Strengthen Your Core in 5 Minutes
How to Strengthen Your Core
Core muscles include all of the muscles of your midsection, including your front and side abdominal muscles, back muscles, and hip muscles. Strengthening your core is one of the best ways to get fit. It can also help you improve your ability to hike and boost your performance in many other sports. Whether you're building up your strength after an injury or trying to take your athletic performance to the next level, improving your balance and core strength will help keep you limber and strong.
Working Your Core In a Lying Position
Engage your transversus abdominis during every workout.In order to get the most out of your core-strengthening regimen, take a moment to find the transversus abdominis (your deepest core muscle). Once you've found it, you'll want to keep that muscle contracted and tight throughout the course of your workout.
- Force yourself to take a deep cough. You should feel a muscle in your abs contract, which is the transversus abdominis.
- The transversus abdominis runs deep in your core and extends from your belly button to your rib cage.
- Now that you've found the transversus abdominis, practice flexing and tightening the muscle.
- Engage your transversus abdominis every time you work on your core, no matter which routine or muscle group you're focusing on.
Stretch with segmental rotations.Segmental rotations (rotating your core along the spine) can help work a variety of core muscle groups with relatively little strain. Begin by lying flat on your back, then bend your knees and pull your feet as close to your buttocks as you can comfortably get them. Keep your shoulders pinned to the floor, and focus on only moving your lower body.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and slowly drop both knees towards the floor on 1 side. Only go as far as you comfortably can - you should feel a strong stretching sensation, but it should not hurt.
- Hold the position for 3 breaths, then return to the starting position. Switch your knees to the other side, hold for 3 breaths, and repeat.
Do a superman flex.The superman focuses on working your lower back's core muscles. Start out by lying flat on your stomach. Slide a rolled up towel or a small throw pillow under your hips to help support your back. If you'd like, you can also put a folded towel under your face to help support your head.
- Tighten up your abdominal muscles and lift 1 arm at a time, holding each arm elevated in the air for 3 breaths. Then switch to the other arm and repeat.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and lift 1 leg at a time, holding each leg for 3 breaths. Then switch to the other leg and repeat.
- If you prefer, you can stretch out both of your arms and legs at the same time; however, if you're just starting out you may want to focus on 1 limb at a time to develop a proper routine.
Lift into a bridge position.The bridge works several muscle groups in your core, making it a highly-effective exercise. Begin by lying on your back and bending your knees. Plant your feet right in front of your buttocks as though you were about to do a sit up and keep your back as neutral as possible (not arched, but not pressed down either).
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and raise your hips off the floor. They should now be aligned with your knees and shoulders in a straight downward line pointing towards the floor.
- Hold the position for 3 breaths, then return to the starting position and repeat.
Try plank exercises.Planks are a great exercise for building strength in your core. Start by lying on your stomach and lifting up onto your forearms and the tips of your toes. If you can't get onto your toes you can balance your weight on your knees and your forearms.
- Keep your forearms and knees or toes on the floor and try to squeeze your elbows and knees towards one another.
- Keep your abdominal muscles tight and your shoulders lined up straight above your elbows.
- Make sure your neck and spine are in a neutral position. You should be looking down at the floor and your back should not be arched or bent at all.
- While in position, tighten your abdominal muscles. Hold the position for 3 breaths, then return to your starting position and repeat.
Switch to a side plank.The side plank is similar to a regular plank, except it works the core muscles that line your sides instead of your abdominal muscles. Start out lying on your side and balance yourself on either the forearm or hand on that side of your body (whichever you're more comfortable with).
- Make sure your shoulder is above your elbow and aligned with your hips and knees.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles while you're in position and hold it for 3 deep breaths. Then switch to the other side, rest, and repeat.
Strengthening Your Core From A Standing Position
Practice side bends.Side bends can work your abdominals as well as your back and side core muscles when properly executed. If you feel capable, you can do side bends with a barbell (but don't add any weights). Otherwise you can just use a broom or some other long, straight stick.
- Tighten up your abdominal muscles and stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your toes pointed forward and sling the broom (or barbell) across your shoulders.
- While holding the broom/barbell with both hands a little past your shoulders, lean to 1 side as far as you can comfortably go. Keep your feet planted on the ground throughout the workout.
