width and palms facing away from you.
- Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar and then raise your knees to your chest in the top position.
16. Pushup Rocket
- Get into pushup position with your feet in the cradles of a suspension trainer.
- Perform explosive pushups so that your hands leave the floor and you can clap in midair.
17. Resisted Reverse Crunch
- Lie on your back on the floor and wrap the band around the arches of your feet.
- Cross the ends of the band over each other to make an “X” and grasp the ends with opposite hands.
- Bend your hips and knees so that your knees are near your chest and then crunch your torso off the floor.
- Extend your legs while you raise your arms overhead, keep your shoulder blades off the floor.
- That’s one rep.
- Rest your forearms on the Swiss ball and extend your legs behind you.
- Brace your abs and roll the ball forward as you extend your arms and hips.
- When you feel you’re about to lose tension in your abs, roll yourself back.
19. Medicinal Ball Seated Knee Tuck
- Sit on a bench and squeeze the medicine ball between your feet.
- Extend and elevate your legs out in front of you and extend your torso so that your body forms a straight line.
- Hold on to the bench for support.
- Crunch your torso forward and bring your knees to your chest.
- Lie on your left side resting your left forearm on the floor for support.
- Raise your hips up so your body forms a straight line and brace your abs—your weight should be on your left forearm and the edge of your left foot.
- Hold the position with abs braced.
- Place your feet in the foot cradles of the suspension trainer and get into pushup position with your hands on the floor.
- Drive one knee to your chest while the other leg remains extended.
- Now drive the opposite leg to your chest while you extend the other back.
- Continue so it looks like you’re running in place.
22. Situp and throw
- Hold a medicine ball with both hands in front of your chest and sit on the floor.
- Anchor your feet under something sturdy for support, and lie back on the floor a few feet away from a brick or concrete wall.
- Explosively sit up and throw the ball into the wall and then catch it on the rebound.
- If you have a partner, you can throw the ball to him/her instead.
23. Star Plank
- Get into pushup position.
- Move your arms and feet apart as wide as possible, your body will make a star shape.
- Hold the position with your torso straight and abs braced for 30 seconds.
24. Straight-Leg Barbell Situp
- Lie on the floor holding an empty or lightly loaded bar over your chest as in the top of a bench press.
- Your legs should be extended on the floor in front of you.
- Perform a situp, raising your torso until it’s vertical.
- Keep the bar over your head, so it drifts back to an overhead press position at the top of the situp.
- Load the barbell on the floor and stand to the left of it with feet hip-width apart.
- Bend your hips back and lower your body until you can grasp the barbell in its centre with your right hand.
- Brace your core and, keeping your lower back in its natural arch, push through your heels to stand up and lock out your hips.
- Squeeze the bar hard to keep it from teetering.
- Focus on keeping your spine straight the entire set—do not bend laterally toward the barbell.
26. Swiss Ball Plank Circle
- Place a Swiss ball on the floor and get into pushup position with your hands on it.
- Now lower your forearms to rest on the ball, keeping your entire body in a straight line with abs braced.
- Use your elbows to roll the ball in a circular motion, clockwise and then counterclockwise, as if you were stirring a pot.
27. Swiss Ball V-Up and Pass
- Lie on your back on the floor and hold the ball between your ankles.
- Extend your arms behind your head. Sit up while raising your legs simultaneously and pass the ball from your legs to your hands.
- Go back down to the floor and repeat, passing the ball from your hands to your legs.
- Each pass is one rep.
- Lie on your back on the floor holding the ball with both hands behind your head.
- Extend you legs. Brace your abs and sit all the way up.
- Raise your legs simultaneously and reach for your toes with the ball.
- Your body should form a V shape at the top.
- Lie on the floor holding a weight plate at your chest.
- Bend your knees 90 degrees with feet on the floor.
- Tuck your chin to your chest and sit up all the way.
- Get into the bottom of a lunge position with your left leg forward and reach up over your left shoulder to grasp the band.
- Pull it diagonally downward across your body to the outside of your right hip.