Training

Our Top Exercises for Your Core and Abs

A strong core is at the centre of everything we do, whether that be day-to-day physical activity, or building a strong body for lifting and sports. Here’s some beginner, intermediate and advanced exercises that you can do at home and in the gym to help strengthen your core.

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Core Exercises for Beginners

Plank on Knees

A good introduction to the plank. Activating many of the body’s muscles, this is a go-to move to strengthen your core.

Technique

  • Get into the press-up position, lowering yourself down so your forearms are flat on the floor.
  • Your hands should be clenched, and elbows positioned under your shoulders at a 90-degree angle.
  • Pull your lats back and down, engage your core by pulling your belly button to your spine and brace.
  • Rest your legs on your knees until you gain confidence.

Tip: Take your knees off the floor for a full plank to increase difficulty.

 

Crunches

A move to isolate the upper core muscles, common in many core workouts.

Technique

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Either place your hands by your forehead or cross your arms over your chest.
  • Contract your abs by pulling your belly button in towards your spine, and slide your rib cage towards your hips, ensuring your lower back remains pushed against the floor.
  • Lift your shoulders slightly off the floor.
  • Squeeze at the top of the movement and then lower yourself back to the starting position, ensuring to control the movement.

Tip: Rest your feet on the floor to make the exercise easier.

 

Heel Taps

An underrated move for your core. Holding the position will hit your upper core but the rotation motion hits your obliques.

Technique

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, tucked close to your glutes.
  • Place your arms at your side outstretched.
  • Contract your right oblique by reaching your right hand towards your right heel; as soon as you reach your heel, contract your left oblique and drive your left hand towards your left heel.
  • Keep the movement going — one touch each side counts as a rep. Ensure your lower back remains pushed into the floor and your shoulders are lifted slightly off the floor.
  • Squeeze at the bottom of the movement, before you move on to the opposite side.

Tip: Bring your heels closer for an easier movement.

 

Leg Raises

A good move to include to counter crunches. Leg raises really hit the lower part of your abs and are a good move for stability.

Technique

  • Start by lying on your back, with your arms by your side for stability.
  • Keeping your legs together and straight, lift them both off the floor.
  • Engage your core throughout.
  • Slowly bring them back down and repeat.

Tip: Don’t rest your legs on the floor between reps.

 

Russian Twist

A real core burner, hitting the main part of your abs while bringing in the obliques with the twisting motion.

Technique

  • Begin by sitting on the floor holding a sit-up position.
  • Shift your core from left to right.
  • Drop your hands either side, touching the floor each time.

Tip: Rest your feet on the floor to make the movement easier.

 

Knee Raises

A slightly easier version of leg raises; however, it will hit the same area of the lower abs. Do more reps to make up for the ease of this movement.

Technique

  • Start lying flat on your back.
  • Keep your arms by your side for stability.
  • Bring your knees towards your chest.
  • Release back to the floor for one rep.

 

Hollow Hold

A great move for stability and endurance. Simply holding the position will really make your core work and burn.

Technique

  • Lie flat on your back with arms above your head and your legs together.
  • Engage your core and raise your arms/shoulders and legs off the floor to form a V-shape, ensuring your lower back is pressing firmly into the floor.
  • Hold this position for the intended time, maintaining tension in your core the entire time.

 

Intermediate Core Exercises

Plank

Is this the ultimate core move? Arms, legs, chest, back and your core must work for this movement.

Technique

  • Get yourself into the press-up position, lowering yourself down so your forearms are flat on the floor.
  • Hands should be clenched and elbows under your shoulders at a 90-degree angle.
  • Pull your lats back and down.
  • Engage your core by pulling your belly button to your spine and brace.

 

Mountain Climbers

A great move to work the core and burn a few extra calories with a little cardio. Raising your heart rate while working your legs, abs, chest, arms and shoulders is always a winner.

Technique

  • Start in the high plank position.
  • Bring your knee to your elbow on the same side.
  • Alternate your legs rapidly as if you’re running on the spot.

Tip: Walk through the movement for an easier exercise.

 

Shoulder Taps

shoulder taps

Utilising the whole body to stabilise the move, this exercise has the same benefits as the plank, but with added shoulder taps, there’s additional focus on the stability of the body.

Technique

  • Start in a high-plank position with your legs hip-width apart, ankles crossed, and your body forming one straight line from the floor through the crown of your head.
  • While keeping your hips and shoulders level and squared in front of you, lift one palm to the top of your opposite arm and pause for one second before returning to start.
  • Keep the movement controlled.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Tip: Bring your feet closer together for a tougher exercise.

 

Knees Up Crunch

While standard crunches target your upper abs, this exercise brings your lower abs into play by raising your knees off the floor.

Technique

  • Lie flat on your back with both hands behind your head.
  • Now raise your legs, forming a 90-degree angle from the knees.
  • This is your starting position.
  • Keeping your legs bent and close together, move your upper body without lifting your back, and then return to the starting position.

 

Flutter Kicks

Targets the lower abs with both endurance and strength by holding your legs off the floor.

