Everyone, regardless of gender or age, wants to have a thinner waist and more toned abs.
I’m commonly asked what the best exercises are for strengthening the core muscles.
For most people, the first exercises that come to mind are sit-ups and crunches, but I don’t recommend them. Here’s why:
Dr. Stuart McGill, an expert on spine health, and his colleagues have found that one of the quickest ways to damage the lower back is to repeatedly bend it back and forth while under a load.
This is similar to what happens when you do a sit-up or crunch.
Have you ever known someone whose back suddenly went out while doing a simple task, such as picking up a pencil from the floor, lifting a bag from the car, or even just sneezing?
Most back injuries are not caused by a single event, but by damage that has happened over time, according to McGill. The event that appears to have caused the injury is usually just the final straw.
Although sit-ups and crunches have their time and place, they are usually much less safe and effective than other exercises for most people.
The following list contains exactly what you are looking for.
If you are already doing a workout that has sit-ups or crunches in it, you can replace them with any of these 9 exercises that work the core more effectively. If you have not yet started working out, these exercises will help you get started on the right foot.
The 9 Best Core Exercises You Can Do Anywhere
1. Plank Variations
When beginning your fitness journey, planks are a great way to start.
Planking for extended periods of time quickly becomes too easy.
If you want to build a strong and muscular core, you need to challenge yourself in new ways. Here are some variations to toughen up the standard plank and make sure you’re getting more bang for your buck:
The traditional plank can be made more difficult by removing a contact point from the floor. From the standard plank position:
- Raise one foot off the ground and hold it there.
- Make sure to hold your body still and keep your spine in a “neutral” position (no arching or rounding your back).
- Avoid tilting sideways.
- Switch legs every 5-10 seconds.
The side plank is an effective way to target many small core muscles that are often overlooked.
This plank is tougher than most, so you won’t be able to hold it for very long. Start with short 10 second intervals on each side and work your way up.
RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) Plank
This is my personal favorite plank variation.
The goal is to create tension throughout your whole body by actively contracting your muscles, which will make you tremble and unable to hold the position for long.
2. Hanging Leg-Raise
In order to perform a hanging leg-raise, you will need something to grip onto for support.
A playground would be a good place to do leg-raises as part of a workout that includes other exercises that need a bar. But if you can’t find one, don’t worry. Do some of the other exercises on this list and do the leg-raises next time.
Although they look fairly simple, these exercises are actually quite difficult.
Bending your leg and raising your knees to your chest may help if you are struggling.
From this position, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your body up until your chin is over the bar. Grasp a chin-up bar using a shoulder-width grip while your palms face away from you. Next, tighten your abs and raise your legs until they become parallel with the floor (avoid swinging!). A slight bend in the knees is acceptable if needed. From this position, pull your body up until your chin is above the bar while also squeezing your shoulder blades together.
The goal is to do 15 repetitions per set to begin with, and then work your way up to sets consisting of 30 repetitions. Once you are able to do 30 repetitions per set, make the exercise more challenging by slowing down your repetitions as much as possible. Once you can do 30 slow repetitions per set, make the exercise more difficult by placing a 5-pound dumbbell between your feet. Every time you do 3 sets of 30 repetitions, increase the weight of the dumbbell by 5 pounds.
If you are using a weight that is too heavy and causes the dumbbell to slip, switch to a different ab exercise.
3. Ab Wheel Rollout or Suspension Trainer Fallout
Some people believe that ab wheel rollouts are the best way to exercise your core muscles.
You need an ab wheel or a suspension trainer to perform them. If you don’t have an ab wheel, the next best thing is a suspension trainer.
You can use a suspension trainer to do fallouts, which work your core in a similar way to an ab wheel.
A suspension trainer is a type of exercise device that has many benefits, one of which is that it is easy to adjust the difficulty of the exercise. If you stand close to upright, the exercise will be fairly easy. However, if you lengthen the straps and lower yourself closer to the ground, the exercise will be much tougher.
Get into a kneeling position with the ab wheel on the floor in front of you. Grasp the handles of the ab wheel with your arms outstretched, brace your core, and roll the wheel forward until your body is parallel to the ground, keeping your back straight.
Start by kneeling on the floor and holding the ab roller with both hands. Roll the ab roller forward, stretching your body out as you go. Reverse the movement by pushing your hands into the handles and dragging the ab roller back toward your knees, until you reach the starting position.
To start, try to do 15 repetitions per set. If you can do at least 30 repetitions per set, make the exercise more difficult by lifting your feet off the ground, or (even more difficult), resting on your feet instead of your knees (so that you start in a push-up position).
If you can do 30 repetitions while standing, start to make the repetitions slower to make them more challenging. Once you can do 3 sets of 30 slow repetitions while standing, either add more repetitions or do a different abdominal exercise.
