Advertising
Advertising

Revealed: The 6 Best Beginner’s Exercises for You to Get a Strong Core

Revealed: The 6 Best Beginner’s Exercises for You to Get a Strong Core

Ab season is quickly approaching. For some, it’s a time for lazy days spent in a bikini or a breezy shirtless run at sunset. For others, it’s a time for weak dieting attempts and sad, sporadic bouts of ab exercises. The result, most likely, will be a two pack (if you’re lucky) by summer’s end.

This article is for those of us who want to look good and find ourselves frustrated by the never-ending quest for the perfect midsection.

What Exactly Do We Mean by Core Muscles?

The abs (a.k.a. the abdominal muscles) are only a small fraction of your core muscles.[1] Your core is a complex series of muscles that includes your entire trunk region. It involves everything except your arms and legs. It is involved in almost every movement of the human body.

The diagram below gives a general overview of the muscles that make up your core:

    Having A Strong Core Isn’t Just for Looking Great. It Has Much to Do with Your Health!

    Our core has three-dimensional depth and functionality. Many of the core muscles are hidden beneath the exterior musculature, underpinning everything you do.

    Here are a few health benefits of having a strong core:

    • It prevents back injury and eliminates back pain. Your core is your body’s stabilizer. Most back pain and injuries are caused by postural alignment problems[2] or poor posture. Poor posture is the result of weak lower back muscles.[3] A strong core is your spine’s best friend.
    • It helps you perform everyday functions more efficiently and without pain. No matter where motion begins, it flows up and down the adjoining links of the chain – which is your core. Weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function. The ability to bend down to put on shoes, turn and look behind you, sit in a chair, take a bath, dress yourself, or simply stand still all heavily depend on your core.
    • It improves posture. Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Maintaining good posture is important because it lessens wear and tear on the spine and assists in your ability to breathe deeply.
    • It improves athletic performance. Strengthening your core makes your workout more effective and efficient. A strong flexible core provides stability, prevents injury, and improves your range of motion.
    • It improves physical appearance. Having a great physique isn’t and shouldn’t be the top reason for having a strong core, but it definitely is a motivator. A firm and flexible midsection makes you look taller, thinner, stronger, and more confident.

    Common Core Myths You Need to Stop Believing

    Now that you understand why having a strong, flexible core is important, you’re probably ready to hop on the floor and start banging out some crunches.

    Advertising

    Slow down tiger. Before you begin working on your abs let’s discuss some popular misconceptions on training your core.

    • Core strengthening exercises are the key to flat abs. Abs don’t come from the gym; they come from the kitchen.[4] The portion of the abs that are visible (or that you want to be visible) are hidden beneath a layer of fat. This means you have to reduce your body fat. This is done by exercising and by eating clean. Eliminate processed foods and follow this one simple rule: If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.
    • Sit-ups and crunches are the key to great abs. Huffington Post writer Ben Greenfield[5] gave the perfect illustration on why crunches are not only ineffective but harmful to your back over an extended period of time. He says,

    “Imagine your spine is a credit card. In the same way that repeatedly flexing and extending a credit card will eventually lead to wearing out of the plastic, repeatedly doing crunches can put damaging strain on your back.”

    • Isolation exercises work best. Wrong! Your core is the body’s stabilizer and force transfer center and not a primary mover.[6] This means instead of doing hundreds of isolated exercises such as crunches or back extensions you should perform functional, compound movements like deadlifts, overhead squats, and pushups.

    Best Core Exercises for Beginners

    Now you know what your core is, understand how it functions, and are eating clean, it’s time to hit the gym! Below are some of the best core exercises for newbies:

    1. Low Plank

      The plank is one of the best exercises you can do for your core because it builds isometric strength and helps sculpt your waistline and improve your posture. It is a 360 core toner, meaning that it targets the muscles all the way around the core. It also targets your glutes and shoulders.

      During this exercise remember to keep your breathing slow and controlled. Try to maintain a straight line from your head to your toes.

      How to:

      • Start in pushup position on the floor.
      • Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders, and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet.
      • Hold the position for as long as possible being careful not to allow your hips to raise or sink.
      • Try to maintain a straight line. Your goal should be to work up to holding it for two minutes.

      Modification: Standard Plank form is a great modification for this move (remain in pushup position with hands positioned directly beneath your shoulders).

      Advertising

      2. Bird Dog Crunch

      Bird Dog Crunch strengthens the lower back and abdominals while improving balance and stability.

      The first tip in practicing Bird Dog Crunch is to make sure you are on a mat or soft surface. During the movement be mindful of your breathing. Inhale as you tuck under and exhale while extending your opposite arm and leg out. Make sure that as you extend your arm and leg you are tucking your belly button in to keep your back strong and stable. Also try and be as still as possible as you move. Don’t allow your back to move side to side.

      How To:

      • Kneel on the mat on all fours. Reach one arm straight forward, drawing in the abs, and extend the opposite leg straight behind you, keeping it in the air.
      • Then bring the elbow and knee in towards your center. Try to get them to touch. As you round your back remember to draw in your abs. Repeat 10 reps then switch sides.

