The Best Core Exercises

Arguably the most important group of muscles in the body your core is comprised of not just the abdominals but also the lower back, hips and to some extent the glutes. These muscles are involved in nearly every exercise you do. They can move forward, backward, side to side, and rotate. There’s over two dozen muscle involved in helping you move your core and even though the exercise may not target any of those muscles you can be certain at least one of them is working. It also works the other way around a strong core can help you lift more weight when performing other exercises. This means focusing on lagging core muscles can help you break personal bests elsewhere in the gym.

The core’s primary function is to stabilize the spine and keep your torso upright but when it comes to athletes a strong core is essential to sports performance. Even if you don’t consider yourself the athletic type according to a California State University study a strong core can lead to 30% less back pain. This can mean maintaining your mobility as you age.

Performing a great ab routine can be done out of the comfort of your own home. For an inexpensive piece of equipment that will really blast your core check out my Ab Roller Breakdown and Review!

Core Exercises:

Plank

Side Plank

Quadruped

Mountain Climber

Stability Ball Jackknife

Slide Outs

Kneeling/Standing Rotational Chops

Kneeling/Standing Rotational Reverse Chops

Russian Twist

Hip Crossover

Situp

Crunch/Stability Ball Crunch

V-Ups

Med-Ball Slams

Reverse Crunch

Stability Ball Pike

Hanging Leg Raise

This is one part of the fitprofree.com’s The Best Exercise Series. To check out the other exercises in the series go to The Best Exercises main page.


Plank

Target muscles: Primary muscles are the core muscles. You will also be working your front deltoids and glutes.

How to perform the Plank/Side Plank:

Get in the pushup position but instead of arms straight keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Your upper arms should be perpendicular to the ground and directly under your shoulders.

Your body should be in a straight line from your ankles all the way to the top of your head. Keep your core and glutes braced to prevent your hips from dropping. Breathe normally while holding this position.

Hold for 30 seconds or as long as prescribed.

Pro Tip:

Work slowly up to the prescribed amount of time by taking short breaks. Make sure you hold the plank for the recommended amount of time not counting the breaks.

Modifications:

  • 45-Degree Plank: Arms on a bench
  • Kneeling Plank: On your knees. Ensure your hips are in line with your shoulders and knees.
  • Elevated-Feet Plank: Feet elevated on a bench or stability ball
  • Single-Leg Elevated Plank: Feet on a bench or stability ball while holding one foot up a few inches.
  • Pushup Position Plank: On your hands in the pushup position.
  • Plank with Leg Lift: Holding one foot up a few inches from the floor
  • Plank with Arm Lift: Holding one arm straight directly overhead.
  • Plank with Opposite Leg/Arm Lift: One arm raised overhead with the opposing foot elevated a few inches off the ground
  • Stability-Ball Plank: Arms on a stability ball
  • Stability-Ball Plank with Feet on Bench: Place your feet on a bench and your arms on a stability ball.

Do it at home:

To do the plank, you don’t need any equipment but to do some of the modifications you will need a Bench and a Stability Ball.

Back to list


Side Plank

Target muscles: This exercise targets the muscles to the side known as the obliques. It will also engage your shoulders and glutes.

How to perform the Side Plank:

Lying on your side straighten your knees and prop your upper body up on your elbow. The only two points of contact with the floor should be your forearm and your foot.

Brace your entire core and glutes to keep your hips from dropping. Keep your head up and inline with your body.

place the top hand on your hip and breath normally for the duration of the exercise.

Hold for 30 seconds or as long a prescribed and then do the other side.

Pro Tip:

Work slowly up to the prescribed amount of time by taking short breaks. Make sure you hold the plank for the recommended amount of time not counting the breaks.

