Strong core workout – 6 exercises to improve your abs

If you want to build your core strength quickly, then try this 6 week strong core workout. The intensity increases each week, so you know you’ll be progressing and building strength. There are 6 exercises, which focus mainly on the deep stabilising core muscles. The workout consists of 3 sets of these 6 exercises and you should do it 3 times a week. See below to get a printable PDF of the workout.

Strong core workout

Benefits of core training

The benefits of core training include

  • Improved posture
  • Flat abs
  • Reduced likelihood of low back pain and injury
  • Better sport and fitness performance
  • Reduced hamstring and hip flexor tightness
  • Improved balance and movement control

Strong core workout notes

  • Before you do the workout, please read these general exercise guidelines.
  • Exercise technique is very important in core training to ensure the exercises are safe and effective, so please follow the instructions carefully.
  • You’ll need a mat or some other sort of cushioning for your spine.
  • Do 3 sets of the exercises – that is, do all 6 exercises then start again and repeat twice more.
  • You should do the workout 3 times a week on non-consecutive days.
  • The number of reps/hold times for the 6 weeks are shown on the chart below.

The exercises

#1 Single leg stretch

Single leg stretch

  1. Lay on the floor with your arms by your side, your legs about hip distance apart and your pelvis in neutral.
  2. 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).
  3. Now bring the leg back and repeat on the other leg.

#2 Pilates rolling like a ball

Strong core workout Pilates rolling

  1. 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.
  2. Keeping a curve in your spine and your chin tucked in, engage your core muscles and roll backwards.
  3. When your upper back is on the floor, contract your core and buttock muscles strongly to start to roll back to the starting position.

 #3 Scissors


  1. Lie on your back with your legs vertical
  2. Making sure you don’t let your back arch, lower and raise one leg at a time.

#4 Spine twist

Spine twist

  1. Sit with your back straight and straighten your legs out in front. (If you find it difficult to straighten your legs, have them slightly bent.)
  2. Raise your arms up to shoulder height, so that they are parallel with the floor.
  3. Keeping your back straight and your arms lifted, engage your abdominal muscles and rotate your upper body to the right.
  4. Come back to the centre and keep turning to repeat the movement to the left.

#5 Elbow plank

Strong core workout elbow plank

  1. Lay on your side, with your legs extended in a straight line.
  2. Take your forearm to 90º with your body and curl your hand into a fist to help support your weight.
  3. 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.
  4. Either have your feet stacked one on top of the other, or put the top foot in front, as in the picture above
  5. Hold this position for the given number of seconds.
  6. Then lower your body down to the floor, roll over and repeat on the other side.

#6 Mountain climber

Strong core workout mountain climber

  1. Get into an all-4s position on the floor. Make sure your hands are directly below your shoulders.
  2. Take your legs out behind, keeping your back slightly curved.
  3. Now bring one knee at a time in towards your arms.

Reps/hold times chart

These are the number of reps you should do for each exercise over the 6 weeks (or hold times for the elbow plank). You should complete 3 sets of this.

Reps chart

Get the strong core workout PDF printable

Strong core workout 6 week schedule

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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.

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