      Modification: When extending your leg behind you allow, it to touch the floor.

      3. Standing Bicycle Crunch

      This move targets the obliques and rotational trunk muscles. It also improves balance and coordination. Because this is a standing move, it lowers the risk of neck strain and lower back injury.

      When preforming the Standing Bicycle Crunch be sure to keep your abs tight through out the entire movement. Also, this move should be performed in a slow and controlled manner. The slower you go the harder your abs work.

      Advertising

      How To:

      • Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward.
      • Place your fingertips behind your neck with your elbows pointing out to the sides, in line with your shoulders. Inhale and contract (tighten) your core.
      • Raise your right knee up across the body as high as you can to your chest. Simultaneously twist your torso to the right and draw your left elbow toward the lifted knee so that you can feel the crunch. Exhale during the movement.

      Modification: Perform the move with one hand against the wall.

      4. Alternating Seated Leg Lifts

      Seated leg lifts work your abdominals, lower abdominal region, pelvic muscles, and your hamstrings.

      When performing this move be careful not to hold your breath and try not to lean back to far.

      How To:

      • Sit on the floor, legs extended straight out in front of you. Keeping your core engaged, lean back slightly, so you’re able to place your hands on either side of your glutes.
      • Take a deep breath and lift one leg six inches off the ground and hold for five seconds, and then put it down. Repeat with the other leg.
      • Continue alternating for one minute, then rest for 20 seconds. Repeat for five rounds.

      Modification: Alternate lifting your legs without stopping to hold.

      5. Spider Plank Crunch

      Advertising

      The Spider Plank Crunch is another 360 core exercise. It targets the entire abdominal region (upper and lower), the obliques, lower back, and the glutes.

      Try not to allow your hips to sink or raise when you are bringing your knee to your elbow. Also, fight to keep your body parallel at all times.

      How To:

      • Begin in a high plank or pushup position – hands directly underneath your shoulders, legs extended backward with your toes on the ground. Body is in a straight line.
      • Lift your right leg and bring your knee toward the outside of your right arm. Return to plank position.
      • Repeat the movement with the other leg. Do five reps on each side.

      Modification: Begin in modified pushup position (both knees on the ground) and perform the move from your knees.

      6. Modified Bicycle Crunch

        This move targets the upper and lower abs, the obliques, and hip-flexors. It also targets the “posture muscles” and incorporates small amounts of balance.

        When doing this movement, remember to keep it smooth. The movement should be slow and controlled. Try not to jerk or over-twist your torso. Exhale when you crunch in and inhale on the extension.

        How To:

        • Start in a neutral sitting position. Your knees should be bent, heels flat on the floor and hands on either side of your head.
        • Bring the right knee and left elbow toward one another, by gently twisting the torso.
        • Repeat the motion on the other side. Alternate for 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat. Complete five rounds.

        Modification: Place hands on the ground behind you instead of behind your head.

        Performing these exercises a few times a week along with small amounts of aerobic exercise and a proper diet will yield you a stronger core and a leaner, tighter torso.

        Reference

        More by this author

        Denise Hill

        Denise shares about psychology and communication tips on Lifehack.

        3 Reminders to Help You Enjoy Life Even When Life Is Tough 20 Simple Ways to Bring Positive Energy into Life Right Now Why It’s Never Too Late To Redefine Yourself 30 Best Business Podcasts That Help Entrepreneurs Become Successful Day 10 Shocking! Exercise Right After Eating Ain’t That Bad for Health

        Trending in Exercise

        1 8 Yoga Poses to Help You Achieve Strong and Toned Inner Thighs 2 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly) 3 3 Home Exercises To Fix Your Rounded Shoulders In One Month 4 Workout Every Day: Thursday Music Playlist 5 Cut down on drinking! Time for a post-holiday detox

        Read Next

        Advertising
        Advertising
        Advertising

        Last Updated on November 27, 2020

        12 Stretching Exercises to Increase Your Flexibility

        12 Stretching Exercises to Increase Your Flexibility

        When thinking about stretching and learning how to become flexible, consider you are doing more than just elongating and strengthening your muscles. You are, in fact, improving circulation of the blood (lymphatic system), and optimizing the depth of your breath, which further enhances circulation[1].

        Stretching and yoga aren’t just trends; they are practices that have been utilized by humans arguably for hundreds of thousands of years or more. In many cases, modern humans have simply forgotten much of their ancestry, and stretching/yoga is certainly an integral part.

        The following stretching routines, if practiced consistently (every day, or a few times a week), will improve your physical and mental well-being, so let’s get into them!

