13 Best Exercises for Improving Core Strength
It’s no secret the United States faces a health epidemic that threatens to kill one American every 37 seconds. Heart disease is a very serious issue in our country. However, there are simple ways to combat heart disease and other health risks. Aside from eating healthier foods, we can also look at improving our core strength and overall conditioning.
If the world of health and fitness is somewhat new to you, we want to help get you started.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about how to strengthen the different core muscles in your body for better health and longer life.
1. Barbell Squats
Squats are one of the best exercises you can perform for a full-body workout. While many people only pay attention to how squats benefit the legs and butt of the physique, it’s actually a phenomenal exercise for building core strength. This is especially true when using moderate to heavy weight.
To perform a barbell squat:
- Walk under the bar, balancing it on the meaty part of your upper back (expect some discomfort for beginners)
- Grip the bar with your hands, just outside your shoulders
- Walk the bar out and away from the rack (but still within the safety arms)
- Keep your head straight forward and your chest up
- Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart
- Keeping your back straight and chest up, squat down, leading with your butt
- Keep your all of the weight on your heels
- Your knees should be over your heels, not your toes
- Lower your body until your hip joints line up with your knees
- Stand up straight, but don’t lock your knees
For beginners, it may be best to start off with bodyweight squats and progress to using the bar. You can also substitute dumbbells for the bar by holding them by your sides, though the core benefits will not be the same.
Another key exercise, both for improving core strength and building mass is the barbell deadlift. To perform a deadlift:
- Stand with the bar in front of you on the floor, feet shoulder-width apart
- Keeping you back straight, bend your knees and push your butt toward the back of the room
- Reach down for the bar with your arms outside of your knees
- Grip the bar firmly
- Keeping you head neutral (not up, not down) and your back straight, begin pulling the bar off the ground
- You should be pulling with your butt and your hamstrings, not your back
- Stand up straight, without leaning back
- Lower the bar back to the ground with the same form in a controlled fashion
We recommend practicing keeping a neutral spine for beginners new to lifting to avoid back injuries.
As we mentioned earlier, there are different core muscles. One of the best ways to target all of them, primarily your intrinsic core muscles, is by planking. To perform the plank:
- Get into a pushup position, with your elbows on the mat instead of your hands
- Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders
- Your feet should be hip-width apart with the weight on your toes
- Keep your back straight and tighten your core.
- Your hips and lower back should not be sagging
- Keep everything tight, from your quads and butt to your abs and arms
There is no time limit for planks, just focus on keeping your form perfect and your muscles clenched.
4. Standing Overhead Press
One of the most functional movements to improve core strength is the standing overhead or military press. You can use dumbbells or a barbell for this movement. To performs standing overhead press:
- Bring the bar or dumbbells into a front-rack position (weights loaded on the front of your shoulders)
- Keeping your head forward, core tight, and back straight, push the weight up over your head
- Extend your arms all the way and push your head through the “window” (between your arms)
- Do not tilt your head back or look upward
- Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position.
This movement has multiple benefits for upper and lower body strength, as well as core conditioning.
5. Pullups and Chinups
Another exercise you may not expect to have benefits for different core muscles is the pullup or chinup. While these exercises place a huge demand on your upper body, they also require balance and stability – core strength.
To perform a pullup/chinup:
- Grab the pullup bar (underhand for chinups, which is easier)
- Chinups are shoulder-width apart, pullups (overhand) are wider
- Tighten your core, and pull your body up
- Focus on using your back muscle to pull, not just your arms
- Try not to kick or use your legs for inertia
The pullup is one of the most difficult bodyweight movements to master. Expect to need assistance for a while until you build up enough strength.
6. Boat Hold
One of the best types of sit-ups you can do is the boat hold. You can either hold a boat position like a plank or transition from low boat to high boat as if doing sit-ups.
To perform a boat hold:
- Sit down on the floor with your feet out in front of you
- Keeping your upper back off the ground, raise your feet straight out in front of you
- Your hands should be at your sides, hovering beside your legs
- Transition to high and low positions to get more out of the movement
This is a great movement for developing lower back and abdominal muscles.
7. Mountain Climbers
Mountain climbers are a multi-faceted exercise that serves to improve your cardiovascular conditioning and your core strength. To perform mountain climbers:
- Start in the pushup position, but with one foot forward (knee under your armpit)
- Keeping your hands planted, switch your legs in one explosive movement
- The other leg should be forward and the original leg back
- Get into a rhythm performing as many repetitions as you can
- Make sure each foot plants before moving back (don’t just move your knees up and down)
When done properly, mountain climbers are incredibly beneficial.
8. L Twists
When talking about core strength, we can’t forget about obliques. Obliques are the core muscles on the side of your stomach, outside the abdominals. L-twists are fantastic oblique-builders and are performed by:
- Lay flat on the ground
- Keep your legs straight and together
- Raise your legs straight up in the air, pointed toward the ceiling
- Lower both legs to one side of your body, making an L-shape
- Raise them back toward the ceiling and lower them to the other side
In the beginning, it may help to plant your hands beneath your butt to provide leverage. However, the exercise is more effective if they remain at your sides or behind your head.
9. Dead Bug
As with many of these core exercises, the dead bug movement is non-gym exercise. You can do it at home, outside, etc. To perform a dead bug:
- Lay flat on your back
- Bring your arms straight up toward the ceiling
- Bring your legs straight up toward the ceiling but keeping your knees bent at 90 degrees (the mirror image of being on your hands and knees)
- In one movement lower your left leg and right arm toward the ground
- Your left leg will straighten out in front of your, your right arm will lower straight behind your head
- Return to the starting position
- Switch sides (right leg, left arm)
This exercise is one of the top-recommended movements for people with injured backs or chronic back pain.
10. V-Ups or Jackknives
Another one of the most effective types of sit-ups is the v-up or jackknife. To perform a v-up:
- Lay flat on your back, legs straight, arms above your head
- In one movement, raise your legs and arms to meet in the middle
- Your arms and legs should remain straight
- Practice controlled movements, do not use momentum to get you up
If this movement is too difficult, try the exercise with bent knees. You can also place your elbows down at your side (near your hips) for even more assistance.
11. Russian Twists
Like the L-twist, Russian twists demonstrate some of the most incredible benefits of twists for oblique strength and development. To performs a Russian twist:
- Sit on the ground with your feet out in front of you
- Raise your legs off the ground, keeping your torso up
- You can bend your knees or keep your legs straight
- With your hands together, reach from side to side, touching the mat near each hip
- For added results, hold a medicine ball or dumbbell to increase resistance
Start off slow with this movement and allow yourself to get into a rhythm.
12. Leg Raises
Leg raises are one of the best core workouts for beginners. It’s a fairly simple movement and can be done in a variety of ways. To perform leg raises:
- Lay down flat on your back
- Raise your head and pull your shoulder blades off the mat, engaging your abs
- You can keep your hands at your sides or under your butt for leverage (which is easier)
- Keeping your legs straight and together, raise them straight up to the ceiling and back down in a controlled motion
This movement can be made more difficult by keeping your hands on your abs or behind your head.
13. Bird Dog
The bird dog exercise is a fantastic core builder for adults of all ages. To perform the bird dog:
- Start off on your hands and knees
- Your wrists should be directly below your shoulders
- Your knees should be directly below your hips
- In one movement, raise your left leg and your right arm up, perpendicular to the ground
- Return to the starting position
- Switch arm and leg
This movement is very similar to the dead bug exercise from before but in reverse.
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