Best Core Exercises and Workout Routines
The core, also known as the midsection of the body, keeps you balanced and provides crucial support. A strong core makes daily activities and exercises easier and reduces the risk of injury. Plus, a strong core can improve your posture—with better alignment, there’s less wear and tear on the spine, and you can perform at your best without fear of injury.
In our article, we share some of the best core exercises and workout routines to strengthen abdominal muscles.
Beginner Core Exercises
Start with beginner core exercises if you haven’t exercised before or haven’t in a long time. Starting small with the plank, reverse crunches, dead bug, boat, and supine toe tap exercises is a great way to tone core muscles. These beginner exercises teach you how to control your posture and keep your hips aligned, foundations for a strong core.
The plank is a classic core exercise that works your whole body, from legs to shoulders. Planking can also improve posture by strengthening the spine and abdominal muscles.
- Start by resting on your hands and knees.
- Lower your upper body so you’re resting on your forearms instead of your hands.
- The bent elbows should be parallel to the shoulders.
- Extend both legs out until they’re straight, and your toes are resting on the floor.
- Your body should form a straight line from shoulder to heel.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds, flexing your glutes and abdominal muscles.
Another variation is the high plank position.
- Begin by resting on your hands and knees, then extend your legs out with the balls of your feet on the floor.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds, flexing your core muscles and keeping your spine straight.
The reverse crunch works the lower abdominal muscles and is an excellent starting exercise for more advanced workouts.
- Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, knees bent, and feet resting on the floor.
- While flexing your stomach, bring your knees to your chest and keep your upper body on the ground.
- Lift your hips slightly as you pull your knees towards the chest.
- Repeat 10 times and try not to let your feet touch the floor.
The dead bug exercise contracts and lengthens abdominal muscles. This core exercise requires a bit of coordination, but is fairly easy to achieve after some practice.
- Lie on your back with your arms stretched out in front of you and your legs raised at a 90 degree angle.
- Lower your right arm until it’s above your head, and straighten and lower your left leg until both limbs are hovering over the floor.
- Bring both the arm and leg back to the starting position.
- As you do this exercise, press your lower back into the ground and flex your glutes and abdominal muscles.
- Change extending the left arm and right leg.
- Repeat the dead bug exercise 10 times.
The boat engages the deep core, including the transverse abdominis muscles, which are key to good posture and healthy spine alignment.
- Sit with your knees bent and back straight.
- Slightly lean back and raise your feet off the floor, flexing your core muscles.
- If possible, extend your legs so they’re straight and your body forms a V shape.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
Supine Toe Tap
The supine toe tap works the core, hips, and leg muscles, including quads, hamstrings, and glutes. This is a great exercise if you have back pain because lying on your back places minimal pressure on the spine.
- Lie on your back and lift your legs with knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Arms and hands should be flat on the ground to brace your weight.
- While tightening your core, lower your left foot and gently tap the floor with your toes.
- Raise your left leg back into the starting position and do the same thing with your right leg.
- Do one set of 10 reps.
Intermediate Core Exercises
After some time, if you find that you perform the beginning core exercises comfortably, it’s time to move on to the next level with intermediate core exercises, including the bird dog, mountain climber, warrior crunch, C-curve, and flutter kicks. These workouts are a bit more intense and further strengthen your core.
The bird dog exercise works the back and stomach muscles (part of the core). The exercise can also improve coordination and balance.
- Start on your hands and knees—hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips.
- Tighten your core and raise your right arm and left leg, extending both limbs straight out.
- Pause for a few seconds, then lower your right arm and left leg close together until you tap your right elbow with your left knee.
- Do one set of 10 reps, then switch to your left arm and right leg and do another 10 reps.
The mountain climber is a compound exercise that targets the triceps, deltoids, abs, back, quads, and hip flexors. The mountain climber combines the high plank position with knee movements.
- Start in the high plank position—the balls of your feet are on the floor, and hands are firmly planted on the ground, supporting your weight.
- Lift your left leg and bring it towards your chest.
- Keep your back straight and hips down.
- Return your left leg into the starting position.
- Repeat the motion with your right leg.
- Do one set of 10 reps.
The warrior crunch works the core and lower body, including quads, thighs, and glutes.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your knees and turn toes outward.
- Put your hands behind your head to expand your chest muscles.
- Tighten your torso and glutes and bend the torso to the right, moving your right elbow towards your right thigh.
- Repeat on the left side.
- Don’t try to tap your thigh with your elbow—bend slightly until you feel slight discomfort before switching to the other side.
- Repeat 10 times.
The C-curve strengthens your deep abdominal muscles while opening the back and stretching back muscles out.
- Begin by sitting on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat.
- Hold onto your legs just above the knee and round your spine.
- Start to lower your upper body as if you’re finishing a sit-up.
- Stop halfway and keep your core and quads engaged.
- Arms should be outstretched with hands on the outside of your knees, and feet should be flat on the floor.
- Hold your position for 30 seconds.
Flutter kicks effectively engage your lower abdominal muscles and tone your glutes, hip flexors, and quads.
