6 moves to strengthen your core
When thinking of strong core muscles, for the majority of us this will instantly conjure up images of toned Hollywood abs. However, it can be really easy to forget about the benefits of a strong set of core muscles and what they really do for us day-to-day as a collective muscle group – and not just those abdominals that give us a six-pack aesthetic!
Our core muscles play a spotlight role in our daily lives, from simply getting out of bed, to bending down to tie your laces. From the deepest layer of abdominal muscles, the ‘transverse abdominis’ – helping to stabilise your spine and pelvis – to your pelvic floor muscles – the back muscles stabilising your spine and diaphragm – your core muscles are quite literally what help keep you standing upright every day. So, it’s no wonder why a sturdy core is super important.
With many of us still inactive from our regular exercise routines and often sitting at a desk or hunched over a laptop on the sofa, strengthening our core muscles can assist with a healthier posture, better balance and helping combat back pain.
Try these six moves for a stronger core
1. SEATED ABDOMINAL CIRCLES
This exercise will blitz your lower abs. It is also a great move for beginners, as you get some upper body stability through keeping hands in contact with the ground and letting the lower body do the movement.
- Start seated on the ground with legs out long in front of you. Lean back to a 45 degree angle, with arms out wide in-line with the shoulders, keeping the upper body stable and grounded.
- Lift the feet an inch or two off the ground and hover them with legs remaining straight and together – this is now your starting position.
- Begin to move your legs over in a clockwise motion to make big circles, whilst keeping legs together – you will find there will be a small natural bend in the knees at the top of the movement, which is fine. By letting the abdominals do the work here and avoiding unnecessary strain on the hip flexors, you will be able to do the exercise for longer.
- Keep repeating the circles for the desired amount of reps and then repeat the same number anti-clockwise.
2. STARFISH CRUNCH
This move is harder than it looks, when done properly! The starfish crunch is a spicier variation of the standard crunch, and is a good all-rounder for targeting the upper abs, lower abs and obliques, all in one single exercise.
- Lie down on your back and extend your arms overhead wider than shoulder width apart. Spread legs so that feet are also now in-line with the hands – you will now resemble a narrow star shape, which is of course where the exercise gets its name from!
- Now, exhale as you start to simultaneously lift one arm and the opposing leg, reaching across towards each other and touching your fingers to your ankle – remember to lead with your abdominal muscles by contracting them. The lower back remains grounded throughout this movement.
- Hold at the top for a second and then slowly lower the arms and legs back to the starting position and repeat the exercise on the opposite side of the body.
- Repeat movement for the desired amount of reps, evenly on both sides of the body.
3. FLUTTER KICKS
This exercise specifically targets the lower abdominals, plus the hip flexors. You perform this one by lying on your back and using your core to “flutter” your legs up and down – if you’ve been to a Pilates or barre class in the past, it’s likely you may have seen this type of move before.
- Lie on your back with arms slightly facing outwards on the ground to the side of you and palms faced down.
- Lift your legs four or five inches off the ground, keeping them straight. Keep shoulders planted and core muscles tight – making sure your lower back also is not arching off the ground.
- Start lowering one leg, isolating any movement from your upper body.
- Now, raise your lowered leg up as you simultaneously start to lower the other leg, really focusing on keeping your core engaged.
- Continue the desired amount of reps, alternating the movement between each leg.
4. ALTERNATING (DOUBLE-LEG) TOE TOUCHES
The double-leg toe touch crunch is more challenging than the single-leg version, as your abs have to stabilise your pelvis with both legs in the air – not to mention, you have to crunch your upper body higher to reach your toes.
- Start by lying on your back and raise your legs straight toward the ceiling.
- Keep your core muscles engaged so that your lower back is remaining on the ground and crunch your abdominals, moving your head and shoulders off the floor, whilst you extend your arms straight and reach to touch your toes.
- Hold for a second or two at the top and slowly move the upper body back down, keeping arms above your shoulders.
- On your next move upwards, crunch more intensely with the right side of the abdominals as you reach your right arm to your left toes and bring the upper body back down.
- Now repeat this movement, crunching the left side and reaching the left arm to the right toes.
- Repeat the exercise, working evenly in a left to right to centre movement pattern.
5. SIDE PLANK CRUNCH
The plank is one of the most fundamental core exercises, working all the muscles in your core, including the rectus abdominis (those sought-after “six-pack muscles”), transverse abdominis (the deepest abdominals), internal and external obliques (your sides), hips and back – in particular, this challenging variation of the ‘side plank’ will really wake up the obliques after a dormant few weeks in isolation!
- Start on your left side with your feet together and left hand directly below your shoulder – arm is straight. With a solid core, raise your hips off the ground until your body is in a straight line from head to heels – be careful your hips don’t drop.
- With your right hand touching the side of your head and elbow pointing vertically, start to crunch through the right side, bending your right knee towards your right elbow, meeting near your waistline – the rest of your body should remain as still as possible during this.
- Move the right elbow and right knee back into its start position and repeat the movement for the desired amount of reps.
- Repeat the same exercise on the opposite side.
6. HOLLOW ROCK
The great thing about this exercise is that it really recruits deep core muscles that are often missed during traditional abdominal-targeting workouts. As mentioned, training these deep core muscles helps increase core stability, which will also help reduce risk of injury if you are already doing other home workout routines during isolation.
- Start in a supine position with hands touching overhead and legs extended – legs are also pressed together.
- Raise your upper back off the floor by tightening the abs and lift legs four or five inches off the ground.
- Start to rock back and forth in a controlled movement in this position, keeping as solid as possible in the core and minimising movement at any joints – including at the hips and shoulders.
- Continue to rock, and once finished desired number of reps, slowly lower arms and legs to the ground.