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5 Core Workouts For A Tight Midsection – A Beginner’s Guide!

Main | Arms | | Chest | Core | Legs | Shoulders

Six-pack, eight-pack (genetic freaks), washboard, whatever you want to call it, your core is the centerpiece for any muscular physique. It is the eye-catcher for the opposite sex.

A muscular and well-defined core shows both strength and health. Both guys and gals strive to have a strong, toned midsection, but very few of them ever achieve getting one. If you have been looking for the perfect program to get you the tight, strong core you always looked for, look no farther.

In this article, we go over the basic anatomy of what makes up the core, and list five easy-to-follow workouts to help strengthen your midsection. Diet and cardiovascular training will have to be in check for you to see your abs. This article will only focus on the training that goes into building and strengthening your mighty core.

The core is composed of four different parts. Below, I will discuss where each is located, what its function is in the body, and also a couple exercises you can do to stimulate the muscle.

Abdominals

Rectus Abdominus

  • Location: Covers the area from sternum all the way down to the pelvis bone.
  • Function: Pulls the upper torso to the hips
  • Exercises: Crunch or Sit-up

Oblique

  • Location: Side of the waist.
    • Internal Obliques
    • Transverse Obliques
    • External Obliques
  • Function: Tilt and twist the torso
  • Exercises: Side Bends and Decline Oblique Crunches

Intercostals

  • Location: Between the side of the rib cage. It comes into play when you flex the torso and twist from side to side.
  • Function: Elevation and depression of the ribs
  • Exercise: Air Bike

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Serratus

  • Location: Between front abs and lats.
  • Function: Pulling of the scapula forward and around like in the motion of throwing a punch
  • Exercises: Barbell Pullovers and Cable Crunches

Rep Ranges

The core is made up of primarily fast-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are more dense than their counterparts (the slow-twitch muscle fibers. Hence, hard, heavy, and explosive bouts of exercise will stimulate fast-twitch fibers a lot more.

This means that core training should be in the moderate rep range for best growth. No more endless reps of crunches and sit-ups like you’ve done in the past. Focus on sets in the 8-15 rep range.

Now that you understand which muscles make up the core, their function, location and the rep range needed to stimulate them, let’s give you some workouts to help you get that strong muscular core.

All exercises should be performed in perfect form because bad form or habits you start now will follow you and will lead to lack of progress or injury in the future. Many, if not all, the exercises will be new to you. So make sure you use the Exercise Guide on Bodybuilding.com to help you with your form.

Core Strengthening Workout Programs

Sample Core Workout 1 1 3 sets, 12-15 reps (30-45 seconds rest)

+ 4 more exercises

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Cable Crunch

Sample Core Workout 2 1 3 sets, 8-12 reps (30 seconds rest) + 4 more exercises

Conclusion

There you have it: five core strengthening workouts. I like to work my core every 2-3 days. Try rotating these 5 workouts into your workout split. These workouts sure will help you get that strong muscular core you are looking for.

Remember quality over quantity with the core. Stick with the programs listed above and you will be just fine. As always if you have any questions don’t hesitate to drop me an email.

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How to Engage Your Core, Plus 7 Abs Exercises for a Stronger Middle

Have you huffed and puffed your way through hundreds of sit-ups without seeing results or feeling any stronger? You’re not alone. Despite our favorite class instructors and trainers constantly hammering in the words “activate your core,” it can be know if our muscles are actually firing, no matter how hard we work. So why does everyone seem to be totally core-crazed? A core workout is key to bringing your sweat sesh-abs or otherwise-to the next level.

What Exactly Is the Core?

It’s more than six-pack abs (which, by the way, we all have). The core is comprised of layers of muscle on your stomach, back, and butt, which support your pelvis and spine. These muscles work as a team to keep your posture tall and your back safe from any strains or unwanted forces that can cause pain or injury down the road. In a nutshell, your core exists to help your torso turn (think about your upper half during a jog-it slightly moves from side to side), and to resist rotation (think about holding your ground during a crazy concert). (Try our Flat Belly Core Fusion Workout!)

So What?

Your core is the secret ingredient to having your best workout ever. Whether you’re swinging a kettlebell or hitting spin class, engaging the core allows you to work other muscle groups in a more effective and efficient way. Ever try to crank up the weight in a dumbbell shoulder press and find yourself majorly arching your back? Cue the core. By zipping up your abs and squeezing your butt, your spine is way more protected and your shoulders are able to move through a safer range of motion.

Outside of the gym, a strong core helps to resist slumping into slouched posture, which doesn’t look good on anyone. As we age, it gets harder to resist the force of gravity and poor posture habits that have been developed through the years. Building a strong core as early as possible will help combat stooping and relieve smaller muscles from doing the brunt of the work that really belongs to the core. (These exercises will get your closer to perfect posture.)

It’s Worth the Work

It can be tempting to forgo a core workout after a hardcore circuit. Challenge yourself to feel the burn. Weak cores promote postural deviations that can act as a host to various injuries, from a disc herniation to runner’s knee. We’re often so focused on the injury, we forget to look at the culprit: a weak core. The core muscles serve as the powerhouse of the body, so it’s crucial to make sure those muscles are strong and sturdy.

How Do I Know I’m Doing It Right?

Engaging your core is different than sucking in your tummy. Imagine bracing your stomach muscles as if you’re going to bounce a coin off your abs (#goals). They should feel rooted and secure. Roll your shoulders open so your chest appears tall and proud to avoid collapsing in. By gently tucking your pelvis and firing your glute muscles, you should feel the lower part of your abs engage to support your lower spine.

Try These Core-Blasters!

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Cat/Cow: This soft rocking motion through the pelvis is perfect for waking up your abs before kicking your workout into gear.

