A healthy body starts with a strong core. It’s a long-repeated precept that just remains true. Core strength is essential for endurance, it will keep you off the injured list, and will also help to keep that dad bod at bay. To this last point: Core strength workouts don’t top the weight loss lists for a reason. No matter how many core moves you do, you’re not getting a six-pack and won’t shed pounds unless you combine it with a balanced diet (more veggies, less carbs) and an active lifestyle. In other words, follow-up your planks with a long walk with the kids, and then the dog, and then a run. Still, core moves are the one exercise you’ll be hard-pressed to overdo. So go ahead and take on these 27 essential core exercises, often and with vigor.
1. Flutter Kick. Lie on your back, legs extended, heels about 6 inches off the ground. Place your hands by your sides or under the small of your back for support. Begin to scissor your legs up and down, as if you are doing the backstroke in the pool. Flutter kick for 20 seconds, rest 10, then do 20 seconds more.
2. Leg Drop. Lie on your back on the floor, legs straight up in the air, feet together. Place your hands by your sides or under the small of your back for support. Without bending your knees, lower your legs to just above the floor, then raise them back to their vertical position. Do 10 reps, rest 10 seconds, then do another 10 reps.
3. Russian Twist. Start in a seated position. Lean back so your torso is at a 45-degree angle with the floor, keeping your feet grounded with your legs bent at the knees. Bring your palms together in front of your chest. Rotate your body all the way to the left, then back through the center and to the right. Repeat. Perform 30 on each side.
4. Advanced Russian Twist. Grab an 8-10 pound medicine ball or dumbbell and repeat the Russian Twist. Do 10 reps, rest 10 seconds. Do 3 sets
5. Jackknife. From an extended pushup position, engage your abs and hike your hips into the air until your body forms an inverted V shape. Hold for three counts, then lower yourself back into an extended pushup position, keeping your back flat. Repeat sequence for 60 seconds.
6. V-Sits . Sit on the floor, knees bent, feet flat in front of you. Place a medicine ball between your feet. Lean back and lift your feet off the floor, straightening your legs until your weight is balanced in a V position. From here, either hold this position for 30 seconds, or for a more advanced challenge, bend and straighten your legs while maintain the V-hold. Relax, then repeat.
7. Side Cable Pull. Set the cable machine to a weight you can use for 8-10 reps. Stand perpendicular to the cable machine, left side closest, placing the pulley at chest height. Keeping your feet and hips stationary, twist your torso to the left and grab the pulley handle with both hands, arms straight. Pull the cable until your arms are straight in front of your body and your torso is straight over your legs. Hold for one count, then twist back toward the machine to return to the start position. Do 8-10 reps, then repeat on the opposite side. Do 2 complete sets.
8. Reverse Crunches. Lie on the floor on your back, knees bent at 90 degree, feet raised several inches off the ground. Contract your abs and hike hips off the floor, keeping your spine rounded. Raise knees high toward the ceiling. Relax and repeat as many times as you can.
9. Pullup Knee Raise. Using an overhand grip, perform a standard pullup. Once your head clear the bar, hold the contraction while bending your knees to your chest. (For a simpler version, hang from the pullup bar, arms extended. Bend your knees to your chest, then release them.) Do 8-10 reps, 30 seconds rest. 2 sets.
10. Diagonal Chop. Set the cable machine to a weight you can use for 8-10 reps. Half-kneel perpendicular to the cable machine, left side closest to the machine and left knee bent in front of you (right leg on the floor). Place the pulley just above head height. Keeping your lower body stationary, twist to the left and grab the pulley handle with both hands, arms straight. Pull the cable on a diagonal until your arms are down at your right hip, torso twisted to your right side. Hold for one count, then twist back to the left to return to the start position. Do 8-10 reps, then repeat on the opposite side. Do 2 complete sets.
11. Hanging Leg Raises. Don’t be fooled by its name — hanging leg raises are one of the best abdominal workouts you can do. The move works those deep, lower abdominal muscles that basic exercises like crunches miss. Start by hanging from a bar, legs straight. Engage your core and raise both legs straight in front of you. Repeat until failure.
12. Pronated Leg Raises. Lie flat on your back, legs straight, hand tucked beneath your lower spine for support. Engage your abs and raise legs to about 45 degrees. Lower. Do 10 times.
