A flat tum and toned abs might be the motivation behind your core training workouts, but it isn’t the only thing those central muscles do. Think of every time you sit up straight, get out of bed, or even reach down to pick up that lucky penny – that’s all core, baby! Essentially, this handy group – yes, group, but more on that later – is vital to your balance, stability, posture, and protecting those essential organs.
Ensuring strong base muscles is vital to your overall health and wellbeing. Weak muscles in this area might leave you feeling unbalanced (ever find yourself walking into things) or even sore (that lower back pain?), and this isn’t pleasant, especially when it’s happening every day.
This is why it’s time to get your fitness kit on and get to grips with a reliable core strength training program.
But before you set foot inside a gym (home or otherwise), it’s time for a quick anatomy lesson – which muscles do you actually need to focus on? Like we said at the beginning, your “core” isn't just your abs, it’s a group of muscles located in your trunk. These include:
- Your rectus abdominis. Aka your abs. These are two parallel muscles that run vertically down your stomach (think your 6/8 pack).
- Your transverse abdominis. This band of deep internal muscles wraps at your sides from the front to the spine, stabilizing your core muscles.
- Your external obliques. Running down your sides from your 5th rib to your pelvis on the sides of your abdomen. They help your body to twist and rotate and support your chest and trunk in general.
- Your erector spinae. Composed of three columns of muscles (eight muscles total) that run on either side of the spine and overlap it from the skull to the pelvis, these muscles help control how your body bends (forward and side to side) and supports the back.
- Your quadratus lumborum. Running from the top of your pelvis to your lower ribs on your back, these muscles work to align your spine, stabilize your pelvis, and secure the vertebral column.
Best mid-body workouts
With biology class over, it’s time to put those words into actions with a little exercise. We’ve carefully brought together two short workout plans – one for home and one for the gym – to help you work your center and strengthen your body.
Core workout routine at home
Good core workouts at home allow you to boost your fitness without needing any special equipment. All you require is a little bit of space – your bedroom, your living room, your garden – and some inspiring music to get you started.
Working out at home can be convenient, but the likelihood is you’ve been relaxing a little too. Time to get those muscles warmed up with some light stretching.
- One leg standing stretch – Balancing on one leg, pull the second up behind you and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
- Obliques – Standing with your legs hip-width apart, put one hand on your hip and raise the opposite arm above your head and lean until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
- Child’s pose – Kneeling on your mat, lower your bottom to your feet and lean forward into child’s pose. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
- Cobra ab stretch – Lying face down on your mat, use your arms to raise your body up into cobra pose. You should feel a stretch in your stomach and lower back. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
- Standing forward bend – Lean forward as far as you can and try to touch the ground. Hold for 30 seconds.
2. Run on the spot (high knees)
Time to get that heart pumping with some high knee running. If you’re doing this indoors, wear running shoes or choose a quality exercise mat.
For 30 seconds, raise your knees while running on the spot to your chest. After 30 seconds, take a break for 10 and then repeat the activity between 3-5 times as desired.
3. Bicycle crunches
Sweating? Good. Now the real work starts. Time for some bicycle crunches. Start by lying flat on your back, next put your hands behind your head and arm your legs by getting them in that cycling position.
Once you’re ready to begin, stretch one leg out straight while bringing the other closer to your chest, work your arms/elbows in connection. It might take a few goes to synchronize, but once you do, you’ll be flying. Aim for 10 reps on each size and repeat (20 total) and repeat 3 times to start. Later you can up the number of repetitions.
4. Jumping jacks
You should remember this one from gym class. It might be a classic, but that’s because it works. Keep your heart pumping and synchronize your movements (this requires muscle control) with these jumping jacks.
Start with your legs slightly less than hip-width apart and arms straight down resting on your thighs. Next, jump up and spread your legs, clamp your arms above your head. Try to do 10 jumping jacks reps, rest and repeat twice more.