A. Come to all fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. On an inhale, look up and arch spine, lifting tailbone and rolling shoulders away from ears (cow).

B. On an exhale, press the floor away with hands and knees, and round spine (cat), relaxing head toward the floor. That’s 1 rep. Continue alternating for up to 10 reps.

Trainer Tip: Align your breath with the movement-inhale as you arch your back and gaze at the sky, exhale to fire your abs as you round your back, allowing the head to hang heavy. Feeling this more in your shoulders? Try to soften the elbows to resist the temptation of your arms doing the work.

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Hip Bridge: This is one of the most fundamental exercises that just about everyone should have in their workout program! It’s important because your flutes tag team spinal stability with your abs-to be able to move forward with more intense exercises, it’s necessary that both components of your core are equally strong. Try using this as an active recovery to reinforce the proper muscle activation during your deadlifts.

A. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Lift hips up toward the ceiling for a bridge.

B. Release your hips to lower your pelvis two inches from the floor, squeezing your glutes. That’s 1 rep. Repeat for 10 reps.

Trainer Tip: Keep those toes down! Press through the arches of your feet to fire your hamstrings and glutes while staying out of your lower back.

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Forearm Plank: Made for those who have injury-prone wrists, the forearm plank is a classic exercise for a reason: It emphasizes all of your core muscles by resisting rotation!

A. Start in a push-up position on forearms. Keep arms perpendicular to body, forming a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Engage core and hold for thirty seconds.

Trainer Tip: Roll your shoulders back before you get into position. This will help sustain an open chest during your plank. Psst: Squeeze your butt! It’ll facilitate a flat, lower back through the entire exercise, which will keep you from rounding or hyperextending the lumbar spine, which could lead to disc herniations and pinched nerves.

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Side Forearm Plank: Sister to your front plank, the side plank highlights muscles that help you rotate quickly and safely. Extra perk? A nipped-in waistline will be yours in no time.

A. Lie on side with bottom elbow on the floor. Raise hips so that the body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Extend the top arm laterally so that it is perpendicular to the floor. Engage core and hold for 30 seconds.

Trainer Tip: Start simple. Begin with your bottom knee on the ground to reiterate proper muscle activation. Envision sending your bottom hip to the sky. If you feel like this is more of a stretch than a workout, straighten your legs and try to stagger your feet with your top foot in front of your bottom foot. Still yawning? Stack the feet! Keep an eye on squaring off your top and bottom hip the entire time.

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Plank Jacks: If you’ve gotten your front plank down to a science, crank it up a notch by adding dynamic movement! Hop your toes to the outside of a yoga mat and then back together while maintaining your pretty, flat back.

A. Start in a full plank position with feet together and abs tight.

B. Jump feet apart into a wide V, then immediately jump them back together (like a jumping jack). That’s 1 rep. Start by incorporating 8 reps into your circuit. If this feels super easy, up the number to 10. Consider increasing by two reps every two weeks as long as you can maintain strong form.

Trainer Tip: Keep your shoulders over your hands. The shoulders can take a major beating during this exercise if you’re not careful. By keeping them in proper alignment, the core is doing all the work!

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Mountain Climbers: Hello fat burn! These guys are one of the most efficient ways to get your heart pumping and to reach your fat melting zone. The good news? It doesn’t take long. You can intersperse short periods (around thirty seconds) to supercharge a circuit.

A. Start in the push-up position with your arms completely straight and directly beneath your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.

B. Squeeze your abs, lift one foot off the floor and bring your knee up towards your chest while keeping your body in as straight of a line as possible. Return to the starting position and repeat the movement with your opposite leg. That’s 1 rep. Start by doing 10 reps on each leg. Time how long this takes you. Use this as a baseline, then see if you can increase the number of reps during the same amount of time.

Trainer Tip: Maintain a long spine by keeping your hips in line with your shoulders. It’s common for your hips begin to pike as a way to decrease pressure on your abs. Fight the urge! On the other hand, be sure that your spine doesn’t begin to majorly arch. Start with brief sets to make sure you’ve got the form down before kicking it into high gear.

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Farmer’s Walks: Um, who doesn’t juggle tons of bags, computers, and groceries on any given day? Farmer’s Walks are an awesome way to check your posture before you load up for the next day.

A. Hold a heavy dumbbell or farmer’s carry bar in each hand. Avoid leaning forward at hip. Stand tall and chin parallel to ground. Keep your shoulders pulled back and down throughout the entire exercise. Avoid letting your shoulders round forward.

B. Stand tall and walk forward for 10 paces, then turn around and walk 10 paces back to where you started.

Trainer Tip: Pick a heavy but maintainable weight. The purpose behind this exercise is to introduce stress similar to your daily demands. Stand against a wall before you get a-walkin’ to feel that your spine is tall, core is braced, and butt is firing. Your shoulder blades should be against the wall, your lower back should minimally slope away (beware of hyperextending!), and your butt should graze the wall.

  • By Liz Doupnik

8 Everyday Ways to Flatten Your Abs

You think the old adage ‘no pain, no gain’ is totally true when it comes to your abs? Not so, says Paige Waehner, a Chicago-based personal trainer. There are plenty of ways you can engage your core all day long for fitness and weight loss — without hours of mat work at the gym or at home. With these tips, you can work your way to flatter abs while you’re on your way to work, while you’re at work, and when you’re relaxing at home. Even better, these eight moves are simple enough that they’re the perfect starter routine for any fitness level:

  1. Take five for morning fitness: Ballerinas are known for their flat stomachs, so spend five minutes copying this dance move when you get up in the morning: Stand to the left of a chair and rest your left hand on the chair’s back. Keep your legs together. Touch your heels, and point your toes out to form a triangle. Lift your right arm straight up, reaching for the ceiling. Now hinge forward at the waist, round your back, and reach your right hand toward the floor, touching it if you can. Holding the position, tighten your abs, bringing your belly button in toward your spine. Exhale and slowly lift yourself to the starting position. A complete repetition should take about 20 seconds. Do five repetitions in all, adding more reps as you feel stronger.
  2. Work your core as you commute: Driving to work or taking public transit? Do some isometric contractions while on your way. Pull your abs in and contract without holding your breath. Hold for a few seconds and then release. Here’s a good way to be sure you do it enough to benefit: “Repeat for at least two songs on the radio,” Waehner says.
  3. Stretch at your desk: Once you’re at work and at your desk, try these seated rotations. Hold a full water bottle, paperweight, or small hand weight between both hands. Sit up tall and keep your hips and knees forward. Slowly rotate the bottle from one side of your body to the other side, concentrating on contracting your obliques, Waehner advises. Extra: If you squeeze your weight of choice as you rotate, you will engage your chest.
  4. Try side bends before lunch: “This is a great one to do at work when you need to stretch,” Waehner says. Stand up and reach your arms overhead, pressing your palms together and keeping your arms straight. Stretch up and lean to the right as far as you can, focusing on contracting the left side of your waist. Come back to the center and lean to the left, focusing on contracting the right side of your waist. Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds. Sure, you might get some strange looks from your co-workers, but once they realize how good this stretch feels, they just might join in.
  5. Do leg lifts in line: Sneak in this move while waiting in line at the cafeteria or in the grocery store. Stand with your feet 2 to 3 inches apart. Engage your abdominal muscles so that your spine is stable and straight. Slowly lift your left leg 3 to 6 inches off the ground and balance on your right leg. Try not to sway from side to side as you hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds. Return your foot to the ground and repeat with your right leg. Aim for an equal number of repetitions with each leg before you reach the head of the line.
  6. Move in the mid-afternoon: Here’s another ab workout you can try mid-afternoon at your desk: Stand up and put your hands flat on your desk, directly under your shoulders. Keeping your back flat, walk one foot back and then the other until your body forms a straight line. “You should look as though you’re going to do a push up,” Waehner says. Now walk your feet in towards your desk. Repeat for 60 seconds or more.
  7. Add abs after dinner: When you’re at home relaxing, get off the couch, and grab a stability ball, one of Waehner’s favorite fitness tools. For this workout, lie on the ball, positioning it under your lower back. Place your arms behind your head or cross them over your chest. Tighten your abs, and lift your torso off the ball. As you contract your stomach muscles, pull the bottom of your rib cage down toward your hips. Lower back down to stretch your abs. The ball forces your legs to do more work than just doing floor crunches, Waehner explains. Plus, maintaining your balance on the ball will force you to engage your entire body for balance.
  8. Exercise before bed: Lie down on the floor on your back with your legs straight out. Slowly bring your right leg up toward the ceiling as you lift your left arm as well. Cross your leg over your body so your toes touch your fingertips (or get them as close as you can). Lower and repeat with your left leg and your right arm. Go slow so you can control the movement, and do as many as you can in five minutes.

Sneak these ab exercises into your day and you’ll start to see results. But, Waehner notes, remember that for a truly flat stomach, it takes more than exercise alone. Don’t forget to exercise regularly and eat a healthy, balanced diet while burning more calories than you consume.

For more fitness, diet, and nutrition trends and tips, follow @weightloss on Twitter from the editors of @EverydayHealth.

A common misconception is that all the people you see sporting six-packs on magazine covers are just standing there in a relaxed state, with abs popping effortlessly… The truth is that unless those cover models or bodybuilders are in the act of actually flexing their abs, they don’t walk around looking like that 24×7. They have a much softer look or in some cases just have a smooth stomach with no visible abs at all.
That said… You can train yourself and your abs to stay in that flexed state for more than just a 5 second posed photo, but it takes exactly that, “training”.
Most people walk around all day long completely oblivious to what’s going on in their abdominal area. They relax, they let it all hang out, and this unfortunately works in opposition to any core work you’re doing to tighten your abdominal wall. By walking around and letting your stomach distend in a relaxed state, you’re actually stretching the muscles out and contributing to that jiggling belly thing that most of us are trying to get rid of.
So what do you do about it?
First, stand up, tighten your stomach and suck it in like you’re doing the “I’m in awesome shape pose” in front of your bathroom mirror. Take a moment to really feel what that feels like, feel what muscles you’re using to contract your stomach up and in, and remember what this feels like. Now sit down… do the same thing… contract your abdominal muscles up and in and really feel what it feels like to have your abs in a contracted/flexed state.
Now… on your drive to work tomorrow, sitting in your office chair, or wherever you are during the day (seated or standing), contract your abdominal muscles and see how long you can hold them there, (note the time you started). When you just can’t hold it anymore, release, and note the time. That’s your baseline, that’s where you want to begin extending your time from. Now do the same contraction again, (note the time), and try to take your mind away from concentrating on your stomach while keeping it contracted. Try typing on the computer, watching t.v., walking around the grocery store, whatever. Were you consciously aware of when your stomach released, or did you forget and let it happen on it’s own? The second part of this exercise is learning to stop yourself from concentrating on the act of tightening your abdominal wall.
This little exercise has multiple goals… First is that keeping your stomach contracted in and of itself is an isometric exercise that will greatly assist in tightening up your core. It also combats that abdominal wall stretch that occurs when you just let your belly hang out and do it’s own thing all day long. Second is that that the longer your can keep your stomach contracted without concentrating on actually doing it, the longer you can walk around sporting those flexed six-pack abs once your diet has allowed them to be uncovered. Instead of just being able to momentarily flex them, you’ll be able to take them for a walk down the beach, or have them sharp and visible during the entire pool party where you’ll be walking around all afternoon.
One little trick I discovered in learning how to do this abdominal illusion is to simply cinch up your belt 1 notch too small at the beginning of your day. When your stomach is compressed, the smaller belt size won’t be noticeable to you. But when you let your stomach relax, you’ll immediately feel the extra tightness around your midsection, which gives you a noticeable queue that you’ve allowed your stomach to relax and it’s time to bring it back in again.
I can do this for about 4 hours solid before my abs begin to fatigue. After 4 hours I can relax and re-initiate this flexed state a couple more times for about 2 hours each time for a total of about 8 hours. Sounds impossible, but it’s really not. You just have to dedicate a little time and effort to practicing it every single day. The more you do it, the longer you can do it, and the easier it becomes. The best part is that you don’t have to be in the gym or even in work out clothes. You can do it anywhere, anytime, and largely without notice from anyone that you may be around too. And even if you don’t get your body down to the body fat percentage that allows your six-pack to show, you’ll still be trimming inches off your waist.