13. V-Holds. Sit on floor, knees bent, hand tucked under your knees. Engage your core and slowly raise your feet off the floor several inches. Once you find your balance, extend your legs in front of you, creating a V-shape with your body. Hold 60 seconds.
14. Bicycles. This favorite of aerobic classes everywhere gets your heart rate up with working your obliques. Start on your back, knees bent, hands behind your head. Raise your head and feet off the floor and begin cycling your legs back and forth as it you re riding a bike. Bring opposite elbow to knee as you go. Do 60 seconds, rest 20 seconds, and go again.
15. Crunches. The cousin of full sit-ups, crunches involve lying on your back, feet either flat on the floor or elevated in the air with knees bent. Perform small contractions of your abdominal muscles to raise and lower your torso a few inches. You can do these with hands by your sides or behind your head for support. Aim for 100 crunches.
16. Inverted Hinges. Start in an extended push-up position, legs and arms straight. From here, hike your hips toward the ceiling, keeping your back flat and legs straight. Keep going until your body forms an inverted V shape, with your butt as the apex. Hold here for five counts, then slowly stretch back out in a controlled manner. Do 10 inverted hinges.
17. Standard Plank. Start lying face-down on the floor, torso propped up on your elbows. Engaging your core, raise your body up onto your forearms and toes, making sure your body forms one long line from shoulders to feet. Hold this position as long as you can, working your way up to 90 seconds.
18. Side Plank. From the front plank position, shift your weight so that you are resting on your right arm. Twist your entire body so that your left shoulder points toward the ceiling and your legs are stacked on one of top of the other with your left side on top. Maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Hold for one minute, then rotate to the other side and repeat.
19. Twists. Begin this move in the same wide V shape as above. Instead of pulsing up and down, swing both arms over to your right side and twist your torso to follow. Begin to “pulse” in this position, making small twists to the right and back to center (as opposed to up and down). Do 10 times, then rotate arms and torso to the left side and repeat.
20. Windshield Wipers. Start lying on your back, feet in the air, legs straight. Place arms out to either side of support. In a controlled manner, drop both legs over to the right, reaching for the floor. Keep hips still and facing up toward the ceiling. Bring legs back to the centerline, then drop them over to the left side. Repeat this side-to-side motion (like a set of windshield wipers) 10 times.
21. Leg Raises. Lie on your back, legs straight. Tuck hands under the small of your back for support. Keeping your legs straight and together, raise feet off the floor toward the ceiling. In a controlled manner, lower legs back to the floor without arching your back. Do 10 times.
22. Barbell Roll. Lay the bar on the floor and add 45-pound weights to it (don’t worry; you won’t be lifting these). Now get on your knees, grab the bar at a 60-degree angle and roll the bar out slowly until your elbows are beside your ears. Maintaining control, roll the bar back up. Repeat 5 times.
23. Around the World. From a hang (on a pull-up bar) slowly lift your legs to your right, up, and draw a circle in the air in a counter-clockwise motion. Now reverse it and make a circle in a clockwise motion. Repeat five times.
24. Plank Mountain-Climbers. Start in a plank. Pull one leg in to bring your knee to your chest, then return your foot to its original position. Switch legs. Repeat. Do 30 on each side. Don’t go too quickly. People tend to rush through complex bodyweight exercises, which doesn’t stress the body as it should.
25. Side Plank with Leg Raises. Start out lying on your side with your feet stacked. Ground your right forearm on the floor and raise up into a side plank position, keeping your body in a straight line. Raise your top leg. Hold this position for a count of thirty, then lower your leg back down. Switch sides and raise the other leg for a count of thirty.
26. Reclined Bicycle. Start on your back, legs outstretched and feet together. Lift one knee up towards your chest, bringing your thigh to a 90-degree angle with the floor. Switch legs by extending the lifted leg, keeping the foot hovering a few inches off the floor, while simultaneously bringing your other knee up towards your chest. Repeat. Do 30 for each leg.
27. Sit-ups. Oft-maligned, the lowly sit-up, done poorly, does little good and can cause back-wrenching harm. But when done well, it still is kind of the ab workouts. Good sit-ups are done slowly, engaging core muscles, and focusing on form. If you’re in it for the quantity (“I did 200, bro!”) you’re simply not doing it right.
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