Solid and sturdy, this exercise might seem simple, but it’ll tone your muscles like nothing else.
Let’s begin with a low plank. Use your elbows and lower arms for support and stretch your body out straight behind you. All that’s left to do is hold this position. Start with 10 seconds. Tomorrow try 15 and keep going for a long as you can.
6. Bridge raises
Let’s release that lower back and build those muscles. Start by lying flat on your back on the mat. Raise your knees so that your feet and hips remain on the floor.
Next push upwards using your buttocks and hold that pose. You should feel a stretch at the top of your legs and lower back. Hold for 10 seconds and release – repeat 5 times, or as needed.
7. Superman pulls
Stretched that back and strengthened those muscles, good. Next, it’s time to become a superhero with some Superman pulls (fighting bad guys, not required).
Think of a baby exploring its muscles, now do the same. As you lie on your belly, raise your arms and chest slightly off the mat while at the same time doing the same with your lower body. It’s tough, but it’s worth it. Try to hold for between 5-10 seconds (longer if you can), release and repeat 2-3 times.
8. Side plank
Like a regular plank, this is all about toning those muscles and building balance.
Lying on the mat, turn to the side and raise your body up using your elbow and lower arm as support. Your legs should be out straight and your body linear. Try to hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side.
9. Regular crunches
Phew! The end is near, but we’re not quite there yet. There’s one more core blast to go – the crunch.
Lying on your back with your knees raised (feet and hips flat on the floor), place your hands behind your head. Lean gently upwards to perform the crunch and lower your body back down.
Don’t try to sit up too far; keep this gentle. Aim for 3 sets of 15 crunches.
You did it! Congrats on a great core workout. Now for the final step – the cool down.
- Cobra stretch – feel the relaxation and pull in your lower back and spine.
- Child’s pose (see above) – release that tension from your lower back.
- Cat/cow pose – in a kneeling position, place your hands on the ground in front of you. Raise your back and drop your head for cat pose. For the cow position, dip your back and raise your head upward.
- Reclining twists – lying on your back, take one leg over the other and grab with your hand, as if partially turning on your side. Twist your upper body in the opposite direction.
- Standing forward bend (see above) – take a standing position, do a forward bend. On the way up, give yourself a round of applause. You did it!
Boosts for core workouts at the gym
Sometimes you need that extra equipment boost. For a well-developed center, it’s time to head down to the gym and get a workout in. While all your at-home exercises are perfect in the gym, here are some additional core-workers you can try. After all, variety is the spice of life.
Swap out those high knees (or add to them) with a balance-building treadmill run. Spending 10-15 minutes on the treadmill, not only helps you boost your heart rate, but it also enables you to balance, and you put one foot in front of the other and simply run.
But, what’s important here isn’t speed or how tired you are afterward. In this run, it’s vital you keep your focus on your core muscles and use them appropriately.
Instead of partying like a Russian, it’s time to twist like one. Russian twists are a great exercise to engage your central muscles and develop balance.
Grab a medicine ball, you should be able to feel the weight, but it should be so heavy that you can’t hold it for an extended period of time. Sitting on your mat, bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor, keep your back straight at all times.
Next, move the medicine ball from one side to the other. Try to hold and balance. Make as many twists, and you can within 30 seconds. Breathe, relax, and repeat twice more.
All you need to do is lift the bar. Simple. Well, not quite. With deadlifts, weight and movement are everything. Choose the right weight for your bar, heavy but not so much so that it’s almost impossible to lift – if in doubt, go slightly lighter.
Stand beside the bar with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, squat down, so your hands are touching the bar. Place one hand on one end of the bar (just wide of your hips) with knuckles facing away from you on top of the bar, with the other hand grip from under the bar on its other end.
Next, all you have to do is stand up, lift with your legs and core. Avoid using your back to shoulder the weight. Now set it back down, and repeat. Aim for at least 10 reps and repeat these 3 times.