Modifications:

  • Modified Side Plank: Knees on the ground with hips in line with shoulders and knees.
  • Rolling Side Plank: Roll your body from right side plank to the left side plank without letting your knees or hips drop.
  • Elevated Feet Side Plank: Feet elevated on a bench or a stability ball
  • Single-Leg Side Plank: Extend the top leg out to your side as high as you can
  • Side Plank with Knee Tuck: Bend the top knee and hip to a 90 holding it out in front of you
  • Side Plank Reach Under: Start with top arm raised up perpendicular to the floor. Then reach under your body with the same arm. Body should rotate till you are facing the floor
  • Plyometric Side Plank: Swing the top leg from front to back. Keep your core braced and try not to move the rest of your body
  • Side Plank Row: Perform a single-arm row with the top arm while holding the side plank.

Do it at home:

To perform all the modification of the side plank you will need the following:

Back to list


Quadruped

Target muscles: Primary muscle is the core with some help from the deltoids.

How to perform the Quadruped:

While on your hands and knees brace your core and breath normally. Legs should be at a 90-degree angle.

Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and then relax. That is one rep.

Pro Tip:

Keep your core braced like someone is going to punch you in the stomach. Keep your spine neutral and your head in-line with your spine.

Modifications:

  • Fire Hydrant In-Out: Bring one knee as close as possible you to your chest, then rotate it out, and then back till it is in line with your torso. Bring it back down to the starting position. That’s one rep.
  • Quadruped with Leg Lift: Kick one leg straight back till it lines up with your torso
  • Bird Dog: Raise one leg straight back and the opposite arm straight forward. They should both line up with your torso
  • Stability Ball Opposite Arm and Leg Lift: Same movement at Bird Dog but with a stability ball beneath you torso
  • Cat-Camel: In the quadruped position drop your head and raise your upper back as high as you can. Hold for a few seconds and then lower back to a neutral spine position

Do it at home:

To do all the modifications for this exercise, you will only need a Stability Ball.

Back to list


Mountain Climber

Target muscles: Primary muscles are the core muscles. You will also be working your front deltoids and glutes.

How to perform the Mountain Climber:

From the pushup position raise your right foot and bring your right knee up as close to your right elbow as possible.

Touch your right foot to the ground and slowly return it to the starting position. Repeat for the left foot. That’s one rep.

Pro Tip:

Practice proper pushup position! Brace your core and keep your hips in line with your shoulders and ankles. Keep you head inline with your spine. During the movement, your hips should not move.

Modifications:

  • Mountain Climber with Hands on Bench
  • Mountain Climber with Hands on Medicine Ball
  • Mountain Climber with Hands on Swiss Ball
  • Mountain Climber with Feet on Valslides
  • Cross-Body Mountain Climber: Instead of right knee to right elbow bring right knee to left elbow and vise-versa
  • Cross-Body Mountain Climber with Feet on Stability Ball: With feet on a stability ball instead of right knee to right elbow bring right knee to left elbow and vise-versa.

Do it at home:

To do the modifications for this one you will need:

Back to list


Stability Ball Jackknife

Target muscles: Primary muscles are the core muscles. You will also be working your front deltoids and glutes.

How to perform the Stability Ball Jacknife:

Assume the pushup position with your shins on a stability ball. Your body should form a straight line with your hands directly under your shoulders.

Roll the ball forward by bending at the hips and knees. Keep your hips low, core tight, and don’t round your back.

Once you’ve brought the ball as far forward as possible pause briefly and reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

This is a great movement to really challenge your core and stabilizers. To get a little extra out of the movement when your body is straight try rolling back a little on the ball to where your hands are even with your eyes. Be sure you keep your core tight and don’t let your hips sag.

Modifications:

  • Single-Leg Stability Ball Jackknife: Keep one leg elevated and straight throughout the movement.

Do it at home:

To do this exercise at home, you will need a Stability Ball.

Back to list


Slide Outs

Target muscles: Primary muscles are the core muscles. You will also be working your chest, lats, front deltoids, and glutes.

How to perform the Slide out:

Start on your hands and knees with your hands on a pair of Valslides. With your feet elevated off the floor slide your hips forward and extend your arms forward.