How to Strengthen Your Core While Sitting at Your Desk

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Build a strong, supportive core with these chair exercises—no need to get down on the floor!

Yes, a strong core is vital for staying active and independent as you age. But curlups, planks, and other common core exercises that involve getting down on the floor—and back up again—aren’t your only option.

In fact, some of the best core exercises for older adults take place from a seated position, explains Tiffany Chag, C.S.C.S., a strength coach with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

“Anytime you’re sitting, your core should be engaged to help you maintain tall, upright posture,” she says. Shoulders should be down and back, and you should have a minimal dip in your lower back. When you try to maintain that posture while performing the right exercises, your core is really cooking!

What exactly are the right exercises? Start with the four below, recommended by Chag as well as Leython Williams, D.P.T., a physical therapist and facility manager at Athletico Physical Therapy in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

How to Use These Core Chair Exercises

You can pick one or two to add to your normal strength routine, or string them all together for a quick and effective 10-minute core circuit. To complete the circuit, perform each exercise for one minute, then move onto the next one. After completing all four exercises, repeat the circuit one more time (two rounds total).

You’ll need a light weighted ball and a resistance band. If you don’t have either at home, head to your local gym or community center.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

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1. Seated Twist

Sit tall in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, and hold a light medicine ball, dumbbell, or other similarly weighted object in front of your chest. Extend your arms to hold the ball at eye level in front of you, with elbows slightly bent.

From here, gently twist your torso to the right as far as comfortable. Make sure the rotation comes from your core, not your shoulders or arms; it helps to imagine your upper body is a statue. Pause, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating until one minute is up.

Cautionary note: If you have osteoporosis, twisting and bending moves may not be right for you. Talk to your doctor about safe exercise.

2. Side Bend

Sit tall in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Let your arms hang down on both sides of your body.

From here, gently bend to the right at your waist, extending your right hand as far toward the floor as comfortable. Return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating until one minute is up. As you progress, try performing the exercise with a light dumbbell or object in each hand.

Cautionary note: If you have osteoporosis, twisting and bending moves may not be right for you. Talk to your doctor about safe exercise.

3. Resisted Knee Lift

Sit tall in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and palms on top of your thighs.

From here, gently press your right palm down into your right thigh while pressing your thigh up into your palm. Press firmly enough that you feel your abs tighten. Hold for a few breaths, then release and repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating until one minute is up.

4. Band Extension

Anchor a resistance band around a sturdy table leg, banister, or object to the right of a chair. Sit tall in the chair with your feet flat on the floor, and hold the ends of the band with both hands in front of your stomach. The band should be taut and parallel with the floor at navel height.

From here, press your hands straight out in front of your stomach, resisting against the band’s pull to the right. Hold for a few breaths, then bend your elbows to return to starting position. Continue for 30 seconds, then turn your chair around so the band is anchored to your left side and repeat.

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I hear it all the time: “I can’t engage my core without holding my breath.”

Well friends, I assure you that you can indeed breathe and engage your core at the same time. Put your thinking caps on y’all, cuz I’m about to drop some knowledge on ya.

When we think of the core, we often envision the six-pack muscle that runs right down the center of our bellies (rectus abdominis) or the obliques that form the sides of our waists. But the core is so much more than just those muscles. Your core is a community of muscles that wrap all the way around your torso. Each of these muscles have the ability to contract to flex, extend, rotate, and side bend your spine, plus they can fire together to vigorously “suck it in” — but they also have the ability to contract in more subtle ways in order to offer support as you sit or stand upright.

So when some people hear “engage your core,” they often think that means to create a vigorous crunching type of contraction to powerfully engage their rectus abdominis. Or they may think it means “suck it in” — a vigorous contraction of all the core muscles. But neither is correct.

What It Really Means to Engage Your Core

“Engage your core” is really just a fancy way of saying stabilize your spine — make your torso stiff, don’t let it buckle, twist, sag, or bend. I like to think of it like this: imagine that someone was about to hit you in the stomach and you wanted to stand up tall and just take it. You’d create tone equally in all your core muscles to stiffen up the space between your ribs and pelvis, but not enough to move your torso. It’s not a vigorous contraction of your core muscles; it’s more subtle than that.

We know that the muscles of your core are what cause your spine to bend and twist, but they are also the muscles that STOP your spine from bending and twisting. So by subtly engaging each of the core muscles on both sides of your body simultaneously, you can hold your spine steady so that the individual vertebrae that make up your spine don’t move relative to each other (which can place pressure on the discs).

Now, put that info in your back pocket as we take a look at the mechanics of your breathing.

What to Know About Breathing

Your primary breathing muscle is your diaphragm, which sits up inside your ribs like an umbrella. When you take a big breath in, your diaphragm moves downward toward your abdominal cavity to create a suction effect that draws breath into your nose or mouth and down into your lungs (aka your inhale). As the diaphragm relaxes, it rises back up into your chest cavity and presses the air in your lungs back out your nose or mouth (aka your exhale).

