Nowadays, you hear a lot of misleading facts about certain workouts and you don’t always know if what you’re doing is really benefiting you or not. Most people are already unmotivated by exercise, so how encouraging is it to do a bunch of movements that don’t even work no matter how many times you do them? So here are 10 effective core workouts for those who aren’t natural athletes.
1. Bird-Dog Crunch
Start on the floor on all fours, hands placed directly underneath your shoulders, hips in line with your knees. This is your starting position. Lift your right hand and extend your arm straight out in front of you, keeping it shoulder height, while simultaneously lifting your left leg and extending it straight back. Your whole body should be in a straight line from right fingertips to left toes.
Bring your left leg to touch your right elbow under your stomach. Extend your leg and arm out again. Return to starting position. Repeat on the other side Do five reps on each side. If you’re unable to maintain form, simplify this movement by forgoing the crunch. Instead, extend your arm and opposite leg out and hold for three seconds, then switch sides.
2. Standing Bicycle Crunches
Do traditional crunches cause discomfort? Rubin suggests this True Beginner variation instead. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands placed behind your head. With a tight core, straight back and relaxed shoulders lift your right leg and simultaneously raise your right knee and lower your left elbow towards each other. Return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. Do five reps on each side.
If rotating your upper body downwards is too difficult, simply lift your knee to your chest while keeping your upper body still, alternating legs.
3. Seated Leg Lifts
Don’t be fooled by this basic-looking leg lift: Beginners to even more advanced folks will start feeling the burn after a few reps. 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. Hold for five seconds, and then put it down. Repeat with the other leg. Continue alternating for one-minute straight, then take a 20-second break. Repeat for five rounds.
To make this exercise easier, lift one leg at a time without stopping to hold each one extended for five seconds. Need more of a challenge? After lifting a heel, bring your knee into your chest, then extend your heel back out and lower down. Repeat on the opposite side.
If performed incorrectly, sit-ups can cause more pain than they’re worth. Rubin breaks down how to safely and effectively perform the move. To start, sit on the floor with your knees bent, heels touching the floor, hands on either side of your head, shoulders dropped and relaxed to avoid tension in the neck. Keeping your feet on the ground, lay back until your back is flat on the floor, or as far as you’re able. Rise back up. Continue for one-minute straight, then take a 20-second break. Repeat for five rounds.
Having trouble keeping your core and back engaged? Slowly lower yourself as far as you can, and work up to lowering completely down to the floor. There’s no need to go all the way back until you can maintain perfect form, says Rubin.
5. Modified Bicycle Crunch
Start in the same neutral position as the sit-up, sitting with knees bent, heels flat on the floor, hands on either side of your head. Bring the right knee and left elbow towards one another, with a simple and gentle twist. Return to the start position. Complete the movement with the left knee and right elbow. Continue for one-minute straight, then take a 20-second break. Repeat for five rounds.
6. Spider Plank Crunch
Still have fuel left in the tank? Rubin challenges True Beginners to tap into their Spidey sense. Start in a push-up position, hands on the ground directly underneath your shoulders, legs extended backward with your toes on the ground, so your body is in a straight line. Lift your right leg and bring your knee towards the outside of your right elbow. Return to plank position. Repeat the movement with the other leg. Do five reps with each leg.
If this is too challenging, simply hold a plank on your elbows or hands for 30 seconds at a time, for three rounds. (If you have a wrist issue, Rubin recommends doing this movement on your elbows.)
7. Cat / Cow
This familiar two-part yoga move improves flexibility to the lumbar and cervical spine while strengthening the abs, and provides a reminder of how you should breathe during abdominal movement. Start on all fours with hands beneath your shoulders and knees on the ground.
Inhale, dropping your chest as you push your hips and shoulder blades back into the “cow” position. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze forward. For “cat,” exhale as you draw your belly button to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling like a cat. 2 sets of 10 reps with 60 seconds rest between sets.
By keeping your belly button drawn in and challenging your stability throughout your shoulders, core, and hips, you’re building strong abs. Lie in a prone pushup position with forearms resting on the floor. Your elbows should be under your shoulders and bent 90°.
Push up off the elbows, tucking your chin so your head is in line with your body. Keep head in-line with your spine, and the belly button is drawn in. Hold for one minute. 2 sets of 60-second hold, with 60 seconds of rest between sets.
9. Swiss Ball Rollout
Swiss Ball Rollout is a unique exercise for targeting the rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis which form the core of your abdominal muscles. This exercise also engages the shoulders and the lower back muscles. With Swiss Ball Rollout, you get a good stretch on your core muscles at the top position and a strong contraction at the finish. Swiss Ball Rollout can be used as a finisher in an abdominal workout program where you can give the entire core section a good stretch.
Kneel in front of a Swiss Ball. Keep your toes firmly planted on the floor for better stability. Put your hands in a triangle position with the fingers touching the surface of the Swiss Ball. Slowly roll out the Swiss Ball by extending the hips and pushing out with your arms. Roll out the ball as far as you comfortably can. At the bottom position, your arms and legs should be extended.
Your elbows should now be at the center of the Swiss Ball. Maintain a straight back position; keep your lower back aligned with your upper back and hips. Roll in the Swiss Ball to the starting position by contracting the rectus abdominis toward the transverse abdominis and flexing the hips. Repeat the exercise until you have completed the targeted number of reps.
10. Overhead Squat
The Overhead Squat is an exercise you don’t see used much anymore to condition athletes. It is still widely used with Olympic lifters and CrossFitters, but it has fallen out of favor in recent years. Simply put, it is one of the best exercises for developing your upper body, core, lower body, shoulder/lower-body mobility, balance, and total body strength. However, it requires a lot of technique, which is what discourages many people from learning it.
To perform this exercise with a barbell, it’s a good idea either to be in a tall cage or to use bumper plates. This will make it safe to drop the bar if you get into trouble. Place your feet approximately hip-width apart. Stand up tall with your chest out and your shoulders back. Begin by taking a wide grip on the bar (wider than shoulder-width). Extend your arms and hold the bar overhead.
Position the bar slightly back so that it’s in line with your hips. Try to have your arms next to your ears. This positioning is important for balance later on. From this starting position, lower yourself into a squat by pushing your hips back. When you reach the bottom position, reverse directions, and stand back up again.