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5 Exercises to Strengthen Your Core and Abdominal Muscles

5 Exercises to Strengthen Your Core and Abdominal Muscles

Written by Martin Garneau, NSCA-CPT

Core training targets the muscles of your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen. Strengthening your core is important as it helps to achieve core stabilization and balance, it improves posture and it helps to prevent injury. 

Here are five exercises to target your core that can be done anywhere and anytime, with or without weights. If you find these exercises too easy, you can try stepping up your workout with some variations we've included in the exercise description below.

Exercise: Planks

TARGET: Lower back, Abdominal muscles, Overall core, Stabilization of vertebrae

EQUIPMENT: None (Bodyweight)

SETS & REPS: Hold this position for 30-45 seconds and repeat for 3-4 sets


TECHNIQUE: Begin in a push-up position with your elbows bent and forearms on the floor. Your shoulders should be away from your ears (don't shrug) and your elbows should be directly under your shoulders. All of your weight should be distributed to your forearms. It is important to maintain in a straight position from your shoulders to your ankles. Avoid letting your hips sag down and maintain proper form throughout this exercise to avoid putting stress on your lower back. Squeeze your glutes and your core while holding this position to stabilize and get the greatest benefit.

VARIATIONS: Kneeling plank, Wide-stance plank with leg lift, Wide-stance plank with diagonal arm-lift, Swiss-ball plank


TARGET: Rectus abdominis (Abs)

EQUIPMENT: None (Bodyweight)

REPS & SETS: 3 sets of 10-15 reps.

TECHNIQUE: Begin lying on your back in a supine position. Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor and bring your elbows out with fingertips on the back of your ears. Using your core to lift your torso to a sitting position. Try to keep your movement smooth and avoid raising your torso by applying force to the back of your head. Once you have reached the top of the movement, slowly lower your torso to the floor to a supine position. Repeat for desired sets and reps.

VARIATIONS: Weighted sit-up, Decline sit-up, Alternating sit-up, Crunch, Raised-legs crunch, Swiss-ball crunch             

NOTE: Both the abdominal sit-up and the abdominal crunch are excellent exercises to strengthen your core. However, they are performed differently. During a sit-up, you raise your torso into a seated position, while when performing a crunch, the goal is to raise your head and shoulders to crunch your rib cage towards your pelvis.

Exercise: Hanging Leg Raise

TARGET: Abdominal muscle group (mostly lower portion), Oblique muscle group

EQUIPMENT: Chin-up bar

SETS & REPS: 3 sets of 10-15 reps

TECHNIQUE: This exercise requires a chin-up bar, however if you do not have access to a chin-up bar, you can substitute the exercise for lying leg raises. Grab a chin-up bar with hands about shoulder-width apart and palms facing the same direction as your face. Let your body hang. Keeping your legs extended, raise your legs until you reach a 90 degree angle with your torso. If this is too difficult, you can perform this exercise with bent knees, raising your hips and your knees towards your chest. Once your legs are extended or your knees have reached your chest, hold that position and then slowly lower your legs back to a hanging position.

VARIATIONS: Lying leg raises, Swiss-ball pike, Hanging oblique raise

NOTE: Remember to use your hips by “scooping” towards your core. Avoid swinging your body and maintain control and proper technique throughout the exercise.

Exercise: Superman or Prone Back Extension

TARGET: Lower back, Glutes, Erector spinae (vertebrae muscle)

EQUIPMENT: None (Bodyweight) 

SETS & REPS: 3 sets of 10-15 reps


TECHNIQUE: Lie on the floor in a prone position (on your stomach) with your legs straight and your arms stretched in front of you with your thumbs facing up. Firmly squeeze your glutes and your lower back. Slowly raise your head, chest, arms, and legs off the floor. Pretend you are shaping your body into a letter “U”. Hold the position and then slowly lower your body back to the starting position.

VARIATIONS: Static back extension, Bird dog, Pilates swimmers, Cobra or upward dog pose

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Exercise: Stomach Vacuum

TARGET: Core, Valsalva Maneuver

EQUIPMENT: None (Bodyweight)

SETS & REPS: 3 sets of 30 secs

TECHNIQUE: Start by positioning yourself down to your hands and knees. Exhale completely and suck in your tummy as if you are pulling your belly button to your spine. Hold that position for 20-30 seconds. Release and take in a deep breath. Once you have caught your breath, repeat the exercise by exhaling again and suck in your belly button to your spine.

VARIATIONS: Lying prone stomach vacuum, Seated stomach vacuum

Please note that if you have a back injury or are experiencing pain, please contact your doctor and get medical clearance before performing these exercises. If you are new to exercise, please be sure to seek guidance from a fitness professional to ensure proper technique and prevent injury.

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