        Here’s a breakdown of all the exercises I’ve covered in the video:

        Advertising

        1. Standing Hamstring Stretch

        See the source image
          • Stand straight and tall with your feet hip-width apart, knees just slightly bent, and arms by your sides.
          • Exhale as you bend forward (think of a door hinge movement at the hips), lowering your head toward the floor (imagine the top of your head being parallel with the floor), while keeping your head, neck, and shoulders relaxed (do not tense up).
          • Wrap your arms around the backs of your legs, or simply grab and hold the back of your legs; holding anywhere from 45 seconds to two minutes.
          • Bend your knees and slowly “roll up” back to the standing position when you’re done.

          2. Downward Dog

          See the source image
            • Start standing with your feet hip-width apart.
            • While exhaling, hinge at the hips and lower your head toward the floor.
            • Place your hands/palms on the ground.
            • Step back with your feet while keeping a neutral back/spine and with your head/neck in-line with your shoulders and arms.

            3. Deep Lunge and Twist

            See the source image
              • Start standing with your feet together hip width apart.
              • Take a large step forward with your right foot.
              • Bend your right knee and drop into a lunge, keeping your left leg as straight as you can behind you with your toes on the ground, so you feel a stretch at the front of your left thigh.
              • Place your right hand on the floor or in a pray position, and twist your upper body to the right as you extend your right arm toward the ceiling (for a deeper stretch).
              • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes while taking slow and steady breaths.
              • Repeat on the other side.

              4. Piriformis Stretch

              Advertising

              See the source image

                 

                • Sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you to start.
                • Cross your left leg over your right, and place your left foot flat on the floor.
                • Place your left hand on the floor behind your body.
                • Place your right hand on your left quad or your right elbow on your left knee (as shown), and press your left leg to the right as you twist your torso to the left.
                • If the spinal rotation causes back discomfort, remove the twist and simply use your right hand to pull your left quad in and to the right.

                5. Figure Four Stretch

                See the source image
                  • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
                  • Cross your left foot over your right quad.
                  • Lift your right leg off the floor. Grab onto the back of your right leg and gently pull it toward your chest.
                  • When you feel a comfortable stretch, hold there.
                  • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
                  • Switch sides and repeat.

                  6. 90/90 Stretch

                  See the source image
                    • Sit with your right knee bent at 90-degrees in front of you, calf perpendicular to your body and the sole of your foot facing to the left. Keep your left foot flexed.
                    • Let your leg rest flat on the floor.
                    • Place your left knee to the left of your body, and bend the knee so that your foot faces behind you. Keep your left foot flexed.
                    • Keep your right butt cheek on the floor. Try to move the left cheek as close to the floor as possible. It may not be possible if your hips are tight.
                    • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
                    • Repeat on the other side.

                    7. Frog Stretch

                    Advertising

                    See the source image

                       

                      • Start on all fours.
                      • Slide your knees wider than shoulder-width apart.
                      • Turn your toes out and rest the inner edges of your feet flat on the floor.
                      • Ensure your legs are maintaining approximately a 90-degree angle (squared off).
                      • Shift your hips back toward your heels.
                      • Move from your hands down to your forearms to get a deeper stretch, if possible.
                      • Hold for for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

                      8. Butterfly Stretch

                      See the source image
                        • Sit tall on the floor with the soles of your feet together, knees bent out to the sides.
                        • Hold onto your feet (or ankles), engage your abs slightly to keep an upright posture with steady breathing, and slowly lower your body toward your feet as far as you can while pressing your knees toward the floor. Keep a neutral spine during this stretch.
                        • If you cannot lower your torso, then simply hold the stretch and aim to lower your knees closer to the ground gradually.
                        • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

                        9. Tricep Stretch

                        See the source image
                          • Kneel, sit, or stand tall with feet hip-width apart, arms extended overhead.
                          • Bend your right elbow and reach your right hand to touch the top middle of your back.
                          • Reach your left hand overhead and grasp just below your right elbow.
                          • Gently pull your right elbow down and toward your head.
                          • Switch arms and repeat.

                          10. Extended Puppy Pose

                          Advertising

                          See the source image
                            • Start on all fours.
                            • Move your arms forward a few inches.
                            • Push your hips up and back halfway toward your heels, or until you feel a deep stretch.
                            • Push through the palms of your hands to keep your arms straight and engaged.
                            • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

                            11. Neck Stretch and Release

                            See the source image
                              • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, or sit down with your back straight and chest lifted.
                              • Drop your right ear to your right shoulder.
                              • To deepen the stretch, gently press down on your head with your right hand.
                              • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

                              12. Standing Quad Stretch

                              See the source image
                                • Stand with your feet together.
                                • Bend your left knee and use your left hand to pull your left foot toward your butt. Keep your knees together.
                                • If you need to, put one hand on a wall for balance.
                                • Squeeze your glutes to increase the stretch in the front of your legs.
                                • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
                                • Repeat on the other leg.

                                Conclusion

                                The key take away here is that consistency with your stretching routine, followed by good quality sleep and lots of hydration, will instantly begin to improve your quality of life. Find which stretches feel the best in your body and add them to a daily routine you can enjoy.

                                More on How to Become Flexible

                                Featured photo credit: Scott Broome via unsplash.com

                                Reference

                                Read Next