Core muscles are some of the weakest muscle groups on women, even though it's a set of muscles we use in most of our daily activities. Years of bad form and improper posture weaken the muscles and cause pain where we don't need it (and definitely don't want it). If you continuously experience lower back pain or know you have weak stomach muscles, you should incorporate abdominal and back exercises into your routines at least three to four days a week. Before starting any new exercise routine, especially with preexisting conditions, be sure to consult your physician.
The 19 moves below are exercises that directly work the core muscles or are total body moves that keep the core engaged throughout the whole sequence. Proper form is of the utmost importance. Before adding additional reps or extra challenges with weights or other equipment (stability ball, medicine ball, resistance bands, etc.), be sure you have mastered the simplest form of the move.
Combine these moves with proper nutrition and you'll be whittling your middle in no time!
1. Forearm Plank with Alternating Hip Drops
- Get into forearm plank position. Keep your abs tight and make sure your body is in a straight line from head to ankles.
- Drop your right hip towards the floor, return to center and then repeat with your left hip.
- Alternate sides for 60 seconds. For an easier modification, drop your knees and perform the move.
2. Side Crunch
- Start by lying on the floor face up with your knees together and bent at a 90-degree angle. Without moving your upper body, lower your knees to the right side so that they're touching the floor. Place your fingers behind your head.
- Raise your shoulders toward your hips, pause for one second, and then take two seconds to lower your upper body back to the starting position.
- Perform this move for 30 seconds and then switch your legs to the other side for an additional 30 seconds.
3. Side Plank
- Lie on your left side with your right leg stacked on top of your left leg. Prop your upper body up on your left arm, keeping your hand directly below your shoulder. Keep your core tight and contracted.
- Lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders.
- That's one set. Complete one set on your left side for 30 seconds.
- Turn around so that you're lying on your right side and repeat for 30 seconds. For an easier modification, drop to your elbow, pushing off your forearm and/or use your leg closest to the ground as a kickstand for additional support.
4. Pilates Sit-Up
- Lie down on your mat, chest up. Extend your legs with your toes pointing up and extend your arms straight back past your head.
- Keeping your arms straight, lift them over your head so they are even with your shoulders.
- Raise your head, shoulders and upper body toward the ceiling. Keep your body in as much of a straight line as you can. Avoid arching your back. Lead with your chest, not your head. Your upper body should move as a unit.
- Your arms should remain straight in front of your shoulders as you sit up to a 90-degree angle. Pause at the top seated position.
- Slowly lower back down, curling your back towards the floor, taking it vertebrae by vertebrae. Once your back is flat, return your arms to the floor behind your head. That is one repetition.
- Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
5. Bicycle Crunch
- Lie on back with knees and hips at a 90-degree angle. Place hands behind your head. Exhale as you lift head and shoulders off the floor. Twist torso to the right, bringing left shoulder in to touch your right knee. Keep left leg straight and lifted off the floor.
- Inhale as you slowly lower. Repeat, twisting torso to the left.
- Continue alternating sides for 60 seconds. For an easier modification, feet can return to the floor after each rep.
6. Russian Twist
- Keeping your hips still, rotate your shoulders so your upper body twists to one side. One shoulder should be pointing at the ceiling, the other at the floor. Try to move your whole torso with one motion, and not just your arms.
- Return to the starting position, and then roll to the other side. Keep your back and legs straight, your stomach muscles engaged, and your shoulder blades pulled back.
- Repeat as many times as possible in 60 seconds.For an easier modification, place feet closer together to increase balance.
- Start by lying face down and extending your arms out in front of you.
- Press your shoulder blades together and lift your arms, chest, and legs off the floor.
- Hold position for 60 seconds, keeping your head up and your arms extended out in front of you. For an easier modification, lift just your legs and chest for 30 seconds, and then lift just your arms for 30 seconds.
8. Plank Tuck Twist
- Lie facedown on the ball with your hands on the floor in front of you (the "up" part of a pushup), with only your shins and tops of your feet on the ball.
- Bring your knees in, pivoting them sideways so they come towards your right armpit.
- Move your legs back out to plank position, and then repeat on the other side. That's one rep.
- Repeat for 10 reps. For an easier modification, do the move without a ball while wearing socks on a soft surface or with your feet on paper plates so they will still be able to slide.
9. Ab Roll Up
- To begin, lie on your back with arms at your sides and palms facing down. Lift your butt and lower back up in the air so that the bottoms of your feet are facing the ceiling.
