One of the most sought-after body features is a well-defined core. I mean, who doesn’t want nice six-pack abs, right?
When it comes to building a stronger and more well-defined core ... you have to train it like you do any other muscle.
It takes hard work, and it won’t happen overnight. Although, trust me when I say, it is definitely worth the effort! There are so many advantages to having a strong core on top of the fact that it's a crucial part of the leaner, more athletic look that so many of us are working toward!
See, your core is not just there for good looks. There's a lot more to your core than just your abs. Your core plays a key role in allowing you to move and do some of the most basic things you want to do every day.
Without your core, you wouldn’t be able to sit upright, walk, run, twist, bend, or be athletic in any meaningful way. Let’s just say your core is vital to just about everything you do on a daily basis.
Today, I'm going to help you learn the benefits of training your core, as well as 10 great exercises you can do to help with that!
So let's get into it...
Why Train Your Core?
Well, a better question would be why not? The muscles that make up your core are the foundation of where all movement and stability comes from.
Yes, you can move individual joints, like extending your elbow without involving your core, but I'm talking about full body movements. All of them involve your core.
That's why developing a strong core can help you in so many ways. For one, when it comes to exercise, a strong core can help you steer clear of injuries.
Take squats, for example. You have a heavy barbell on your upper back weighing you down and compressing your spinal discs. The force from the barbell wants to make you roll your spine forward and collapse.
Having a strong set of erector spinae muscles can counteract that force, pulling you down to keep your spine straight and upright. These muscles are, as you can imagine, part of your core! The transverse abdominis is also getting plenty of work by bracing your core.
This helps to keep the lower back stable, and also helps to prevent your discs from bulging or herniating. But this isn't just limited to when you're lifting weights. Your core helps keep your back stable all day long.
Some people can literally injure their back by picking up boxes or bending over to tie their shoes! Funny thing is ... both of these scenarios can be prevented, in many cases, by having a strong core.
But, aside from reducing your risk of injury, a strong core can help increase your strength. After all, your core does support you in many exercises. Having a stronger core can allow you to handle heavier weights with extra safety.
There are also some extremely difficult exercises you'd never be able to perform with a weak core.
So really, what I’m saying is there are tons of benefits to strengthening your core, and zero drawbacks. I truly believe that if you have a strong core, you’ll have a higher quality of life as you get older.
Who doesn’t want that? Nobody!
Now, let's talk about some solid core exercises you can use to start building your core today!
Top 10 Exercises For a Strong Core
There are so many core exercises to choose from ... almost too many. But, I’ll share my tried and true favorites from my own training over the years.
There's just one important thing you should know before you get started: Abdominal training requires a strong mind-to-muscle connection. A mind-to-muscle connection just means you can feel which muscles are getting engaged and producing a movement. Without this, it can be easy to engage the wrong muscles.
Allow me to explain with an example...
The most basic of all core exercises could be argued to be a sit up. With a sit up, you could curl your torso forward and round your spine while sitting up, or you could keep your back straight and pull your straight torso up.
If you do the second one, you’d be doing it incorrectly and emphasizing the wrong muscle.
Your rectus abdominis is the muscle you should be targeting. This is the muscle that forms the "6-pack" appearance. It helps flex/round your spine forward. So, if you keep your back straight, you won't engage the muscle properly.
Your hip flexors flex the hip without rounding your spine. If you do a sit up while keeping your back straight, the hip flexors are being emphasized, not the abdominals.
The more you try the movement, the more skilled you'll get with it. The more skilled you get with it, the better control you’ll have over your entire body.
Now let’s dive into my top 10 favorite core exercises...
This is one of my favorite exercises for your core! The key is to hold the position as long as you can, and it’s harder than you'd think, if you haven’t ever tried it!
Lie face down on the ground with a cushioned exercise mat beneath you. Be sure that your elbows are directly beneath your shoulders.
Your forearms should either point directly in front of you, or angle in to make a little triangle with both arms. Choose whichever is more comfortable for you.
Push your forearms into the mat to raise your upper body off the ground, and hold this position the entire set. Keep your core and glutes engaged the whole time.
Your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders all need to be in a straight line to put the proper emphasis on the right muscles. Make sure your hips don't go too high or too low.
Hold this position for either a pre-determined amount of time, or as long as you can.
2. Bicycle Crunches
This is a great exercise that targets the rectus abdominis, internal obliques, and external obliques. It’s also pretty fun ... even though it burns!
Start by lying on your back with an exercise mat or soft surface beneath you. Bring your hands up to where they're touching both sides of your head around your ears.
Your fingertips should rest on your head the whole time ... but please make sure you don't pull on your head or neck! Now, press your lower back against the mat.
Lift both of your feet off the ground and draw one knee up toward your chest while your other leg stays straight (still off the ground). At the same time, rotate your torso in the direction of that leg to touch your knee to your elbow.
From here, rotate back to center and push your leg straight out in front of you again. Repeat this movement in rapid succession with your opposite leg and elbow. If you do this correctly ... it will look and feel like you're pedaling a bicycle with your feet. You'll do this for a pre-determined number of reps & sets.
3. Side Plank
This is a similar exercise to the plank, except you’ll be on your side. The main emphasis is also on the obliques rather than the rectus abdominis, but it actually works part of your glutes too.
Lay on a mat on one of your sides with your forearm on the ground and your feet stacked on top of each other. Be sure that your elbow is directly below your shoulder.
Push your forearm into the mat in order to push your upper body off the ground. Next, engage your core while pressing your feet into the mat to get your hips off the ground.
