When it comes to working out, one of the most important areas to focus on is your core. Doing so will not only strengthen and stabilize those muscles, but it can also improve your balance, and even prevent injuries.
Unlike other muscle groups that can easily be isolated, when you perform most whole-body moves, you’re always using your core. As you build up strength, your moves will become more efficient and controlled, preventing any potential injuries. Here are eight core exercises you can perform anywhere: at home, at the gym, or even at the beach.
Bear Holds and Walks
Probably one of the most popular core-stabilizing and strengthening exercises, planking isn’t complicated, but it can still be pretty challenging. There are also plenty of variations that can make it even harder and motivate you to push yourself.
Start with your elbows on your mat, right under your shoulders. Keep them shoulder-width apart the whole time. Extend your legs and come up high on the balls of your feet, to activate your quadriceps, keeping your hips in line with your shoulders.
Push away from the mat and create space between your shoulder blades. You’ll feel your core activate as your belly button lifts upward toward your spine. Then, the goal is just to remain as still as possible for as long as you can without dipping or lifting your hips. Start with 10 seconds, drop to your knees, and then repeat.
Do as many as you can, and try to work up to holding 10 seconds longer each day or week. You can look at the floor, or extend your neck and focus on something in front of you. This will help you push through when this position starts to get challenging.
To take it a step further, you can extend your arms and place your palms flat on the mat. This requires more core strength and shoulder stability, though, so don’t try this until your basic plank is strong.
When you’re ready to go even further, try lifting one leg or arm. You’ll immediately feel how it intensifies the entire exercise.
One of the most challenging plank exercises is the single-arm/single-leg move. You start in a basic plank, with your elbows or palms on the mat, which activates your entire body. Lift one leg and flex or point your foot to maintain the highest level of muscle activation possible.
Slowly start to lift your opposite arm. Stretching through your fingers as if you’re trying to touch an imaginary wall. The more your stretch, the better your balance will be. Remain strong in your plank position and try to keep your hips from moving. Hold for three to five long breath cycles, and then do the other arm and leg.
Your core muscles aren’t just your abs; they also include your obliques and lower back muscles. Side planks help strengthen your obliques by isolating them as much as possible. This exercise is especially helpful if your goal is hypertrophy (increasing muscle mass).
Start by lying on your left side and stacking your legs, one on top of the other. Place your left elbow under your shoulder and use it as leverage to push your hips off the mat. Only your left elbow and foot will remain on the mat as points of contact.
Place your other hand on your hip or extend it toward the ceiling. Keep both legs activated and strong, pushing into the floor through the outer part of your left foot. Try to prevent your hips from piking or dropping low, and maintain a straight line from the crown of your head to your feet.
If you want to intensify your side plank, place your left palm on the mat instead of your elbow. If that’s not too difficult for you, try lifting and extending your right leg.
Whichever variation of this move you can achieve, hold it for as long as you can, and then repeat on the opposite side.
Crunching your abs works your entire core from front to back, and a great way to do it is with this knee-to-nose move. Start in a plank position, and then push your hips back and upward into a downward-facing dog.
Inhale and lift your right leg straight up behind you. As you exhale, bend your knee and bring it toward your nose.
Squeeze your abdominal muscles and curve your spine, as you really try to touch your nose with your knee. Hold for a few seconds before inhaling and extending your leg behind you once again. Repeat 10-15 times, and then repeat with your other leg.
Bear Holds and Walks
Bear holds and walks might look easy, but they really make your abs burn. Start on all fours with your palms beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Activate your core and push away from the mat. Elongate your spine and create space between your shoulder blades.
Inhale and lift your knees off the mat and hold. Push into the ground through your palms and toes. Feel the burn increase in your abs with each passing second. Hold here as long as you can, and then bring your knees back down to the mat.
Work on the bear hold for a few days or weeks until you can hold it for at least 30 seconds. Then, you can include the bear walks. The goal of the walk is to maintain the shape of the hold while also moving forward and backward.
To start a bear walk, slowly move one leg and arm at a time. Try to hold the bear form as you move forward 10 steps, and then back 10. Repeat 3-5 times.
Every time you transfer your weight from one hand or leg to the other, you challenge your entire core, from front to back. Your muscles have to be activated even more to remain still and balanced. This is why shoulder taps are an excellent way to build core strength.
Start in a plank with your palms on the mat and solidify your base. Activate your core, lift your belly button, and extend your legs. Inhale and slowly lift your right hand and touch your left shoulder. Return your hand to the mat as you exhale, and then inhale and repeat with your left hand.
Keep alternating shoulders until you’ve tapped both 10 times each, and then take a 5-10 second break. Repeat three times.
The Dead Bug exercise is all about control. The goal is to isolate your legs and arms one at a time, while keeping the rest of your body completely still. It might be very difficult in the beginning, but you’ll grow stronger with repetition and practice.
To get started, lie on your back and bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the mat. Lift your legs in the air with your knees bent and extend your arms toward the ceiling.
Next, simultaneously extend your right leg outward and your left arm backward. Keep your core engaged the entire time and try to keep your lower back pressed firmly into the mat. Hold for a few seconds, and then bring your arm and leg back to the starting position.
Repeat on the other side, and try to do 20 reps total.
The Boat Hold is an amazing exercise that simultaneously tackles your hip flexors and hamstrings, while also working your balance and strengthening your core.
To start, sit up straight and bend your knees with your feet flat on the mat. Place your palms under your knees and grab your hamstrings. Inhale and slowly pull your legs toward you, lifting your legs from the mat. Keep your knees bent, in line with your chin.
Engage your core, remove your hands from under your knees, and balance yourself on your sit bones. Extend your arms in front of you, on the outside of your legs, and try to extend your spine on every inhale. Try to hold it for 20-30 seconds.
If your flexibility allows for it, and you want to take this move a step further, try extending your legs upward. This will fully activate them all the way down to your feet. Hold for as long as you can, and try to keep your spine straight and your balance strong.
Building core strength not only helps you build up those muscles, but it can also improve your balance and prevent injuries. These eight exercises work your core with every breath, and the best part is you can do them anywhere!