During the inhalation phase of deep breath, the shape of your belly is distorted as the diaphragm presses down and pressurizes the contents of your abdomen. So understandably, your core has to be relatively relaxed for you to take a big breath in. Therefore, deep belly breathing is not a helpful way to breathe when you’re standing or sitting upright, walking running, or working out. (NOTE: deep belly breathing is an amazingly relaxing practice, but it should be done lying on your back since your spine doesn’t need core support at that time.)

So what’s an FBG to do? Not breathe in plank? Hold her breath and hope to not pass out? Goodness, no.

When your core is engaged lightly (not vigorously), your diaphragm has just enough space to move downward into your abdomen a bit, and from there it has the ability to fan and spread outward into your lower ribs.

So, it’s important that we free up our ribs and learn to breathe laterally into them to create space. This breathing exercise will help you get the hang of it.

Core Breathing Exercise

If you can’t see the video below, click here.

  1. Wrap a belt or yoga strap around your lower ribs, cross the ends of the strap in front of you and take up the slack.
  2. Gently cinch in around the waist to gently draw the contents of your abdomen toward your spine.
  3. Take a breath in and rather than directing your breath down into your belly in a way that the shape is distorted, think about pressing your lower ribs outward into the strap.
  4. As you exhale, feel the ribs draw inward. Repeat for a few breaths.

What exercise(s) do you struggle the most with when it comes to core engagement and breathing? Try this and see if it helps. —Alison

Core exercises

The Police’s 1983 classic “Every Breath You Take” is not about your core muscles. It’s about a creepy, creepy guy who can’t let a relationship go. But it could be, because every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take (“take” again, lazy from Sting), involves using your core muscles. Except possibly the bond thing – that’s unclear.

Ensuring your core is strong and flexible will help you in the gym, playing sports or just going about your daily business. A strong core will also help you maintain good posture and avoid issues like lower back pain.

Basically, core exercises are a must for any fitness routine, so we asked Richard Tidmarsh, strength and conditioning coach and founder of Reach Fitness, for the moves he recommends for beginner, intermediate and advanced gym-goers.

Beginner Core Exercises

“Building a strong core is all about keeping still, not doing hundreds of abdominal curl repetitions,” says Tidmarsh. “These three holds will create the foundation of a strong core, teaching you to keep your hips aligned and how to control your posture.”

Plank

The definitive core exercise. The plank involves minimal movement but maximal effort, requiring you to support your body on your forearms and toes while holding your body in a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. You can make it easier by resting on your knees, or harder by extending your arms so you’re supported by your hands.

Dead bug

Lie on your back with your arms extended straight up towards the ceiling, and your legs raised with your knees bent at 90°. Lower your right arm and left leg at the same time until they are hovering just above the floor, then return to the starting position. Then do the same with the opposite limbs.

Boat

Sit on the floor with your knees bent. Lean back slightly, keeping your back straight, and hold your arms out in front of you as you raise your feet off the ground with your legs together. If you can, extend your legs so they are straight and your body forms a V shape. You can also raise your arms and spread your legs to make the hold harder.

Beginner Core Workout

Naturally you can do each of the exercises as part of a training session, but for a beginner core workout try this suggested routine from Tidmarsh, doing five rounds in total of these three exercises.

1 Plank Time 30sec Rest 0sec

2 Dead bug Reps 10 Rest 0sec

3 Boat Time 30sec Rest 1min

Intermediate Core Exercises

“Here we start to add movement to a controlled core,” says Tidmarsh. “Can you stay still with good posture whilst another area of your body moves? It’s much tougher than you think!”

Ball push-away

Get into a plank position with your feet spread and your forearms resting on a gym ball. Push the ball away with your forearms, then pull it back it, while maintaining the plank position.

Hanging knee raise

On a set of dip bars, hold yourself steady with arms fully extended. Raise your knees towards your chest, then lower them slowly. Repeat. You can also do this exercise hanging from a pull-up bar.

Dumbbell plank drag

Get into the top press-up position. Put a dumbbell on the ground just to the right of your torso. Reach underneath and across with your left hand to grab the dumbbell and drag it to your left side. Then mirror the movement with your right hand.

Intermediate Core Workout

If you want to combine three movements in one workout, here’s Tidmarsh’s suggested routine. Do three rounds in total of the three exercises.

1 Ball push-away Reps 8 Rest 0sec

2 Hanging knee raise Reps 8 Rest 0sec

3 Dumbbell plank drag Reps 8 Rest 1min

Advanced Core Exercises

“Now we start to add greater difficulty to posture control by adding more of a load, more of your bodyweight, or a larger range of movements,” says Tidmarsh. “Remember – slow and steady movement wins the race to a stronger core.”

Strict toes to bar

We did say these were advanced exercises, and this is certainly not one for newbies. While hanging from a pull-up bar, bend at the hips (not the waist) and lift your toes to the bar, keeping your legs together as you move.

L-sit

Use a pair of parallettes for this core cruncher. Lift and hold yourself up above the parallettes with your arms extended. Extend your legs straight out in front of you so you form an L-shape. Hold it – if you can.

Wall plank

Another savage hold exercise. Get into an elevated plank with your feet against a wall so you form a flat, horizontal line from heels to head. Hold. HOLD!

Advanced Core Workout

Put these three exercise together for this quick but brutal core workout designed by Tidmarsh. Do three rounds in total.

1 Strict toes to bar Reps 6 Rest 0min

2 L-sit Time 30sec Rest 0sec

3 Wall plank Time 30sec Rest 1min

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10 Best Moves To Strengthen Your Core

When most people think of their core, they automatically think abs. While your abs are a key component to the core, your core also includes your low back and hips as well.

