Where do you start when you’re trying to get back in fighting shape? It certainly isn’t with your arms or chest — that comes later, much later. When you’re out of shape and looking to build yourself back up, you should start with the core. Incorporating all the major abdominal muscles, as well as those that wrap around and support your midsection from the back, your core holds you erect and gives you proper form, so you can maximize the efficiency of all your other strength moves.
Plus, well, enough core work can help make you presentable when you stroll around the house in boxers. Although we should note doing ab work and getting a six-pack do not go hand in hand (And to do so you basically have to starve yourself). The beauty of a core workout is that there’s only so much abuse your belly can take, which means each session is short and sweet, or at least short. Start with this 7-move, 15-minute core-strengthening session, then do it again, and maybe one more time for good measure.
15-Minutes of All the Core You Need
How to: Get down on all fours. Place your elbows and forearms on the floor, extend your legs behind you, and create a long line from your head to your toes. Hold for 60 seconds, relax for 20 seconds, hold for 60 more seconds.
Tip: Make sure your shoulders, hips, and feet are in line. Hiking your hips or arching your back can reduce the effectiveness of the move and raise your injury risk.
2. Rolldown Crunches
How to: Start sitting on the floor, knees bent, feet flat on the floor in front of you. Slowly round your spine and roll your back down to the floor. Just before your shoulders touch, hold the contracted position and pulse up and down 10 times. Roll back up to sitting position. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps.
Tip: To help with balance, stretch your arms out in front of you, allowing them to pulse up and down with your torso.
3. Side Dips
How to: Start on lying on your right side: right leg, hip, and elbow on the floor. Engage your abs and press through your feet to raise your body into a side plank position, elbow still bent. Lower your hips until right hip almost touches the floor, then raise them again. Do 10 reps, switch and repeat on left side. Do two sets.
Tip: If the pressure on the outside of your weight-bearing foot is uncomfortable, stagger your feet slightly so that both top and bottom share the load.
How to: From a standing position, bend at the waist and reach down until hands touch the floor. Walk your hands forward until arms, legs, and torso are straight and your body forms an inverted V-shape. As you exhale, push your shoulders forward and drop your hips toward the floor, arching your back so that your body makes a shallow C-shape. Inhale then exhale, hiking your hips toward the ceiling again, until you’re back in an inverted V. Do 20 hinges without stopping.
Tip: This move gives your hamstrings and calves a good stretch, however if the tension is too much, you can also perform the hinges with slightly bent knees.
How to: Lie on your back, legs straight, arms extended behind your head. In one motion, contract your abs and raise your legs, arms, and head/neck toward the ceiling, keeping your back flat on the floor. Once arms and legs are extended straight up (like a dead cockroach), hold for two counts, then release back to floor in a controlled manner. Do 20 reps.
Tip: Advanced practitioners can scissor their arms and legs, so that right arm/left leg contract and extend skyward together, then release as left arm/right leg contract and reach up.
6. Reverse Sit-Up
How to: Find a bench or firm bed, lying on your stomach so that the lower half of your body is on the bench, and the upper half of your body is dangling over the side. Bend your elbows and secure your hands behind your head. Engage your core and back muscles to pull your torso up to a flat position, creating a straight line from your feet to your head. Release and let your head fall toward the floor. Do 3 x 10 reps.
Tip: Make sure your bench/bed is high enough to allow your torso to hang vertically—the first part of this move engages your abs, while the second part works your back, so you want to get the full range of motion for max benefits.
7. Side Bends
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms by your side. Keeping your torso facing forward, slide your right hand down your right leg, bending to the right side as far as you can go. Come back to center, repeat on left side. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps, rest 15 seconds, then repeat for a total of 3 sets.
Tip: Grab a set of 20-pound weights or a medium-heavy object if you’re at home to hold in each hand for resistance.