The core muscles are the most important muscles in the body for movement. Not only do strong core muscles look good but they connect the top half of the body to the bottom half. A good well functioning core means more power, a well protected spine and a tight midsection.
You don’t need all the latest gadgets and gizmos to exercise your core muscles just some sensible and scientific bodyweight exercises.
# 1 – Bird Dogs
A fundamental exercise that everyone should include in their workout program at some time. Start on all fours with knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Extend opposite arm and opposite leg as far as possible concentrating on lengthening the body. Next bring the knee and elbow together while contracting the core muscles. Repeat on the other side. Breathe in as you lengthen the body.
# 2 – Standing Elbow to Knee
A great core warm up exercise and great for integrating the left and right brain hemispheres. From a tall standing position raise one knee to the opposite elbow and then repeat on the other side. The movement should be slow and controlled. Try 20-30 as a warm up exercise.
# 3 – Back Extensions
The core does not just involve the abdominal muscles it stretches all the way around the body. This exercise works on your back extensors and helps to improve your posture. Lie on your belly with the arms stretched out in front. Take a big breath in as you lift both arms and legs off the floor. Hold for a few seconds and return back down. Don’t strain your neck, keep looking down at the floor.
# 4 – Skydivers
Similar to the Back Extension exercise but this time the arms are by your side. Lift up only the upper part of your body while at the same time rotating the arms outwards to bring the shoulder blades together. Hold at the top position for up to 30 seconds. Keep the neck neutral by always looking down and the buttocks squeezed tightly.
# 5 – Front Plank
The exercise that everybody knows. Prop yourself up on your forearms and toes to activate all those muscles from shoulders to toes. Ensure that your elbows are directly underneath your armpits or further forward to increase the intensity. Keep your buttocks tight, back flat and don’t sag at the hips.
# 6 – Single Leg / Arm Plank
Same as the regular front plank but to challenge your core stabilizer muscles further try lifting one leg or one arm. You can have fun with this exercise by setting a timer to beep every 10 seconds and then rotate around from limb to limb. So you may start lifting the left leg, then the right leg, then the left arm and finally the right arm.
# 7 – Side Plank
Another of the plank based exercises that targets the lateral core muscles. The side plank involves holding your body at 90 degrees to the floor propped up on your forearm and side of your foot. You can either stack the feet on top of each other or place one in front of the other. Keep the hips high and maintain a good right angle with the floor. Beginners can start from their knees or even use a wall behind them to maintain good alignment.
# 8 – Side Plank with Knee
Once the side plank has been mastered you can progress to this more challenging exercise. Start in the regular side plank position with the hips nice and high. Next bend the top leg and pull the knee to the chest. Hold at the chest for a second or two and then return to the start position. Don’t rush it, enjoy it!
# 9 – Side Plank with Extension
Another Side Plank variation that involves some lateral flexion so you will really feel this one from the hips to the shoulders. Start in the regular Side Plank position with the hips high. Next lower the hips to the floor, touch the ground lightly and then push them up as high as possible. Ensure the hips stay at 90 degree to the floor throughout the exercise. Keep them slow!
# 10 – Push Up Hold
Similar to the front plank exercise but this time from the hands rather than the forearms. Basically you hold a Push Up start position keeping the back flat, buttocks tight, arms locked and core braced. You can balance a pole along the back to check alignment but the hips should never drop.
# 11 – Shoulder Taps
A great progression on from the Push Hold that challenges the core stabilizing muscles even more. Starting with the static Push Up hold slowly raise one hand and touch the opposite shoulder. Replace the hand back down and repeat on the other side. Try to keep the hips square during each tap. The closer the feet are together the more difficult the exercise.
# 12 – Walk Outs
A simple exercise but very demanding for the core muscles. Start in the Push Up Hold position and then slowly walk your hands out one inch at a time. Go as far forwards as you can until you feel your hips are about to drop and then slowly walk back again. Keep each hand movement to only one inch and move slowly for maximum results.
# 13 – Slow Mountain Climbers
One of my favourite core exercises. Again from the Push Up Hold position slowly bring one knee to the outside of the elbow, pause for a second and return the leg to the start position. Next repeat on the other side. The trick to the exercise is keeping things slow and controlled and ensuring the hips stay as still as possible.
# 14 – Cross Body Mountain Climbers
Similar to the Slow Mountain Climbers only you take the knee across the body to the opposite elbow. You will really challenge your mobility with this exercise as well as engaging those oblique muscles. Take your time and ensure you pause when you reach the knee.
# 15 – Up and Down Dog
Taken from the Yoga fraternity this exercise heavily works into the core and back muscles as well as improving mobility. Start with hands and feet on the floor with hips high, then slowly lower your hips down to the floor using your core to control the movement. At the bottom your back will be arched as you look up. Slowly push your hips back up to the top and repeat. Move slow and controlled throughout.
# 16 – Dirty Dogs
Another of my favourites that takes the regular Up and Down Dog exercise to the next level. Perform the standard Up and Down Dog exercise but when the hips are at the top of the movement take one hand and reach through to touch the opposite toe. Return the hand back to the floor and then repeat on the other side. Find out how
# 17 – Dead Bug
A great exercise for challenging pelvic stability. The pelvis is kept in position by your core muscles so the harder the pelvis has to resist movement the harder the core has to work. Lie on your back with hands and feet in the air. Maintaining the small of your back on the floor lower your opposite arm and leg to the ground. Return to the start position and repeat. If the back cannot maintain constant contact with the ground then the exercise it too difficult.
# 18 – Scissors
If you find the Dead Bug too difficult then this is a slightly easier variation. Lie on your back with feet straight up in the air. Place your fingertips just underneath your lower back. Next lower one leg maintaining back pressure on your fingertips. As soon as you lose that pressure return the foot to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Learn more here
# 19 – Mountain Climber Push Ups
An advanced version of the Slow Mountain Climber and very challenging for the chest and core muscles. From the Push Up top position drop down into a regular Push Up but at the same time bring the right knee to the right elbow. Hold for a second at the bottom and the push back up as you return the leg back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
# 20 – Cross Overs
Another pelvic stability exercise that really challenges the core muscles. Lie on your back with just your fingertips in the small of your back. Raise your feet in the air at 45 degrees and adjust your pelvis so you feel the pressure on your fingers. Next start slowly crossing one leg over the other. If you cannot maintain lower back pressure on the tips of your fingers then the exercise is too difficult. See the video
# 21 – Plank to Push Up
This exercise combines the regular Front Plank with the Push Up Hold. A great exercise for dynamic stabilization of the core and you will feel it in the shoulders and triceps too! Start in the top position of a Push Up and then place one forearm down onto the floor and then the other, so you are in the Front Plank. Next just reverse the movement back to the Push Up position again. Move slowly and place the arms carefully. Watch a demo here
# 22 – Cross Body Extension
A more advanced exercise that will have you trembling to stabilize. Start in the Push Up hold position and then raise opposite arm and leg as high as possible. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat on the other side. Most people find one side weaker than the other, if this is the case practice twice as many on that side.
If you want to train your Core the correct way, from the inside out, then see my: 37 Core Conditioning Workouts