Your core is your center of gravity, and a strong core allows for stronger functional movement throughout exercise and everyday life. Whether you realize it or not, you should be engaging your core constantly whether you are doing a workout, standing in the kitchen cooking a meal, or sitting down at work.

A strong core will help prevent injury and promote more efficient workouts overall.

Suffer from back pain? Strengthening your core can help get rid of seemingly endless back pain too.

Here are 10 great moves you can do, with absolutely no equipment, in order to build strength in your core whether you are beginner, intermediate or advanced.

1. Hollowman

This move I learned from Jillian Michaels. While this is an isometric exercise, requiring no movement, it’s a real burner. Make sure you keep your shoulders down and away from your ears and your low back glued to the mat.

2. Plank

This is my absolute favorite core exercise of all time. In fact, I do plank variations in every single workout. If I had to do one core exercise for the rest of my life, this would be it.

Tip:

Try out these great plank variations. You already know all of them? Ever heard of dynamic planks? 🙂

3. Bridge

Most people think that a bridge is for your glutes, and it is. But, this move, when performed correctly with your hips tucked under and low abdominals engaged, is great work for your core as well.

4. Superman pull

This move really targets the low back. In fact, many people suffer from low back pain because their core (including their low back) is actually really weak. If this variation is too difficult, skip the “pull” part and just practice raising your arms and legs off of the ground.

5. V-ups

This move took me a while to master. The full V-up is pretty advanced, but you can always do the modified version as you work up to it. Once you master the V-up, you can even try holding a weighted medicine ball in your hands for all of you that are advanced.

Tip:

Start with Single-Leg V-ups. When you feel ready move on to full V-ups.

6. V- sit

See how long you can do this move without shaking! If extending your legs is too difficult, you can do it with bent knees until you gain the core strength. As with the Hollowman, and all these core exercises for that matter, make sure that your shoulders stay down and away from your ears- no matter how hard it gets!

7. Plank knee crosses

Mastered this move? Try doing them slower! Exhale and blow all the air out of your lungs as you pull that knee towards the opposite elbow. The idea is to get as close as you possibly can and aim for the outside of the elbow.

8. Leg raises

This move should not hurt your low back. If it does, place your hands underneath your low back for support and/or don’t drop your legs down as low. This exercise is meant to work your core, not hurt it, so make sure you are listening to your body’s signals.

9. Elbow plank twists

This move really wrings your abs out like a wet towel! Really think about that analogy when performing this move to increase the intensity.

10. Plank shoulder taps

As you can probably tell by now, I love planks. This one is a great variation to challenge your balance and core control a bit further. When doing the shoulder taps you really want to avoid rocking your hips and body from side to side. The only motion that should be happening is your hand moving to the opposite shoulder. Work at it, you will get it!

Like I said before, you really should be engaging your core during every workout as well as everyday activities. Your core is your powerhouse and the key to overall fitness.

Try to incorporate these exercises into your training and feel free to leave your favorite core exercise in the comments section below.

***

Illustration by Sam Woolley

Crunches and planks aren’t everything. If you want to strengthen your core, you need to think bigger. Your core includes all the muscles in your torso, from your shoulders down to your hips. And it does a lot more than help you sit up.

Why a Weak Core Is a Liability

This weekend I took a TRX class. Most of the moves require you to keep your core steady while you grab the suspension trainer’s straps with your hands, and do some kind of pushing or pulling motion. It’s an amazing full-body workout. But there was a guy at the end of my row who was there for the first time, and either couldn’t keep his core steady, or didn’t know how. His back would sag when he was supposed to be in a pushup position, or he would turn a row into a crunch. As a result, he wasn’t getting the most out of the exercises.

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A strong core is important for runners and swimmers, too. Your body twists with every footstep or every stroke, so you need to keep your torso steady and strong. In fact, since your core is connected to your arms and legs, controlling your core helps to pull your arm through the water or stabilize your leg on the ground. Without a strong core, you can’t swim or run your best.

When I played roller derby, a strong core was essential to delivering a powerful hit. To shove someone with your shoulder, your body needs to be solid all the way from the floor to the point of impact—so that includes your legs and torso. If you go for a hip check instead, you might think you don’t have to worry about anything above your hips. But without strong, engaged core muscles, your upper body will flop around on impact, throwing you off balance.

Even if you aren’t body-checking people for a hobby, a strong core is important for everyday life. With it, you can move couches and shovel snow without hurting your back. You can easily push open the heaviest doors. You can carry an angry child out of the museum gift shop while they flop around in your arms like a giant, dying fish. (Ask me how I know.)

On the flip side, without a strong core your time in the gym won’t pay off nearly as well. You’ll do crappy pushups. You’ll do crappy deadlifts. You’ll have bad posture. As you get older, you’ll have a harder time getting out of bed or up from the toilet. You’ll be more prone to falls. The stronger you are now, the better off you’ll be throughout your life.

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What Your Core Actually Is

Shoulder muscles usually don’t count, but slmost everything else here does. Advertisement

A lot of us conflate our “core” with that six-pack-shaped muscle in the front of our belly, called the rectus abdominis. And yes, you can feel that muscle tightening when you do crunches. But how does that train us for real life? Bending forward is just not something we need to do with a lot of force. But when the rectus abdominis teams up with all the other muscles of the core, it helps to hold our body steady in all kinds of positions.

That’s why planks are better than crunches: done properly, a plank works all of your core muscles at once (plus your arms and legs too, for good measure). Each muscle is contracting, providing resistance for another muscle. The end result is a rock solid core. It’s the same situation as in many of our examples above, where you need to hold steady against some kind of outside pressure, whether that’s a hip check or a flailing child or a heavy door.