- In one fluid motion, lower your back and legs and transition to your feet while jumping in the air as high as you can with arms extended straight overhead. That is one rep.
- Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
10. Ab Clap
- To begin, lie on your back with both your legs and hands outstretched in front of you with your heels facing the ceiling and your arms together with palms touching one another.
- Simultaneously open arms and legs. Make a wide "V" with legs and stretch arms all the way out to both sides. Return to starting formation. This is one rep.
- Do 3 sets of 15 reps.For an added challenge, add ankle weights!
- Lie face up with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart and arms by sides with palms down. Slowly lift your hips off the ground until you form a diagonal line from knees to shoulders. Try to keep your abs tight as you lift your hips higher. Raise butt as high up as you can, keeping your glutes squeezed tight. Hold for a 5 count and lower back down to the mat.
- Repeat for 60 seconds. For an easier modification, lower the height of your lift.
- Roll out into pushup position, with your arms under your shoulders and your palms flat on the ground. The ball should be somewhere between your upper thighs and your ankles. The closer the ball is to your feet, the harder the plank. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Tighten or contract your core. Make sure your hips are not dipping towards the floor.
- Hold this position for 60 seconds and try to roll out further as your progress. For an easier modification, drop to your elbows and roll the ball closer to your thighs. You can always break up the hold: plank 25 seconds, drop 10-second break, back up for 25 seconds.
13. Reverse Crunch
- Lie with your back on the floor and with your palms facing down. Bend your knees in towards your chest.
- Raise your hips off the floor and crunch your knees inward. Reach towards the ceiling with your toes.
- Pause, then slowly lower your legs and roll your back down until you're back in starting position. Use your core muscles to lift; avoid rocking back and forth.
- Repeat this as many times as you can in 60 seconds.For an easier modification, place your hands under your behind for support, and decrease your range of motion.
14. Kneeling Side Crunch
- Kneel on the floor and lean all the way over to your right side, placing your right palm on the floor. Keeping your weight balanced, extend your left leg and point your toes. Place your left hand behind your head, pointing your elbow toward the ceiling.
- Now, slowly lift your left leg to a little above hip height.
- Lower your leg back to starting position. This is one rep.
- Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps, and then switch sides and repeat.
15. Forearm Plank
- Lie face down on floor resting on your forearms. Push off the floor, raising up onto toes and resting on the elbows. Keep your back flat, contracting your abdominal muscles while you hold your body in a straight line from head to toes. Don't let your butt sag or stick up in the air.
- Hold in this position for 30- 60 seconds. For an easier modification, drop your knees to the floor.
16. Frog Crunch on Stability Ball
- Start by kneeling behind a stability ball. Place your stomach on the ball and roll out until your hands are on the ground underneath your shoulders and your legs are in the air.
- Bend your knees while touching your heels together and turning toes out. Pulse your legs up towards the ceiling, lifting knees off the stability ball.
- Perform this move for 30-60 seconds.
17. Scorpion Twist
- Lie on your stomach with feet together, arms extended to form a "goal post" with palms facing down and forehead hovering above the floor.
- Lift your right leg.
- Bend your right knee while squeezing your right glute and twist your hips to reach your right foot over to touch the ground on the outside of your left leg. Keep your arms and chest on the floor. Return right leg to start position.
- Perform this move for 30 seconds and switch to opposite leg and perform move for 30 seconds.
18. Reverse Plank with Leg Raise
- Sit with legs outstretched, hands behind hips and fingers pointing toward tush.
- Press up onto hands, keeping legs fully extended, heels on floor. (You'll be in a plank position, but facing the ceiling instead of the floor.)
- Raise and lower left leg, keeping core tight and hips in the same position. Repeat movement with right leg.
- Perform this move for 60 seconds alternating legs each rep.
19. Scissor Kick
- Lie on your back with legs straight.
- Fold arms in under your head much like you would for a crunch.
- Lift legs to a comfortable position. Your back should still be firmly on the mat. If it arches, lift higher.
- Take your legs out to a wide "V" and then in, crossing one foot over the other. Repeat the move, alternating the top foot for every cross.
- For added difficulty, lift your shoulders and upper back off the floor. If you are experiencing back pain you can raise your legs higher and/or place your hands underneath you, between your lower back and your tush.
- Complete as many reps as you can for 30-60 seconds.