- Hold the side bend for 3 breaths, then return to your starting position. Bend to the other side, hold for 3 breaths, and repeat.
- Try to complete 2 or 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps each.
Do squats.Squats are a great way to strengthen your core muscles in your abdomen and your back. Start out by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Make sure your knees are also pointed forward, and slowly bend your knees while simultaneously bending forward at the waist.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles as you dip into a squat. Extend your arms slightly forward, but don't overextend them (aim for your hands to be about 1 to 1.5 feet (0.30 to 0.46 m) out in front of your face).
- Do not bend your back. It's important that you keep your back in a neutral position (not rigid, but not arched either).
- Keep your chest lifted and your shoulders down and drawn back as you squat. Make sure your knees don't extend past your toes.
- Hold each squat for 3 breaths, then return to your starting position.
- Aim for 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
Perform lunges.Lunges will help you build core strength while also working your leg muscles. Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Keep your arms at your sides and make sure you have enough room in front of you and behind you so you can take a huge step forward or backwards without bumping into anything.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles as you bend one knee and extend the other leg behind you. Let your back leg and ankle bend as though you were going to kneel directly onto the floor with your toes planted behind you.
- Your front knee should be aligned with your ankle. Your back knee should be bent enough that a straight line forms from your shoulder to your hip to your back knee.
- Do not lean forward. Try to keep your upper body as straight as possible.
- Hold the lunge for 3 breaths, then stand back up. Switch to the other side and repeat.
- Try to do 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps each. If you have joint problems, hip, knee, ankle foot, or spine issues, reduce the number of reps. Instead hold the position a little longer when you want to increase the intensity.
Improving Your Balance to Strengthen Your Core
Perform weight shifts.Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Try to distribute your weight evenly across both feet, then shift all of your weight to 1 foot and lift the other foot off the ground. Hold this position for 30 seconds, or as long as you can comfortably maintain your balance. Return to standing with both feet on the floor, then switch sides.
Try a single-leg balance.Single-leg balances build off of weight shifts and help further develop your balance and core strength. Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, and distribute your weight evenly across both of your feet.
- Put your hands on your hips and lift one leg up, then bend your knee and draw that leg back behind you.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds, or as long as you can comfortably maintain your balance. Then return to standing with both feet on the floor and switch sides.
Take a balance and core-strengthening class.There are many classes that can help improve both balance and core strength. Tai chi focuses on balance and controlled movement.Yoga combines breathing, balance, meditation, and stretching to work a broad range of muscle groups, including your core.
- You can find classes at your local gym, yoga studio, community center, or community college.
- Try a few different types of classes and see which one(s) you enjoy the most.
Use a balance board.There are a few different types of balance boards (also called wobble boards) that can help you work your abdominal muscles. The most common balance boards are rocker boards, which move back and forth, and spherical-based boards, which move evenly in all directions. You can use a balance board while sitting, kneeling, or standing.Some common balance board activities include:
- Side-to-side rock — Keep your feet firmly on the board and move your body from side to side while maintaining your balance.
- Backwards and forwards rock — Sit, kneel, or stand on the board and slowly rock from front to back while maintaining your balance.
- Circular movements — Sit, kneel, or stand on the board and slowly rotate around in controlled circular patterns.
Using Core-Strengthening Equipment
Work your abdominal muscles with a fitness ball.Fitness balls can help you engage in core-strengthening positions that might otherwise be uncomfortable or difficult. Choose a ball that's big enough that you can sit on the ball and still keep your feet flat on the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles for each exercise and aim to do 5 repetitions each, gradually increasing the number of repetitions as you build strength.Some common fitness ball exercises for your abs include:
- Abdominal crunches — Keep your feet hip-width apart and your back straight as you sit on the ball. Cross your arms, lean back as far as you comfortably can until you feel your abs tighten, then hold the position for 3 breaths.
- Abdominal ball raise — Lie on your back with your legs on either side of the ball. Lift the ball by squeezing it between your lower legs, pull your bellybutton down towards your spine, and hold the ball above you for 3 breaths.
Give your abs a workout with a medicine ball.Medicine balls are commonly used for strengthening core muscles.Remember to tighten your abdominal muscles as you engage in these exercises. If you're just starting out and haven't built up a lot of core strength, it's best to start out slow and easy: begin doing 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions each, then increase the number of repetitions and/or the number of sets as you get stronger.
