Best core exercises and why you need to do them

The core muscles work together to align the pelvis and keep the spine stable. The most common reason for being interested in core stability training is to improve ab tone, but there are lots of other benefits (see below). Although any muscles that are involved in stabilising the pelvis can be included in the term “core muscles”, when we talk about core training, we usually mean the layers of ab muscle below the “6-pack”. These are the muscles that this workout focuses on. The workout includes 8 of the best core exercises in a 10 minute routine that you should ideally do 3 times a week.

Benefits of core stability training

  • 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.

Best core exercises workout

Best core stability exercises 2805

In all the exercises in this workout, 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. This challenges and therefore strengthens the core muscles.

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

You’ll need some sort of cushioning for your spine – ideally an exercise mat. See an exercise mat buying guide here.

The first step in core training is understanding what “neutral pelvis” is and how to maintain your pelvis in neutral while you do the exercises. The pelvis needs to be able to tilt forwards and backwards as we move. However, over time inactivity and bad posture can lead to it being at rest in a forward or backward position. The forward position is quite common in women, especially after pregnancy. In order to understand what neutral pelvis is, follow these instructions:


Exercise chart

The chart below shows the number of repetitions for each exercise. The exercise instructions are below the chart.

Best core exercises reps chart

8 best core exercises – instructions

Single leg stretch

The second exercise is the Russian twist, which will be more effective if you do it with a weight. You can use a single hand weight or a kettlebell.  A weight between 2-5lb (1-2kg) is a good level to start at. See a hand weights buying guide here and a kettlebell buying guide here.

Best core exercises - Russian twist

Side elbow plank

Best core exercises - Rolling like a ball

Spine twist


Best core exercises - Mountain climber

V sit

More on best core exercises

6 week Pilates challenge60 day 6 pack challenge

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.

Further reading

Mayo clinic – core exercises