Your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders should all be in a straight line. Now, hold this position either for a pre-determined amount of time, or as long as you can hold it, just like a normal plank.
Repeat on the other side for the same amount of time.
4. Hollow Hold
Lie flat on your back with a cushioned mat or surface beneath you. Next, engage your core and glutes, then flatten your lower back against the floor.
From here, raise both of your legs a couple inches off the ground and hold for a specified time or as long as you can. Now, this is a tough exercise for a lot of people. If you can't do it with your lower back touching the ground, you can put your hands under your butt to make it easier.
On the other hand, if you want to make it harder, raise both of your arms behind your head and hold them there.
5. Romanian Deadlift
This is a muscle that stops your back from rounding forward with heavy weight in your hands. It keeps your back nice and straight the whole time.
Now, this exercise starts by standing up with a barbell, and it’s easy to hurt yourself if you don’t do this right. So I’ll begin the directions with how to safely pick up the bar.
First, you need to grab a loaded barbell and put it on the ground in front of you. Make sure the barbell is touching your shins. Your feet should be shoulder-width or slightly outside of shoulder-width apart. Grab the bar at shoulder-width as well.
Lightly tug the bar to pull your hips toward the ground until you can grab the bar with your back straight, head and neck neutral, and shoulders pulled down and back. Brace your core, drive through your feet, and squeeze your quads, glutes, and back muscles to stand up with the bar.
As the bar comes upward, make sure to keep it as close to your body as you can. This is the starting position ... I know!
Next, you'll unlock your knees to keep a slight bend in them. Push your hips back, while lowering the bar toward the ground. Make sure to brace your core and keep your back and neck straight the whole time.
Keep pushing your hips back until you feel a big stretch in your hamstrings. Pause for a second, then squeeze your hamstrings and glutes to stand back up with the bar.
Repeat this for a set number of reps.
6. Kneeling Cable Crunch
I absolutely love this exercise because it allows you to really load up some resistance on your abs. Plus, it gives you tension and a stretch at the top of the movement ... this is normally not the case with other ab exercises.
For this exercise, you'll need a cable machine and a rope attachment. Face the cable machine and get on your knees. Set the cable to be high enough that you have to reach up and grab it, but not so high that you have to get off of your knees.
Grab the rope and pull it down until your hands are at the top of your shoulder blades. Engage your core as you curl your torso toward the floor. Try to tuck your chest toward your belly button, rather than just the floor. Go nice and slow, making sure to squeeze your abs when you're fully crunched.
Slowly return to the starting position, then arch your back slightly to stretch your core. Repeat this for reps.
This is a tough exercise that requires a bit of coordination between the upper and lower body. It will target your core, hip flexors, and even challenge your balance.
Start by laying flat on your back with a mat underneath you and your arms behind your head. From here, engage your core and hip flexors to crunch up with your torso. At the same time, lift your legs to meet in the middle.
If you can, touch your toes in the middle before returning back to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.
8. Penguin Crunch
This one sounds funny, and you might look a little funny doing it too. If you see someone doing it right, it looks like they are waddling like a penguin.
It’s a great exercise that isn’t too difficult, and it targets the obliques really well.
Lie back on a mat in a sit-up position with your back flat, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Engage your core to crunch up just a bit until your upper back is off the ground and point your arms toward your feet.
From here, rotate to one side and touch your foot with the hand on the same side as your foot. Return back to the starting position and go straight into the other side.
Alternate back and forth, repeating the same number of reps on both sides of the body.
This is a solid exercise for the erector spinae, but it does require a roman chair.
Start by stepping into the roman chair, locking your feet in place. The pad will sit behind your achilles tendon on both legs. Set the height of the roman chair so that the pad you're laying on is below your waist by a couple inches.
Maintain a slight bend in the knees just to prevent stress on the knee joint. To begin, bend forward at your hips while maintaining a straight back.
Once you either cannot go down further with a straight back, or you reach a comfortable end range of motion, stop ... use your hamstrings and glutes to extend your hips and pull your torso back to the starting position.
Repeat for reps.
10. Weighted Decline Crunch
This is a great way to build a little more muscle in the abs, and some much needed strength as well. Lie back on a decline bench with your feet locked in place while holding a weight at your chest. Press the weight over your chest and maintain straight arms the entire set.
Engage your core and hip flexors to crunch and sit up while holding the weight overhead. When lying back, the weight should still be over your chest. But, when you sit up, pull your arms back relative to your torso, just enough to hold the weight overhead.
Slowly return back to the starting position and repeat this for reps.
Bringing It All Together
Strengthening your core is one of the best ways to prevent unwanted injuries to your back. It’s also important to maintain a high quality of life as we age. Heck, it's even good for strength and looking your best ... nobody can argue that.
The more active and stronger you are as you age, the younger you’ll feel. That, and you will likely deal with less immobilizing issues in the future.
Building core strength is only one piece of that equation though. If you want to make sure you are also becoming more defined and are able to show off your abs ... that will take some work with your diet as well.
To see your abs you’ll need to be lean, but you also may need to build some muscle in the area in order for them to pop too. Now, I know how difficult nutrition can be, but I have a solution for you.
We have a full team of Certified Nutrition Coaches and Personal Trainers that you can talk to for free ... just reach out to us! You can even get access to your own personal advisor inside the 1st Phorm App.
So whether you need help with diet, exercise, progress tracking, accountability, or anything in between ... we have you covered.
Check out the 1st Phorm App today and I promise if you do the work, we will help you earn the results you're after! If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to any of us here at 1st Phorm HQ, and we’ll be more than happy to help!ABOUT THE AUTHOR