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But there are far more ways to work your core than the old standbys of the plank and crunch. Let’s take a look at what muscles we’re really trying to target:

  • The rectus abdominis bends you forward at the waist.
  • The erector spinae, or back extensors, run lengthwise along your spine. They bend you backward at the waist.
  • The internal and external obliques are two layers of muscle that wrap around your waist. Their muscle fibers are diagonal, so they are involved in twisting motions.
  • The transverse abdominis is the muscle that helps you suck your stomach in. Think of it like a natural weightlifting belt: it helps to stabilize your spine.
  • The multifidi are a series of muscles that connect the bones of your spine to each other.
  • The quadratus lumborum lives deep inside your abdomen, and connects your pelvis to your spine.

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Some trainers will consider your “core” to include nearby muscles too, like those of your hips and upper back. For example, your iliopsoas muscles connect your spine to your legs, and help you bring your thighs to your belly. You use them, for example, when you do sit-ups.

How to Work Your Core in All Directions

With so many muscles involved, you can see why sticking to crunches isn’t going to cut it. The good news is that almost any full-body movement works your core to some degree if you do it in good form. That includes push-ups, pull-ups, and banging on a tractor tire with a sledgehammer. Here’s how to recognize some of the best moves for your core:

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  • You have to hold your core steady. This covers planks, and push-ups with good form (where your body is in a perfect plank all the way down). It also includes inverted rows, like in the video above.
  • You use one arm or one leg so that your core has to adjust to the lopsided forces. Deadbugs and bird dogs are perfect examples.
  • You hold a weight on one side of your body, to amp up the one-arm or one-leg challenge. For example, if you do dumbbell rows or presses with one arm at a time, your core has to engage to keep you from falling over. For a more extreme example, check out the Turkish get-up, or do one-sided farmer’s walks.
  • You twist your body to make the move happen. A classic example here is a woodchopper, where a dumbbell or cable machine mimics the weight of an axe. You pull it diagonally across your body as if you are chopping wood. You can, of course, chop some actual wood for a similar workout. Or try a Russian twist (with or without a medicine ball) in place of sit-ups.
  • You use an unstable platform. Instead of planking with your forearms on the floor, put them on a medicine ball, exercise ball, or bosu instead.

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With these moves, you don’t have to dedicate a day or a portion of your workout to core work. You’ll be working your core right along with the rest of your body when you do big, functional movements. If you prefer exercises that isolate specific body parts, that’s fine—but then make sure to take the time to work your core in a variety of ways.

While it may be good motivation, rocking a beach-worthy bod isn’t the only reason to get your torso in shape. After all, your core is about more than just your ab muscles, it’s your body’s powerhouse.

Not only does it facilitate movement, but it also houses your inner organs and central nervous system. In other words, it helps you do just about everything. Here are five reasons to strengthen your core.

1. Help prevent injuries

Building a strong core takes more than a few crunches.

For Martha Purdy, a physiotherapist and Pilates instructor with Halifax Health Centre, developing a strong torso means building both core stability (those deep internal muscles close to the spine) and core strength (think “six pack” abs).

“It’s important to build core stability first, and then build core strength,” Purdy explains. “You want to get the deeper muscles working first.” Purdy says that when you’ve got a strong core,”everything else will fit into place on top of it,” meaning your overall fitness will improve, making you less prone to injury down the road.

Even though it’s easy to presume that when we’re moving, our extremities do most of the work, the opposite it true: most movement starts at the centre and moves outward. A rock-solid centre will help ensure that your movements are strong and pain-free.

A simple but effective exercise for building core stability is to draw in the abdominal muscles (think about your belly button pulling away from your pantline), hold for five breaths, and then relax. Repeat 10 times. Purdy recommends doing this 10 times a day.

She also suggests women practice Kegel exercises, drawing in the pelvic floor to strengthen the lower end of your core (with the added bonus of better bladder control).

2. Protect your inner organs and central nervous system

Staying healthy also means protecting those vital systems below the surface. Your core is not only where your organs and central nervous system do their busy-work, it’s also where your body’s largest (and most important) veins and arteries are based. Keeping strong core muscles will help ensure everything stays protected as you move through your day.

Renee Whitney, a Kingston-based personal trainer and owner of Focus Personal Fitness, uses the spinal cord as an example.

“Your spinal cord is everything,” she explains, “but if you have pressure on it because it isn’t well supported by your core muscles, then it is going to affect your movements. It will eventually cause pain, and that will affect the quality of your life.”

3. Strengthen your core to back pain

Back pain is a common side effect of a weak core. “When our abdominals are weak, it’s often because our back muscles are overly strong,” says Whitney.

Building core strength will help bring balance to the front and back of your body. Sitting at a desk all day doesn’t help, either. “Not being mindful of how we’re sitting, and not engaging our core, can lead to things like compressed discs in our spine,” Whitney explains.

She says many people make the mistake of sitting for long periods with a tilted pelvis and an arched back, rather than sitting tall on their “sit bones” (think about the boney part of your bum pointing straight down).

To work your core at the office, Whitney suggests sitting on a stability ball rather than a traditional chair, because the sense of instability and the movement it creates forces your abdomen to stay engaged.

4. Get a strong, confident posture

If your core is strong, you’ll be hard pressed not to carry yourself with confidence. “A tall, upright posture exudes strength,” says Whitney. “It gives the impression that this person is in control of their life.”

A slumped posture, on the other hand, looks weak and defeated. Whitney suggests practicing good posture when you’re in the car, by sitting up properly, and then adjusting the rear-view mirror accordingly.

As soon as you start slumping, you’ll lose sight of yourself and you’ll have to sit up tall again.

