This Is Why You Should Be Working Your Entire Core
Abs. It seems like there’s no greater symbol of “fitness” than a visibly defined midsection.
And everybody— whether it’s at the gym, on at-home fitness videos, or all over social media — seems to be chasing them.
But I hate to break it to you: all the crunches and sit-ups in the world probably aren’t going to get you what you’re after. (What will actually get you there is proper nutrition, but that’s a topic for another day.)
So what should you really be doing when you work your core?
When most people talk about working their core, they’re typically talking about “ab exercises”. These focus on the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques — the muscles that make up the abdominals.
And these muscles are definitely important, but they only make up one part of the package.
In addition to your abdominals, your core includes stabilizer muscles like your hip adductors, pelvic floor, lower back, and lower chest. These muscle groups aren’t necessarily about making you look good — they’re about making you perform at your best.
When you watch an Olympic sprinter blow past the field, or a Major Leaguer smash a ball out of the park, they’re not just using their arms and legs. It takes an incredible amount of strength through their entire core to make that happen.
But a strong core isn’t just necessary for elite athletes. Not only will it improve your workout performance, but core strength can help to minimize body pain (especially in the back, knees, and hips), and increase your body’s functional fitness, which becomes especially important as you age.
So why don’t you say goodbye to all the crunches and check out five of my favorite exercises for working your entire core.
Alternating 2-Point Planks
If you’ve been anywhere near a gym in the last 20 years, you’ve probably done (or seen someone doing) planks.
And there’s a good reason for this — planks not only work the rectus abdominis muscles, they target muscles along the entire core from your shoulder girdle down to your pelvis.
And because their duration and position can easily be adjusted, planks are a great exercise for just about any skill level.
But here’s the thing — basic planks can get pretty boring.
So how do you take this basic exercise and up the ante? Give the Alternating 2-Point Plank a try.
Set up this exercise by getting into a basic push-up position. Then, extend one arm while raising the opposite leg. After holding this position for several seconds, return to the push-up position and complete the exercise with the other arm and leg.
It might not sound super challenging, but after a few rounds of reps, even planking pros will have their whole body shaking.
One of the best benefits of a strong core is that it develops stability for your entire body. This can improve everything from your weightlifting performance, to your speed, to even reducing back and knee pain.
And if you’re looking to turn your core into a stabilizing machine, the V-Up is the place to start.
Begin in a supine position — laying on your back — with your arms over your head. Raise your upper and lower body at the same time, attempting to touch your fingertips to your toes.
Keeping your body controlled and your core tight, lower your upper and lower body back towards the floor to complete one rep.
V-ups can be adjusted based on your fitness level by bending or straightening your legs, touching your shins instead of your toes, or keeping your arms and legs elevated off the floor at the bottom for an added challenge.
Here’s another exercise to help you build strength in your stabilizers while torching your abs — the scissor kick.
This one often gets overlooked by more advanced gym-goers, and it's a shame. Scissor kicks are a great way to develop strength in your hips, improve your balance and set your abs on fire.
They also make a great exercise to mix-in with other core exercises. Try pairing them with exercises like planks, which focus on holding a prone position, and you’ll create a well-rounded core workout that will set your entire midsection on fire.
To perform this exercise, begin in a supine position with your arms down by your sides (or underneath glutes, if you need additional back support). Raise your feet about 12 inches off the floor to begin one of two variations. The first variation involves alternating your feet up and down — also known as flutter kicks. The second variation involves moving your feet out and in, alternating which leg crosses on top for each rep.
The two variations can be used independently, or mixed and matched to switch things up. Adjust the reps and speed as your strength improves for a more intense workout.
Alternating Heel Touches
Old-school crunches just don’t get the job done. Not only do they do a poor job of engaging your abdominal muscles (especially compared to other exercises), they can cause unnecessary strain if you’re pulling on your neck and back.
But just because simple crunches may not get the results you’re after, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work in a “crunched” position.
These Alternating Heel Touches utilize the same basic position as crunch, but are a great way to work your oblique muscles and lower back, and build stamina in a contracted position.
Start this exercise by getting into a supine position with your knees bent and your arms at your sides. Contract your abdominal muscles as you lift your head and chest off the floor. Reach with one hand touch your heel, then alternate to touch the other heel, while keeping your upper body contracted.
The Dead Bug
This one probably sounds simple, right? I mean, isn’t that what you do when you collapse on the floor after a killer leg day?
While the concept of this exercise actually is pretty simple (and does involve you laying on the floor like a dead bug — hence the name), it all comes down to execution to make it work.
Lay on your back with knees bent and your arms extended up from your chest. Keeping your knees bent, raise your legs off the floor creating a 90-degree angle with your torso. Tighten your core and glute muscles and slowly extend one leg towards the ground. Bring that leg back to the 90 degree position and repeat the movement with the alternate leg. Repeat to failure.
But here’s the key to this exercise — and what makes it deceptively difficult.
As you lower your leg to the floor, your body will want to arch your back to help manage the load. Don’t that happen! Keep your core tight and your back glued to the floor throughout the entire exercise.
Looking to make it a little tougher? You can also begin lowering your alternate arm to the floor as you lower your leg for a more difficult variation.
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