Best core exercises and why you need to do them

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The core muscles work together to align the pelvis and keep the spine stable. Core training programs are popular for better ab tone, but there are lots of other benefits to doing core workouts (see below). Because their role is to support and stabilise the spine, the best core exercises to do are ones which challenge stability. This post gives you 5 of this type of exercise to strengthen up your core.

Best core exercises for flat abs

What is core training?

There’s no set definition of core training. It’s often used to mean training the deeper layers of ab muscles. But some people would include all the ab muscles, some of the back muscles and even some of the leg muscles. The exercises in this post focus mainly on the deep abdominal muscles, but will also challenge other muscles involved in stabilising the spine and pelvis. The advantages of core training are:

  • Better abdominal tone – strong core muscles lead to flat abs.
  • Strong muscles supporting the spine, which helps to reduce back pain and injury.
  • Improvement to bad posture habits, such as low back arching and hunched shoulders.
  • When the pelvis is properly aligned, balance and coordination improve.
  • Increased flexibility in the spine and muscles attaching to the pelvis, which makes movement smoother and easier and reduces the risk of injury.

Smoothies in less than a minute

Finding neutral

Because these exercises focus on holding the pelvis stable, you need to be clear on what correct pelvic alignment is. The pelvis needs to be able to tilt forwards and backwards as we move. However, over time inactivity and bad posture can lead to the pelvis being at rest in a forward or backward position. The forward position is quite common in women, especially after pregnancy. In these exercises, the pelvis should be held in the neutral (no tilt) position. In order to understand what neutral pelvis is, do this exercise:

Mat Pilates how to find neutral

Best core exercise workout

As mentioned above, the best core exercises are ones which challenge stability. Remember that in these exercises, you should be using your core muscles to keep your pelvis in a stable position, rather than letting it tilt forwards or backwards as you move.

Before you start this workout please read these general exercise guidelines.

Try to do this workout 3 times a week.

Exercise instructions

#1 Single leg stretch

Single leg stretch 1

Lay on the floor and 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 reverse the movement and swap the leg positions over.

#2 Russian twist

Best core exercises Russian twist

Start by sitting with a straight back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, about hip distance apart.

Engage your abdominal muscles and lower your back towards the floor, until it is at about 45° to the floor. Hold this position.  You will feel your abs working.

Maintaining the angle of your back with the floor, reach your arms from side to side.

#3 Elbow plank

Best core exercises - elbow plank

Lay on your side, with your legs extended in a straight line.

Take your forearm to 90° with your body, your hand making a fist.

Engage your core muscles and lift your upper body so that your forearm is supporting you, making sure your shoulder is directly above your elbow.

Hold this position for the given time.

Then lower the upper body to the floor and rest.

#4 Rolling like a ball

Rolling like a ball

Sit on the floor. Balancing on your hip bones, bring your knees towards your chest and put your hands on your lower legs. Point your toes.

Keeping a curve in your spine and your chin tucked in, engage your core muscles and roll backwards.

When your upper back is on the floor, contract your core and buttock muscles strongly to start to roll back to the starting position.

This should be a SMOOTH, CONTROLLED movement. The spine gradually makes and releases contact with the floor, one vertebra at a time.

The ball shape you make should stay the same throughout the movement

Don’t roll onto your neck – start to reverse the movement once your upper back is on the floor

#5 Spine twist

Spine twist

Sit with a straight back and straight legs. (If you have tightness at the back of your legs, bend them slightly so that you can keep your back straight).

Raise your arms up to shoulder height, engage your abdominal muscles and rotate your upper body to the right.

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

Smoothies in less than a minute

#6 Scissors

Best core exercises - scissors

Lay on the floor with your pelvis in neutral and your knees bent.

Keeping your knees bent, bring your legs towards your body until your thighs are vertical.

Straighten your legs.

Making sure you keep your pelvis in neutral, lower and lift one leg at a time.

#7 Mountain climber

Mountain climber

Get into an all-4s position on the floor.  Make sure your hands are directly below your shoulders.

Take your legs out behind, keeping your back slightly curved.

Now bring one knee at a time in towards your arms.

#8 V sit

Best core exercises - teaser

Lay on the floor with your pelvis in neutral and lift both legs to a 45o angle with the floor.

Lift your upper body and reach your hands towards your feet.

Lower back down to the floor and repeat.

Workout reps

Best core exercises workout schedule 5 of the best exercises to flatten your abs, plus why core training is so important |Printable exercise chart from My Fitness Planner

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