Technique

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs stretched out in front of you, arms by your side, and your palms either flat on the floor or placed under the side of your glutes.
  • Engage your core by pulling your belly button to your spine; with your lower back firmly pressed down, slowly raise your feet off the floor while keeping your legs straight.
  • Lift your legs off the floor slightly and create a walking motion.
  • Count one rep each time your right leg drops.

 

Knees Up Russian Twist

Brings your knees up off the floor to create a harder version of the Russian Twist, and helps your ability to balance during movements.

Technique

  • Begin sitting on the floor with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle and your torso upright but leaning back.
  • Hold a dumbbell over your abdomen.
  • Move the weight from left to right as if you’re going to put it down next to you.

 

Side Plank

Taking the plank and moving it on to your side is a great way of improving the side of your core muscles. Same concept, just targeting each side of your body.

Technique

  • Start on your side with your feet together and one forearm directly below your shoulder.
  • Contract your core and raise your hips until your body is in a straight line from head to feet.
  • Hold the position without letting your hips drop for the allotted time for each set, then repeat on the other side

 

Advanced Core Exercises

High Plank to Pike

Another exercise using the plank as a base movement. Introducing the pike will stretch and work your muscles more and improve your stability.

Technique

  • Get yourself into the press-up position with your wrists and elbows directly under your shoulders.
  • Pull your lats back and down, and engage your core by pulling your belly button to your spine and brace.
  • Hold for a few seconds before driving your hip up and back, reaching your right hand to your left foot before returning to the plank position.
  • Hold and then repeat by driving your hips up, reaching your left hand to your right foot.
  • Each side counts as one rep.

 

Walkouts

walkouts

Technique

  • Walking through the movement again stretches the muscles but allows for improvement of stability and balance.
  • Place your feet flat on the floor and stand tall.
  • Lean forwards and place your hands close to your feet— you’ll feel your hamstrings stretch.
  • Walk your hands away from your legs, keeping your legs straight as you move forward until you’re in a high plank position.
  • Then walk your hands back towards your feet and stand tall before repeating the movement

Wipers

This exercise will really burn your lower abs and supporting muscles to stabilise the side-to-side movement.

Technique

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs stretched out in front of you, arms by your side, and palms flat on the floor.
  • Engage your core by pulling your belly button to your spine; with your lower back firmly pressed into the floor, slowly raise your feet off the floor while keeping your legs straight.
  • Lift your legs to a 90-degree angle to your hips and toes pointed to the ceiling. Twisting from the hip while keeping your back and arms on the floor, lower your legs down towards the right but without touching the floor.
  • Use your core to bring your legs back to the start position before lowering down to the left.
  • Each side counts as one rep.

 

V-Ups

Target the front of your core top to bottom by holding the position and add stretches by reaching for your toes. This is another great movement for balance and stability.

Technique

  • Lie face-up on the floor with your legs and arms straight and lifted off the floor slightly.
  • In one complete movement, lift your torso and legs as if you’re trying to touch your toes.
  • Lower your body back down and repeat.

 

Side Plank Rotations

Another movement for balance and stability,adding rotation into the side plank and bringing in more supporting core muscles.

Technique

  • Start in a standard side plank position.
  • Raise your top arm straight above you.
  • Lower your arm and rotate your core as you thread your top arm through the space under you.
  • Unthread your arm and return to the starting position.

 

Leg Raise with Hip Lift

Adding a slight hip kick at the top of the movement makes a big addition to your ab work and will add extra burn.

Technique

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, tucked close to your glutes.
  • Place your arms outstretched at your side.
  • Contract your right oblique, reaching your right hand towards your right heel; as soon as you reach your heel, contract your left oblique and drive your left hand towards your left heel.
  • Keep the movement going — one touch each side counts as a rep. Ensure your lower back remains pushed into the floor and your shoulders are lifted slightly off the floor.
  • Once your legs are up, push your hips off the floor, before repeating the movement.

 

Superman Plank

superman plank

Taking the ultimate core hold and adding additional movements will enhance your progress. This movement brings into play more balance and stability work, intensifying the already tough plank hold.

Technique

  • Start in a high-plank or press up position.
  • Stabilising your core, lift one arm and reach forward while lifting the opposite leg and reaching away.
  • Keep your spine and neck neutral.
  • Keep your core engaged and tense your glutes as you complete the movement.

Take Home Message

Well, there you have it — an extensive collection of exercises bound to help keep things interesting during your home or gym workout. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or expert, these exercises will work you out to the core.

 

 

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Chris Appleton

Chris Appleton

Writer and expert

Chris is an editor and a level 3 qualified Personal Trainer, with a BA honours degree in Sports Coaching and Development, and a level 3 qualification in Sports Nutrition. He has experience providing fitness classes and programs for beginners and advanced levels of clients and sports athletes. Chris is also a qualified football coach, delivering high-level goalkeeping and fitness training at a semi-professional level, with nutritional advice to help maintain optimal performance. His experience in the sports and fitness industry spans 15 years and is continuously looking to improve. In his spare time, Chris likes to dedicate it to his family while training in the gym.


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