Beginner core exercises how to improve your abs in 6 weeks

To have flat, well-conditioned abs you need to have strength in the core stabilising muscles. This beginner core exercises program uses 6 exercises which focus on these muscles. The workouts get a bit harder each week, so that your strength gradually increases. At the end of the program, you should have:

  • Increased strength in your core stabilising muscles
  • Improved posture
  • Improved flexibility in your spine, meaning less likelihood of back pain and injury
  • Increased awareness of your core stabilising muscles and how to engage them

Beginner core exercises PDF

The instructions for the exercises are here in the post and at the end you can download a tracker and schedule for the 5 week program.

Beginner core exercises 6 week program

Before you start this program, you should understand how to find neutral pelvis. The pelvis needs to be able to tilt forwards and backwards as we move, but bad postural habits can lead to it being in a forward or backward position at rest, instead of in the neutral position. In women, the forward position is common, especially after pregnancy. If you do core exercises with a tilted pelvis, they won’t work the muscles they’re supposed to work.  This is how you find the neutral position:

Pilates for core strength FIND NEUTRAL PELVIS

For more about neutral pelvis, see this post.

Please also read these exercise safety guidelines before starting this program.

The exercises

Exercise #1 abdominal hollowing

Beginner core exercises ab hollowing

Abdominal hollowing is just sucking the core muscles in. You can do it in any position – standing, sitting, lying, kneeling .. but doing it in the all-4s kneeling position is good because you are working directly against gravity.

Get into the all 4s position, then suck your belly button in as much as you can without your back moving. Hold for the number of seconds shown in the chart, release and repeat.

Exercise #2 opposite arm and leg raise

Your core muscles work in this one by keeping your back flat and keeping your whole body stable. If they aren’t engaged, your back will dip instead of being flat and you’ll wobble. The starting position is all-4 kneeling again. Make sure your back isn’t arching – use a mirror, video yourself or ask someone to check if you’re not sure.

Beginner core exercises arm & leg raise

Keeping your abdominal muscles pulled in, lift your right arm and left leg until they are parallel with the floor. Keep your back flat and your body steady. Hold for the number of seconds shown in the chart. Lower and repeat with your left arm and right leg.

Exercise #3 heel taps

In this exercise, the core muscles must hold on to the neutral position, while you lower one leg at a time to the floor.

Find neutral as described above, then take both feet off the floor and hold your legs as shown:

Heel taps

Holding on to the neutral pelvis position, lower one leg to the floor. It’s important not to let your pelvis move – the core muscles will have to work to hold on to neutral. Bring your leg back up to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.

Exercise #4 shoulder bridge

Shoulder bridge

In this exercise the emphasis is on rolling through the spinal joints to get into the bridge position. It improves spinal mobility as well as core strength.

Start by lying on the floor with your knees bent and your feet about hip distance, with your pelvis in neutral.  Now press your lower back into the floor, tilting your pelvis backwards.

Follow this movement through so that your lower back starts to peel off the floor.  You should be aiming to come into the bridge position with a smooth, controlled, curling movement.  Concentrate on working through one vertebra at a time.  You will probably find this difficult at first as parts of your spine will be less flexible.

Stop when your whole spine is lifted and your weight is resting on your shoulders. Now reverse the movement, lowering back down one vertebra at a time. Again, it should be a smooth, controlled movement, working through each joint in the spine.

Exercise #5 single leg stretch

Beginner core exercises single leg stretch

In this exercise, your core muscles need to work hard to keep your pelvis in neutral as your legs move in an out.  It will only be effective at training your core if neutral pelvis is maintained.

Lie on the floor with your arms by your side, your legs about hip distance apart and your pelvis in neutral.

Bring both knees in towards your chest, then extend one leg as shown.  Your core muscles should be working to hold onto neutral (ie stopping your back from arching).

Now bring your leg back in and extend the other one.

Exercise #6 Spine twists

Spine twist

This is another exercise that improves spine mobility, as well as working the core muscles.

Sit with your back straight and straighten your legs out in front. If the muscles at the back of your legs are tight, then you might not be able to straighten your legs while keeping a straight back, in this case, keep your knees slightly bent.

Raise your arms up to shoulder height, so that they are parallel with the floor.

Keeping your back straight and your arms lifted, engage your abdominal muscles and  rotate your upper body to the right.

Come back to the centre and keep turning to repeat the movement to the left.

The program

These are the reps you should do of the exercises for each week of the program:

Beginner core exercises reps

Download a printable copy of the beginner core exercises chart

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Related to beginner core exercises

LOWER AB CIRCUITstrong core workout (1)

Ab workouts FAQ

The stock answer to this is that you can’t get rid of fat from a specific area. This  is repeated frequently and emphatically by almost everyone involved in fitness. Given that it’s the go-to answer, you would think that there’s a pile of evidence to support it. In fact, the evidence is surprisingly weak. On the other hand, there’s no evidence that you can exercise to burn fat from a specific area either.

What we do know for sure is that our bodies have preferred places to store fat – and the abdominal area is one of them. So you’re not likely to have a fat-free belly until you’re a healthy weight. The best way to be a healthy weight is of course to have a healthy diet and to exercise regularly. Any exercise helps with weight control.

Even if it doesn’t burn belly fat, regular ab exercise will make a difference though. The deep core muscles pull the abdominal area flat and having a strong core can make a real difference. In fact it’s often the case that what people think is fat is just poor muscle tone allowing the abdomen to protrude.

So, the best things you can do to look slimmer around your middle are to make sure you’re a healthy weight and do some core training.

Plank holds have been an enormously popular abs exercise for years now. This is probably due to the buzz surrounding the exercise in the form of challenges and extreme hold times, rather than being due to its merits as an effective exercise.

Done correctly, the plank will engage the deepest abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis (TA). This is the one that plays the biggest part in pulling the abdominal area in flat, as well as playing an important role in pelvic and spinal stability. It’s a challenging exercise and most people will struggle to hold the correct position for more than a minute. These are the good points. However, the plank has its drawbacks:

  • Doing it with correct technique is difficult for those who are not used to core training. To be effective, the back and legs must form a straight line (like a plank). Inexperienced exercisers fail to do this.
  • It’s a static exercise (ie the muscles are held contracted). There are two problems with static exercises. One is that the muscles are only worked in one position and the other is that it causes blood pressure to increase.
  • It’s not functional – we do nothing vaguely resembling the plank in every day life. If we want to train our TA to engage when we’re active, then holding it in a static contraction isn’t the best way.

So should you do plank holds? Yes, it’s good to add them to your abs routine sometimes or to do a plank challenge for variety. But you should make sure your technique is correct and you shouldn’t waste your workout time trying to build up excessively long holds.

As with most “best exercise” questions, the answer depends on what you’re trying to achieve. The two main goals people have are flat abs and 6 pack abs. To have a flat abdominal area you need to train the deeper abdominal muscles. This is done by doing core stabilising exercises. The 6 pack muscles are the top layer of ab muscles and are trained by crunches and similar exercises – any exercise in which the upper body and lower body come closer together against a resistance.  If you want to train all your ab muscles, bicycle crunches are a good all-round exercise.