Are you ready to rock your abs? Why is it important to have a strong core? What does it mean to have a powerful midsection? And what are the best core workouts you can do? It turns out there are many exercises to choose from to really rock your core, but we’ve narrowed it down to our 10 favorite ab exercises that are great for beginners and advanced athletes alike.
What Is Your Core Muscles?
Think of your core as what connects your upper body to your lower body. It is comprised of more than just what people know as “abs.” It includes your transversus abdominus (the muscle layer on the front and sides of the abdominal wall), multifidus (the thin muscle that runs along the spine), diaphragm (a sheet of muscles that runs across the bottom of the chest cavity), the lower back muscles, and pelvic floor muscles as well.
Now, picture all the movements your body makes on a daily basis. Imagine all the planes you move through each day and how much easier your life would be with a strong and stable core.
Why Is a Strong Core Important?
Since your abdominal region makes up the center of your body, having a strong core is essential. According to a study done at Louisiana State University by Dr. Andy Waldhelm, there are five areas that comprise core stability: strength, endurance, flexibility, motor control, and function.1
Stability is essential when it comes to normal daily movement and function, and thus, strengthening your core is one of the best things you can do to improve your health immediately. That is why it is crucial to engage in the best core workouts often.
The Myth of Working Upper and Lower Abs Separately
If you’ve flipped through a fitness magazine recently, you’ve likely seen abdominal workouts designed to work upper abs, lower abs, and obliques (side abs), and you may be under the impression you can work these regions separately.
That, however, is simply not true. As you know, everything in your body is connected to something else in your body which is connected to something else. So it stands to reason that your abdominals and core would be no different. Basically, you can focus on an area you want to work, but the truth is the best core workouts will always be working all areas simultaneously.
What Are the Best Core Workouts?
Plank—you’ve most likely heard of the plank exercise. If not, it’s definitely something you should add to your routine. Begin in a tabletop position with your arms straight and directly below your shoulders. Next, lower yourself to your elbows with your forearms in front and your palms down and straighten your legs, so you have the weight balanced over your hands/forearms and your toes. Ensure your body is in a straight line by tightening your core and hold for a count of 30 seconds. If this is too challenging right now, you can begin by bending your knees, putting your weight on the tops of your knees (i.e., on the soft muscles rather than directly on the knee joints). Use a mat or a towel if it’s uncomfortable on any of your joints. Repeat the exercise three times.
Lying Leg Raise—begin by lying on your back on a weight bench or on the floor. If on the bench, move your hips to the end of the bench and grip the sides of the bench with your hands. If on the floor, you can place your straight arms either by your sides or even place your hands directly under your butt. Straighten your legs so they are parallel with your body and tighten your lower abdominal muscles in and up, bringing your belly button toward your spine. With a controlled motion, lift your legs until they are perpendicular to the floor. Slowly and under control, lower your legs back to the starting position, and repeat ten times to complete one set. If this is difficult, you can start with bent legs and work your way up to keeping your legs straight throughout the exercise.
Leg Raise on Parallel Bars—for this exercise, you’ll need a set of parallel bars—not the type you see in gymnastics. Rather, it’s a piece of equipment at the gym that looks a bit like a chair without a seat. You’ll begin by placing your elbows and forearms on the pads with your legs hanging straight down. With your back stabilized by the rear pad, bend your knees as you lift your legs. Bring your knees up as high as you can and slowly lower them back down until your legs are hanging straight again. Repeat 10 times.
Crunch—this oldie but goodie should be a mainstay in anyone’s list of best core workouts. Lie on the floor or a stability ball on your back with your lower back pressed into the floor (or ball) with your knees bent. With your arms lightly touching the sides of your head and your elbows out to the sides or with your arms crossed over your chest, tighten your abdominal muscles to raise your upper body up toward the ceiling and hold for a count of three. Return to the start and repeat for 20 repetitions.
Butt Lift—also known as “thrusts,” this exercise helps to strengthen your core, glutes, and hamstrings. Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With your arms straight by your sides, lift your hips into the air while keeping the back straight and the abdominals tight throughout the movement. Hold this position for five seconds and return to the start. Repeat 10 times. To increase the challenge, you can place a medicine ball between your knees to add resistance.
Stability Ball Oblique Crunch—sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor and your knees at a 90-degree angle. Roll forward so the ball is against your lower back. Next, place your arms behind your head (lightly touching your head so as not to pull on your neck) or crossed over your chest. Pull your abs in and up and turn toward your right side as you curl your torso up. Hold for a moment and return to the start. Repeat on the opposite side. Perform 15 repetitions on each side.
Leg Lifts with Stability Ball—this exercise is a bit more advanced, so you may want to try it without the ball first and then with the knees bent before moving on to the more advanced exercise with straight legs. Begin by lying flat on your back with your arms by your sides. Place one foot on each side of the ball and squeeze it gently yet firmly between your legs. Next, keeping your low back pressed into the floor and using your abdominal muscles, raise and lower the ball, keeping your abs engaged the entire time. Do as many repetitions as you can, rest for 60 seconds, and repeat.
Pendulum—again, using the stability ball, lie with your back flat on the ground and “grasp” the ball gently yet firmly with your feet. With your arms stretched out on each side away from your body, bring the ball up to a 90-degree angle and then swing your straightened legs to the left, going down as far as you can, back to center, to the right as far as you can, back to center, and repeat. At first, you may feel like you’re are only able to go down a few inches on each side, but as your core gets stronger, you’ll be able to lower the stability ball further down.
Dead Bug—as funny as this sounds, this is one of the best core workouts to have in your arsenal. Lie flat on your back and raise both arms straight above your chest and lift your legs so your knees are above your hips with your legs bent. Extend your right arm above your head and all the way back as you straighten your left leg and bring it to about six inches from the ground at the same time. Next, return your right arm forward above your chest while bending the left leg until you return to the starting position. Once you’re ready for a bigger challenge, try doing both sides at once by extending both arms and both legs at the same time and then returning to the starting position.
Bird Dog—begin on your hands and knees in tabletop position. Lift your right hand until it’s straight out in front of you while simultaneously lifting and straightening your left leg out behind you. Hold for five counts, and repeat on opposite sides to complete one repetition.
Best Core Workouts: A Recap
So, with you doing the best core workouts, when can you expect to reveal your abs? Well, don’t count on seeing those until you get your body fat nice and low. That said, while abs may indeed be made in the kitchen, if you want to display a nice tight midsection and reap the benefits of a strong core, the proper combination of healthy eating and solid workouts is a must.