- Kneel on both knees with your body in an upright position and the medicine ball held at your chest.
- Do a controlled fall forward and chest press the ball out of your hands and towards a wall in front of you as you drop.
- Once you've dropped to your hands, do a kneeling push up. Then return to your starting position and repeat the entire process.
Use a fitness ball to work your sides.The same fitness ball you used to work your abs can also be used to strengthen the side muscles of your core. As always, tighten your abdominal muscles every time you work out, and start out with at least 5 repetitions on each side.
- Lie on one side with the ball between your legs and lift your upper body off the floor, resting your weight on your forearm.
- Lift your legs off the floor, keeping the ball between them, and hold for 3 breaths.
- Return to your starting position and switch sides.
- If you are a beginner, start with your head down, resting in the crook of your elbow. This way, there is less chance of a back injury or herniated disk.
Exercise your sides with a medicine ball.You can also use a medicine ball to work the side muscles in your core. Remember to engage your core as you perform these exercises, and start out with 1 to 3 sets consisting of 8 to 10 repetitions until you build up your strength.
- Single-leg chops — Stand on one foot and extend your arms up and to the side you're standing on. Bring the medicine ball downward and across your front in a chopping motion (towards your opposite foot) and switch which foot is in the air and which is on the ground as you swing, then alternate sides.
- Figure 8's — Hold the medicine ball above one shoulder and bring the ball down in a chopping motion towards your other foot (like in the single-leg chops). Stand back straight and raise the ball over your other shoulder, then chop towards the opposite foot, forming a figure-8 shape with the complete motion.
- Twists — Stand with your feet hip-width apart and firmly planted, holding the medicine ball with your arms slightly bent. Swing the ball over one hip while twisting your upper body all the way around to the other side, then switch back in the opposite direction.
QuestionDo any of the exercises help burn belly/stomach fat?
Personal TrainerPersonal TrainerExpert AnswerCore exercises will strengthen and tone abdominal muscles. To burn belly fat you need to do more vigorous exercise and adjust your diet. Try the suggestions in this article: http://www.wikihow.com/Lose-Belly-FatThanks!
QuestionHow do I get 8 pack abs?
Personal TrainerPersonal TrainerExpert AnswerThere are two main factors in getting 8 pack abs. The first is reducing body fat percentage. Any fat in the abdominal area will hide the 8 pack. The second factor is exercise. Check out this article: http://www.wikihow.com/Get-Six-Pack-AbsThanks!
QuestionHow do I strengthen my core and back?
Personal TrainerPersonal TrainerExpert AnswerGreat exercises that work both the core and back include pull-ups, chin-ups, push ups, hanging leg lifts and the plank.Thanks!
QuestionWhat exercise is best for the core?
Personal TrainerPersonal TrainerExpert AnswerThere is no one best exercise, but the plank and supermans are two that are great complements.Thanks!
QuestionWhy do you need to strengthen your core?
Personal TrainerPersonal TrainerExpert AnswerA strong core will improve your overall balance and fitness, provide you more strength and control in all your body movements, and help prevent injuries.Thanks!
QuestionWhat are good core exercises?
Personal TrainerPersonal TrainerExpert AnswerThe plank and supermans are two great core exercises. Other great core exercises include all balance exercises.Thanks!
QuestionWhat is a clamshell core exercise?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerClamshell core exercises work the hips, but they can also improve your core strength. This routine involves lying on your side with your knees bent and lifting the upper knee as high as you can without moving your lower leg, hips, or pelvis.Thanks!
QuestionDo these exercises work for teenagers?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. Although teenagers and children are biologically weaker than adults, you can still do these exercises, but decrease the numbers, and work toward the whole goal.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I strengthen my abdominal muscles after surgery?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerMost core-strengthening exercises will help rebuild your muscles, depending on your strength and range of motion. However, attempting to work your core muscles (or any other muscle group) too soon after surgery could lead to serious injuries. Talk to your doctor about a timeline for you to begin rehabilitation and muscle-strengthening exercises without any risk of injury.Thanks!
QuestionWhat do you suggest my 11-year-old should do?Community AnswerHe/she should do the exercises similar to those in the article, but with less intensity. The muscles haven't developed properly to do intense exercises, so make them lighter exercises.Thanks!
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Video: Three exercises to strengthen your core
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