- Lie on your back with your arms flat at your sides and your legs stretched out.
- Flex your abdominal muscles and lift your legs no higher than a 45-degree angle.
- Kick your legs up and down without touching the floor.
- Make sure to keep your legs straight.
- Do 20 reps then rest for 30 seconds.
- Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Advanced Core Exercises
Once you’ve mastered the intermediate core exercises, you may want to kick it up a notch by moving on to the advanced core exercises. These include the wall plank, bicycle crunch, side plank with rotation, leg raise, and jackknife. Advanced core workouts engage your abdominal muscles in more complex ways to further build core strength.
The wall plank is an intense version of the classic plank. The wall plank works your whole body and places more pressure on your upper body, further toning abdominal muscles.
- Start on your hands and knees—knees should be parallel to the hips.
- Brace your hands on the floor and position your feet, so they are flat against the wall.
- Walk your feet up until your heel is level with your head.
- Flex your core and hold the position for 30 seconds.
- Rest 1 minute between 3 reps.
The bicycle crunch is an excellent core exercise that works most of your muscles, including the rectus abdominis and obliques.
- Lie flat on your back and raise your legs at a 90-degree angle.
- Place your hands behind your head and slightly lift your head away from the floor.
- Simultaneously, slightly turn your head to the left and bring your right knee towards your chest at a 45-degree angle.
- Your right knee should be close enough to tap your left elbow.
- Extend your left leg straight out, but keep the leg elevated.
- Don’t pull your head forward—use your torso to turn your body.
- As you shift your leg away and turn towards the right, bring your left leg up to tap your right elbow and extend your left leg out.
- Complete 20 reps.
Side Plank with Rotation
The side plank with rotation combines the classic side plank exercise with arm movements to strengthen the shoulders, arms, and obliques.
- Lie on your left side with your left forearm facing outward and bracing your body on the floor—elbow should be parallel to your shoulder.
- Tighten your core and extend your legs, so your right foot is on top of your left foot.
- Lift your hips to form a straight incline position.
- Raise your right arm above you, then rotate your torso to the left.
- Bring your right arm down so it curls under your torso.
- Rotate your torso back to the right and repeat the exercise 10 times.
- Switch to the right side for another 10 reps.
Leg raises work the lower abdominal muscles and also strengthen and lengthen your hip flexors.
- Start by lying on your back with arms at your sides and palms facing down.
- You can also tuck your hands slightly underneath your hips for extra support.
- Stretch your legs outward.
- With your legs together, raise them until your body forms a 90-degree angle.
- Try to keep your legs as straight as possible and press the lower back flat on the floor.
- Slowly lower your legs back down until hovering just above the ground.
- Pause for a few seconds, then repeat 5 times.
The jackknife engages the whole core, strengthening upper abdominal muscles and tightening the lower abs. This exercise also targets your oblique muscles.
- Lie on your back with legs extended out, and arms stretched above your head.
- Flex your abs and press your lower back into the floor.
- Tighten your thighs and glutes as you raise your legs and upper body off the ground so your body forms a V shape.
- Bring your arms down until their parallel to your raised thighs.
- Keep your arms and legs straight and your core engaged as your move forward then back down towards the ground.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Frequently Asked Questions
It’s good to include your core as part of your exercise routine, but you also want to allow your muscles to recover. Recovery time allows the body to adapt to the stress of exercise and build muscle. For best practices, do a core workout routine 1 to 3 times a week.
Start slowly and begin with 1 to 2 beginning core exercises, like the plank and supine toe tap, 2 to 3 times a week. Gradually build your strength up until you can easily do a full rep of each exercise, then move to intermediate and continue to advance. You don’t have to incorporate a core exercise into every routine, because many exercises use core muscles, including walking and running.
You only need to spend 15 minutes working on your core. A basic workout routine should last 30 to 90 minutes and include strength training and cardio. Many exercises work your core muscles, like jogging, so if you’re spending more time on core workouts, you may overwork your abdominal muscles.
No, because 5 minutes of ab exercises may not work as many muscles or build up stamina, especially if that’s the only form of exercise you do for the day. An effective ab workout should last at most 15 minutes to properly work out your core muscles. Plus, a 5-minute ab workout burns fewer calories, something to keep in mind if you want to lose weight.
Planking is one of the best calorie-burning exercises because it works your whole body, not just stomach muscles. The plank exercise can improve flexibility, posture, and strengthen low back muscles, reducing your risk of lower back pain. The longer you can hold the position, the better for your body. Starting, try to keep the plank position for 20 seconds and work your way up to a full minute.
These core exercises can help strengthen your abdominal muscles, no matter the workout level. Each exercise can target specific core muscles and may improve your overall health. You can also check out our lower back stretches guide for more.
If you’re recovering from a back injury, consult a healthcare professional before attempting any of these workouts to prevent further injury. If you’re looking to start a new exercise routine involving your abdominal muscles, speak with a personal trainer or physical therapist for recommendations on strengthening your core.
You might want to try a cup of coffee before a core workout. The drink has been linked to increased endurance when exercising.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.