Keep your core tight and extend out as far as you can go. Once you can go no further pause briefly before using your abs to pull your hips and arms back to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

At no point should your hips drop or sag. Keep your core tight when you are pulling back to the starting position. When returning to the starting position your hips and arms should rise simultaneously.

Modifications:

  • Stability Ball Rollout: With your arms on a stability ball slowly roll it out by walking the arms along the ball.
  • Barbell Rollout: Using a barbell with round weight plates
  • Ab Roller Rollout
  • Single-Arm Slide Out: In the pushup position with hands on a set of Valslides bend one elbow as you would with a pushup but extend the other hand overhead.

Do it at home:

To do this exercise and all of the modifications at home you will need the following:

Back to list


Kneeling/Standing Rotational Chops

Target muscles: Along with the core you will also be working the rear and front deltoids as well as the chest muscles.

How to perform the Kneeling Rotational Chops:

Kneeling with your right side facing a high cable pulley use a rope attachment pulled all the way through to one side. Hold the rope with an overhand grip with your arms about 18 inches apart. Your arms should be straight with your right arm out and up to your side and your left arm should cross in front of your body.

Brace your core and bring your right arm down and across your body diagonally. Keep the rope taut and your arms straight throughout the entire movement.

Pause for one second and then slowly return to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Start with a lighter weight to get the feel of the exercise. The weight should not pull you across the floor. Position yourself back slightly and don’t hold your breath.

Modifications:

  • Half-Kneeling Stability Chop: Your knee closest to the weight stack is up at a 90-degree bend with your foot flat on the floor.
  • Standing Stability Chop: Stand with feet staggered. Your leg closest to the weight stack should be forward and your other leg should be back.

Do it at home:

To do this exercise at home, you will need a Cable Station with a Rope attachment.

Back to list


Kneeling/Standing Rotational Reverse Chops

Target muscles: Along with the core you will also be working the rear and front deltoids as well as the chest muscles.

How to perform the Kneeling/Standing Rotational Reverse Chops:

Kneeling with your right side facing a low cable pulley use a rope attachment pulled all the way through to one side. Hold the rope with an overhand grip with your arms about 18 inches apart. Your arms should be straight with your right arm out and down to your side and your left arm should cross in front of your body.

Brace your core and bring your right arm up and across your body diagonally. Keep the rope taut and your arms straight throughout the entire movement.

Pause for one second at and then slowly return to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Only your arms should move across your body. Keep your torso braced and your arms straight. Brace your core and breath through the exercise.

Modifications:

  • Half-Kneeling Stability Chop: Your knee closest to the weight stack is up at a 90-degree bend with your foot flat on the floor.
  • Standing Stability Chop: Stand with feet staggered. Your leg closest to the weight stack should be forward and your other leg should be back.

Do it at home:

To do this exercise at home, you will need a Cable Station with a Rope attachment.

Back to list


Russian Twist

Target muscles: This is a rotational exercise that will hit the core with an emphasizes the obliques and help with rotational power.

How to perform the Russian Twist:

Sit with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your knees should be bent to about a 90-degree angle and torso should form a 45-degree angle with the floor. Arms should extend out in front.

Brace your abdominals and rotate your torso to the right as far as you can. Pause briefly and then rotate to the left side as far as you can go. That’s one rep. Continue the exercise for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Pro Tip:

Maintain the angle of your torso in relation with the ground. keep your core braced and don’t round your back. It gets easy to cheat as your muscles fatigue. So, check your form and keep your back straight.

Modifications:

  • Weighted Russian Twist: Holding a weight plate out in front of your torso
  • Medicine Ball Russian Twist: Holding a medicine ball out in front of your torso
  • Elevated Feet Russian Twist: Hold feet up a few inches from the ground
  • Cycling Russian Twist: Perform a cycling motion with your feet as you rotate your torso
  • Stability Ball Russian Twist: With your back resting on a stability ball and feet flat on the ground. As you rotate your torso the ball should rotate accordingly.