4. Suitcase Carry or Hold
This is a personal favorite of mine.
Hold something heavy in one hand and walk or stand until your grip gives out.
The most important thing is to keep your weight balanced so you don’t lean to one side. To get the most out of this exercise, stand tall with your chest up and shoulders back and down.
5. Captain’s Chair Leg Raise: 15 to 30 reps
Stand against the back support of a captain’s chair with your back and grab the handles. Place your forearms on the armrests and let your feet dangle.Hold yourself up with your arms while your feet are dangling.
To begin the exercise, flex your abs and raise your legs in a curved line until your thighs are level with the ground. There is no need to stress about keeping your legs completely straight; a small bend in the knees is acceptable. To complete the exercise, go back to the starting position by reversing the movement.
Your goal is to start with 15 reps per set, and once you can do 30 reps per set, you should add a 5-pound dumbbell. Once you can do 30 reps with the 5-pound dumbbell, you should add 5 to 10 more pounds and work up to 30 reps with that weight. You should continue progressing in this way until the dumbbell starts slipping out from between your feet. Once that happens, you should switch to a different ab exercise, like the hanging leg raise.
6. Air Bicycle: 30 seconds
Lie on your back on the ground with your legs bent at the knee and your hands resting against your temples. Your abs should be flexed as you lift your torso off the ground a few inches.
Keeping your right foot a couple of inches off the floor, straighten your right leg and twist your torso so your right elbow touches your left knee. Bring your right leg back to the starting position. Next, keeping your left foot a couple of inches off the floor, straighten your left leg and twist your torso so your left elbow touches your right knee.
Every time you do the exercise, try to go for a longer amount of time. Try to do the exercise for 3 sets of 90 seconds. Once you are able to do that, then switch to a different ab exercise.
7. Dumbbell Sit-up on Bench: 10 to 20 reps
Plant your feet on the floor and position your body so that your lower back is pressed firmly against the bench. Brace your core and hold the weight against your chest. Slowly lower your body until your elbows and upper arms are at a 90-degree angle. Reverse the motion and slowly return to the starting position. Secure your lower legs between the rollers of a sit-up bench. If this is your first time doing the exercise, start with the bench on its lowest setting. Hold a weight against your chest with your feet on the floor and your body pressed firmly against the bench. The weight should be heavy enough that you can do 10-20 reps per set. Brace your core and slowly lower your body until your elbows and upper arms are at a 90-degree angle. Reverse the motion and slowly return to the starting position.
Start with 20 reps per set and use the same weight. Make the exercise harder each workout by increasing the angle of the bench. Eventually, the bench should be on the steepest setting.
You can begin by doing 20 reps with your starting weight at the steepest angle. Then, add 5- to 10-pounds and work up to 20 reps with that weight. You should keep increasing the weight and reps in this manner.
Keep the weight on your chest and don’t flex your back too much. This won’t be dangerous, but it will make the exercise easier and not as effective.
8. Cable Crunch: 10 to 20 reps
Regular crunches are the opposite of what these crunches are. They help improve your posture, which is the opposite of what regular crunches do.
Although they may appear to be easier than some other exercises, planks should not be underestimated. Those who have never done them before can expect to be sore afterward.
Maintain tension in your abdominal region as if you were preparing for a incoming blow to the stomach.
Attach the rope attachment to the cable machine and set the pulley to about eye level. Grab one end of the rope in each hand and kneel down about three feet away from the machine. Pull the rope down with your hands until they are in front of your forehead and your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle to your torso.
To begin, flex your abs and bring your elbows closer to your thighs. Next, continue curling your torso until your face is close to the floor. Finally, reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
Choose a weight that produces 10-20 reps per set. If you can do 20 reps with that weight, add 5-10 pounds and work towards 20 reps with the new weight. Repeat this process, increasing the weight and reps as you go.
9. Bonus Best Core Exercise: Chin-Ups
In his free time, Bret Contreras conducts EMG experiments.
He does this by measuring the electrical activity of the muscle during exercise, which allows him to determine which exercises are most effective for a given muscle group.
To everyone’s surprise, the chin-up was one of the most effective exercises for the abs when he was testing them.
To make the chin-up an effective exercise for your abs and to prevent injury, you must keep your body in a straight line.
This means that you should not lift your legs, swing, or arch your lower back.
What is the best core workout?
To get the best results from a bodyweight core workout, choose exercises that burn fat as well as strengthen the core muscles.
If you want to see your rock-solid abs, you need to get rid of the layer of fat covering them.
We’ve created a free bodyweight core workout that strengthens your core using 3 of our favorite exercises from this list.
It only takes 15 minutes.