Other than having great toned abdominals that look good on the beach, having a strong core helps prevent injuries, as most movement starts at the centre and moves outwards. This means that if you have a strong core, it will ensure your general movements are strong and pain-free. A strong core helps to relieve back pain, as this pain is usually caused by a weak core.
Having a strong core will also help protect your organs since your core muscles surround these organs along with your nervous system. Strong muscles will allow vital organs, such as the heart, to work to their full capacity.
Core is important when it comes to posture. Having a strong core will allow you to stand, sit, walk, and run with the muscle support needed to maintain good posture and prevent back pain or difficulties.
With all these points in mind, here are 8 great core exercises that you can follow to get yourself on the road to a much-needed optimal core.
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One of the best core exercises out there, the plank concentrates on the muscles running all the way through your body.
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- Lie on your front and gently raise your body onto your elbows, making sure elbows are shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly raise yourself onto your tip toes and hold.
- Beginner: Try holding a plank for as long as possible. Aim for 30 seconds to a minute and increase this over each workout.
- Advanced: Once you’ve mastered a basic plank, try different plank variations, including side planks — these are great for challenging your core muscles.
2. Side Jack Knife
This exercise is great for your abs and will give you an effective workout for your core muscles. It really squeezes your obliques as you lift your legs.
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- Lie on your side with your legs nearly straight and slightly raised off the floor.
- Lift your torso off the floor and keep your left forearm on the floor for balance. Hold your other hand behind your right ear, with your elbow pointing towards your feet.
- Lift your legs towards your torso while keeping your torso stationary. Feel the stretch on the side of your body and pause for a few seconds.
- Slowly lower your leg.
- Beginner: Repeat this for 3 sets of 10 reps before changing sides.
- Advanced: Try a more advanced version that gets you using both top and bottom abdominals at the same time.
Core workouts that include squats are essential. Not only do squats help with stability and mobility, they work the muscles through the entire body from the abdominals downwards, creating a great all-round optimal exercise.
- Start with your feet hip-width apart, keeping your back straight with shoulders pulled back, then straighten your arms out in front of you.
- Slowly bend your knees and push your butt out and down as though you’re about to sit down on a chair.
- Lower yourself so that your thighs are parallel to the floor, your knees are positioned slightly over your ankles, and your head and shoulders are aligned over your knees.
- Using your leg and butt muscles, slowly push up, keeping your weight evenly distributed throughout, and come back to a standing position.
- Beginner: start off with a repetition of 3 sets of 10 squats and increase the amount of squats in each set by 1 squat each day.
- Advanced: To make this move more difficult, add handheld weights, keeping them at your side throughout the exercise. Increase weights for more intensity.
4. Arm, Leg, and Chest Raises
This move really concentrates on your core muscles and allows them to work at their full potential.
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- Lie on the floor, face down with arms stretched out and legs straight.
- Slowly raise both arms up as far as you can and at the same time lift up both legs.
- Keep this position for a few seconds and then release your arms and legs back down to the floor.
- Beginner: Do 3 sets of 10 reps trying to increase the amount of time you’re engaging the core muscles.
- Advanced: Try adding a roll into the exercise by engaging the core on your front and then rolling carefully on to your back with legs and arms above you. This will work your core muscles even further.
This move tightens your abdominal muscles and improves balance.
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- Start on your hands and knees. Place your hands directly below your shoulders, align your head and neck with your back, and tighten your abdominal muscles.
- Raise your right arm off the floor and reach ahead. Stay in this position for 5 seconds. Lower your right arm and repeat with your left arm.
- Raise your right leg off the floor, making sure to use your muscles to maintain balance. Hold for 5 seconds and lower your leg to the floor. Repeat with the left leg.
- Beginner: Repeat full arm and leg movements 5 times each, raising the amount of time you hold positions to add a challenge.
- Advanced: Hold a weight in your hand for an added challenge or raise both the opposite arm and leg together to work the core muscles more.
6. Abdominal Hold
While it may be tough at first, this move will help you build strength in your core.
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- Make sure you have a sturdy chair.
- Sit tall on the edge of the chair and place your hands on the chair down beside you, holding on to the sides.
- Tighten your abs and gently lift your toes about 2-4 inches off the ground and lift your butt off the chair.
- Beginner: Hold this position for as long as you can — aim for 5 -10 seconds.
- Advanced: Try challenging yourself by holding for up to a minute or add a stable weight to your lap to create added resistance and work the abdominals even more.
7. Side Crunches
Side crunches as part of your core workouts are a good way of targeting your mid-section.
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- Lie on your left side with your legs lying on top of each other.
- Bend your knees so that they are at a rough 90-degree angle.
- Begin by moving your right hand to your right ear with the elbow pointing up. Start to move up and over to the side slightly until you can feel the burn in your obliques. Repeat on opposite the side.
- Beginner: Do 10 reps 3 times on both sides, increasing as you feel ready to to keep your abs challenged.
- Advanced: Try these advanced side crunches to get an extra burn.
8. Using a Stability Ball
Simple exercises using a stability ball can activate twice as many core muscles as classic belly toners like crunches and sit-ups, so it’s well worth investing one.
For beginners, this core workout is a really great introduction to using a stability ball. Incorporate this into the rest of the workout or pick and choose certain exercises if you have time constraints:
This is great for more advanced stability ball exercises, working your core to the maximum:
Tips When Doing Your Core Workouts
- Write down a schedule of your workouts as this will help you to keep your motivation high. Start with a weekly or monthly timetable of each daily workout you do. Make sure you show exactly how many reps you will do for each exercise and show a progression throughout the week or month by adding weights and intensity.
- Be aware of your limits — if you feel pain at any stage, then stop the exercise immediately. Start easy and work your way up as this will make the workouts a lot more beneficial and will help you to avoid injuries.
- Always drink plenty of water when doing workouts as you can get easily dehydrated.
- Talk with your doctor if you suffer from back pain or are pregnant as these exercises may not be suitable.