Do it at home:

To do the modifications for the Russian Twist you only need the following:

Back to list


Hip Crossover

Target muscles: This is a rotational exercise that will hit the core with an emphasizes the obliques and help with rotational power.

How to perform the Hip Crossover:

Lie faceup on the floor with your arms extended out to your side with palms facing up. Bring your legs up off the floor and bend your knees. Your thighs should be 90 degrees to your body and your knees also making a 90-degree angle.

Brace your core and rotate your knees to the side to where they almost touch the ground. Keep your shoulders flat against the ground and reverse the movement to rotate to the other side.

Pause briefly while on the other side and then return back to center. That’s one rep. Complete the prescribed number of reps.

Pro Tip:

Focus on keeping your shoulders flat to the ground. If your shoulders rise up off the ground try not going as deep until your core strengthens.

Modifications:

  • Stability Ball Hip Crossover: With your feet on a stability ball perform the same movement.

Do it at home:

To do the modifications of this exercise at home you only need a Stability Ball.

Back to list


Situp

Target muscles: This exercise really hits the rectus abdominous. Also known as the six-pack. Your will also be engaging your internal and external obliques.

How to perform the Situp:

Lie on your back with your legs bent to a 90-degree angle. Place your hands near your ears with your elbows out to the side.

Squeeze the abdominals to raise your torso up to sitting position. Pause briefly at the top and then lower back down to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

At no point should you pull on your head with your elbows. Keep your elbows out at all times and keep the movement smooth. Try not to be jerky when raising up or down. Skip this one if you are prone to back issues!

Modifications:

  • Negative Situp: As slowly as possible lower your torso back to the floor after each rep.
  • Crossed-Arm Situp: Cross your arms in front of your chest
  • Weighted Situp: Hold a weight plate to your chest
  • Alternating Situp: Rotate opposite elbow to opposite knee at the top of each situp
  • Decline Situp: Perform the situp on a decline bench

Do it at home:

To do the situp and all of the modifications at home you will need:

Back to list


Crunch/Stability Ball Crunch

Target muscles: This exercise really hits the rectus abdominous. Also known as the six-pack. Your will also be engaging your internal and external obliques.

How to perform the Crunch/Stability Ball Crunch:

Lie on your back with your legs bent to a 90-degree angle. Place your hands near your ears with your elbows out to the side.

Squeeze the abdominals to raise your shoulder blades off the floor and crunch your rib cage towards your pelvis. Pause briefly at the top and then lower back down to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Don’t pull your head at any point during the exercise!

Modifications:

  • Arms Crossed Crunch: Cross your arms in front of your chest
  • Weighted Crunch: Hold a weight plate to your chest
  • Wrist-to-Knee Crunch: With knees elevated and bent to a 90-degree angle extend one leg out and bring the other knee in. Raise your shoulder blades off the ground and rotate your opposite wrist to the opposite knee.
  • Raised-Leg Crunch: Raise your legs up as high as you can get them and crunch with arms extended up towards the ceiling. Try touching your toes with every crunch.
  • Stability Ball Crunch: With your back on a stability ball and feet flat on the floor perform the same movement as above.

Do it at home:

To do this exercise and all the modifications you will only need Weight Plates and a Stability Ball.

Back to list


V-Ups

Target muscles: This exercise really hits the rectus abdominous, or the muscle also known as the six-pack. Your will also be engaging your hip flexors along with your internal and external obliques.

How to perform the V-up:

Lie on the floor face-up with your arms and legs straight. In one fluid movement lift your torso and legs as if trying to reach for your toes.

Squeeze the abdominals briefly and then return back to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Keep the movement fluid. At the top of the movement, your body should for a V.

Modifications:

  • Medicine Ball V-Up: Hold a medicine ball in your hands when performing the exercise.

Do it at home:

To perform this exercise and all of the modifications you will only need a Medicine Ball.