5. You’ll feel better

Not only will a strong, healthy body turn heads on the beach, you’ll feel great, too. Once you’ve developed your core stability, you can start working on the more superficial core muscles to build strength you’ll be able to see.

Exercises like the “plank,” “bridge” and other abdominal moves are great ways to get started. Classes and workouts that incorporate Bosu and stability balls are another good option.

“It really is about working from the inside out”‘ says Purdy about building core strength.

“Just because you’re strong, it doesn’t mean you have a strong core. It’s really something everyone can work on.”

The Many Body Benefits of Core Strength

Many of us equate core strength with a flat belly or six-pack abs. And while those may be motivating goals to you, there are so many more benefits that come from improving core strength than how your midsection looks, including improved posture, better balance, reduced back pain and easier breathing.

Where is your core, exactly? If you pointed to somewhere around your navel, you’re partially right. Many people think the core consists only of the abdominals, but the core also includes your pelvic muscles, mid and lower back muscles, and even your hip muscles. All of these muscles work together to support your spine and skull.

How Does Core Strength Benefit Your Body?
Think of your core as a muscular corset that stabilizes your entire body, helping to give you a center of gravity whether you’re at rest or moving your limbs: Just as a ballerina uses her center of gravity to keep her balance as she spins across the floor, you draw upon your core strength whenever you walk, sit, exercise or perform pretty much any activity.

Because many of your body’s movements originate from your core, working toward improving its strength will enhance your posture, spinal alignment, stability and more. Researchers continue to study the various ways core strength improves health and wellbeing. Here are a few of the proven benefits of having a strong center.

  • Alleviates Back Pain: Research shows that people with weak core muscles have an increased risk of back ache and injury, since they lack adequate spine support. Core-strengthening exercises and core-engaging workouts, like yoga and Pilates, can help reduce discomfort, improve mobility and improve support for the spine in people with both acute and chronic pain.
  • Improves Posture: Core-strengthening exercises work all of the muscles of the torso from top to bottom and front to back, helping you stand tall with your limbs in alignment. By improving posture you decrease your risk of disc herniation and vertebrae degeneration. Another benefit to better posture? Better breathing. That same balance that helps you stand up straight also opens your airway, making inhalations and exhalations easier.
  • Better Athletic Performance: You’d be hard-pressed to find a sport that doesn’t rely on core strength for performance. For example, core exercises can keep runners’ legs and arms from tiring quickly. Rowers engage their cores as they paddle; a stronger core allows them to pull harder and faster. Baseball pitchers get the power for their curveballs as much from their cores as they do their arms—maybe more. Your core is the link between your upper and lower body, it is what allows a golfer to swing the club to strike his ball, or a tennis player to serve and optimize her racquet speed. It’s critical to sports performance.
  • Improved Balance: Poor balance is a complicated condition, but lower body weakness, vestibular dysfunction and neurological deficits are often contributing factors. Studies have shown that dynamic balance improves as core strength increases.
  • Safer Everyday Movement: Daily tasks—such as maintaining balance on an icy sidewalk, carrying groceries, hoisting children and walking up a steep flight of stairs—are easier and less likely to result in an injury when you core is strong. Not only do you have better control of your muscles, but you can more easily find your center if you’re caught off-balance. In addition, being able to rely on a strong core will make it less likely that you’ll overtax other muscles.

How Can You Build Core Strength?
Core work is different from strength-training programs that isolate a single muscle group. Instead, they challenge as many muscles as possible in integrated, coordinated movements. Core moves should engage your entire body, from head to toe.

Yoga and Pilates are great for working your core because the postures target those muscle groups. If you’re new to these activities, don’t be surprised if you wake up the day after a workout with aches in your lower belly, as well as your lower and upper back. Those are your core muscles waving hello and thanking you for spending some time strengthening them.

There are countless other activities to strengthen your core, from swimming to cycling to kick boxing. You can also try some specific exercises, whether that’s classic sit-ups or plyometric moves…the list goes on. Talk to your trainer or exercise physiologist about a routine that’s right for you. It may be helpful to have an expert show you how to do some moves with proper form, so you can do them safely and effectively on your own.

Here are just a few popular options:

Isometric Core Exercises: In these moves, you’ll hold a position for a period of time instead of contracting your muscles through a range of motion. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Plank: Hold your body at the top of a push-up position for up to 60 seconds. This very effective exercise can be done in a variety of ways and modified for your fitness level.
  • Bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Slowly raise your hips off the floor, tightening your abdominal muscles as you go and holding your hips as high up as you can for up to 60 seconds.

Fitness Ball Core Exercises: These are the large balls you see people sitting on at the gym. Though they may look like daycare toys, they provide serious benefits to grown-ups who sit or recline on them when doing core moves, like crunches. The instability forces your body to engage both large and small muscles. Here’s an example:

  • Back Extension: Position your fitness ball under your hips and lower stomach. Walk your feet out until your knees are straight or close to it. Put your hands behind your head and lift your chest off the ball until your body makes a straight line. Repeat 10 to 12 times.

Dynamic Core Workouts: These workouts involve constant motion. Depending on the routine, you may move from side-to-side, up and down or in all different directions (sometimes while holding a weight, medicine ball or kettle bell). In other cases, you’ll simply be doing workout moves while fighting against instability—a wobbly surface or a balancing act on one leg, for example. These can really get your heart rate going, too. Here’s an example:

  • Stand on the half-ball side of a Bosu® ball with your feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees and your arms extended up toward the ceiling. Drop your hips as though you’re lowering yourself into a chair until your thighs are close to parallel to the floor. Hold for a second, then return to your start position. Repeat 10 to 12 times.

Try to make time for three 10- to 15-minute core-strengthening sessions each week. It may be challenging at first, but stick with it. Once you begin strengthening your core, you will notice an improvement in the way you look, feel and move through your day.

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How to work out your core

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