Back to list


Med Ball Slams

Target muscles: This is a ballistic exercise that targets the core as well as the lats and the pectoralis minor

How to perform the Med. Ball Slam:

Stand tall holding a medicine ball overhead with feet shoulder width apart. As forcefully as possible slam the ball down on the ground.

Pro Tip:

Make sure you are using a medicine ball that is suitable for slams!

Do it at home:

Get yourself a quality Medicine Ball for this one. (See D-Ball Medicine Ball)

Back to list


Reverse Crunch

Target muscles: This exercise will hit your hip flexors along with your external obliques. To some extent, they will also hit your rectus abdominous.

How to perform the Reverse Crunch:

Lie face up with your legs up and knees bent to a 90-degree angle. Raise your hips up off the ground while simultaneously bring your knees up towards your head.

Brace your core while your hips are off the ground and slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Focus on driving your hips and lower back towards the ceiling as opposed to towards your head. Don’t change the bend in your knees and when you lower back down to the starting position don’t let your feet touch the floor.

Modifications:

  • Incline Reverse Crunch: On a decline bench with your head where at the top, perform the same movement.

Do it at home:

To do the modification of this exercise, you will need a Bench.

Back to list


Stability Ball Pike

Target muscles: This exercise will hit your hip flexors along with your external obliques. To some extent, they will also hit your shoulders, chest, and rectus abdominous.

How to perform the Stability Ball Pike:

Get in the pushup position with your shins on a Stability Ball. Brace your core and bring your hips up and forward while rolling your toes up on to the ball.

Keep your legs straight and push your hips to the ceiling. Don’t round your back. At the top of the movement, your arms should almost be even with your ears. Pause briefly and then slowly return to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Keep your core braced throughout the whole movement to prevent your hips from dropping. Make sure you are breathing!

Do it at home:

To do the modification of this exercise, you will need a Stability Ball.

Back to list


Hanging Leg Raise

Target muscles: This exercise will hit your hip flexors along with your external obliques. To some extent, they will also hit your rectus abdominous.

How to perform the Hanging Leg Raise:

Holding a chinup bar hang at arms length. If possible keep your legs straight. You can also keep them slightly bent if the bar is not high enough.

As fluidly as possible bend your knees and raise your hips to your chest. Squeeze at the top and slowly lower back to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Don’t just bend your knees, bring your hips up as high as possible as well. Try not to lean backwards and don’t use momentum to get your legs back up. Go slowly up and down and pause at the top.

Do it at home:

To do this one at home you will need a pullup bar. You can get one on a Power Rack or as a separate Pullup Bar.

Back to list


This is one part of the fitprofree.com’s The Best Exercise Series. To check out the other exercises in the series go to The Best Exercises main page.


Did you enjoy this article?

Sign up for my weekly newsletter and get a new tip to your inbox every week.

Subscribe today!

* indicates required



4 thoughts on “The Best Core Exercises

  1. Ken Reply

    After my morning workout I returned home just to find something I wish I had an hour ago. Good thing is I will be applying some of what I found here in tomorrows workout. Thank You for the new additions to my routine. I always like to mix things up.

    • Jeff Smith Post authorReply

      That’s great to hear Ken. I’m glad you’ve found my site and the information is helpful. Enjoy the new exercises. If you have any questions be sure to come back and leave a comment. Have a great day!

  2. Gino Reply

    sooo much good info here, I will be using trying out the 1st 4 tonight at the gym Plank, Side Plank, Quadruped, Mountain Climber. Thanks for the exercises, I been planning to work on my Abs but I find sit ups so boring, glad to know there are soooo many options to choice from.
    I’ll be browsing looking for other exercises to include to my workout routine!!!
    thanks
    Gino

    • Jeff Smith Post authorReply

      Hi Gino. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you found the info useful. I’ve tried to provide a list of what are the most effective and efficient exercises out there. This section turned into quite a long list. The Plank and side plank are certainly two of my all-time favorites. Make sure you try the side-plank with elbow touch! Also, be sure to check out my Best Exercises Series home page for some other great recommendations! Have a good one!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *