If you can’t stomach the idea of doing one more crunch, that’s totally fine. Bustle asked trainers for what they believe to be the best core exercises out there, and there’s not one crunch in the mix. Add one or two to your workout routine, and you might even hit a few core muscles you didn’t know you had.
While it’s common to think about the abs when you think of the
core, your core is actually made up of many different muscle groups that go around the entire trunk of your body. “There’s the abs, the rectus abdominis, transverse abs, and obliques,” explains Cheryl Russo, a certified personal fitness trainer. “Then there are the muscles of the back, the latissimus dorsi, and the erector spinae.” Even the hip flexors are considered a part of your core.
All of these muscles work together as you go about daily life, which is why it’s helpful to make sure they’re strong, says
Alayna Curry, an AFAA-certified fitness instructor. “The core is especially utilized during most strength and cardio workouts as well,” she tells Bustle. “Having a strong core will help you maintain balance and execute moves with proper form, while also improving your posture and strengthening your back.”
You don’t have to do countless reps to reap the benefits of a core workout, either. Curry recommends tacking just five minutes of core exercises onto the end of your usual routine, aiming for four to five sets a week, and you should feel a difference. Here, trainers share the 12 best core exercises for strengthening those all-important muscles.
1 Forearm Plank Gia Calhoun, a Pilates instructor and vice president of Pilates Anytime, points to the forearm plank as one of the best core exercises — and one that just so happens to target the rest of your body, too. Here’s how to do it:
- Place your forearms on the floor with elbows directly underneath shoulders.
- Step your feet back behind you so that your body makes a straight line.
- Lift yourself off the floor and hold a plank for 30 seconds as you engage your abs, arms, legs, and glutes.
- Maintain a flat back. Don’t dip your hips down or push them up.
- To modify, keep your knees on the floor.
2 Cross-Body Mountain Climbers Andy Stern, a fitness trainer and VP of talent and programming at Rumble, says this mountain climber variation lights up the obliques and lower abs.
- Start in a high plank with shoulders right above hands.
- Keep your hips parallel to the floor as you drive your right knee in towards your left elbow.
- Return and do the same with the left leg.
- Connect your breath to the exercise. Exhale as you pull the knee in.
- Maintain a slow and steady tempo with a slight pause to really focus on core strength, Stern says.
- You can add speed (without compromising form) for a more cardio-based exercise.
- Aim to mountain climb for 20 to 30 seconds.
3 Kettlebell Halos
Next up on the best-of list is the
kettlebell halo. Vanessa Liu, a certified fitness trainer, says this move strengthens the obliques, the rectus abdominus, and improves balance and coordination.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold kettlebell by the handle with both hands, turn it upside down.
- Inhale and brace your core.
- Exhale as you maneuver the kettlebell around your head.
- Reverse directions and repeat 10 halos on each side, doing 3 sets total.
4 Dead Bugs
Tatiana Lampa recommends dead bugs — which really do make you look like a dead bug — to work the center of your core and obliques, all without putting any extra stress on your back. “It’s a great exercise for anyone who has low back pain,” she tells Bustle.
- Lie on your back with knees bent, arms reaching up.
- Extend your right leg out straight as you reach your left arm above your head.
- Bring both back to center.
- Extend your left leg and right arm.
- Continue motion for 10 counts on each side for 3 sets.
5 Bird Dogs
Lampa says this
Pilates-inspired core exercise works the erector spinae and rectus abdominis muscles.
- Start with hands and knees on the floor in tabletop position.
- Extend your right arm as you kick your left leg straight behind you.
- Engage core to remain steady. Maintain a neutral spine the entire time.
- For a challenge, bring your knee in to meet your opposite elbow.
- Switch and repeat on the other side.
- Do 10 reps on each side 3 times.
Russo suggests trying a bridge pose to work the muscles of your lower back.
- Lie on your back, legs hip-distance apart, knees bent.
- With arms down at your sides, push the shoulders into the floor.
- Lift your hips as high as you can without arching your back.
- Hold for 10 seconds.
7 Single Arm Farmer’s Walk
The single-arm farmer’s walk is an “anti lateral flexion” exercise that calls on your obliques, Lampa says.
- Grab a heavy weight (kettlebell or dumbbell) in one hand.
- Pull your shoulders back and down.
- Make sure the weight doesn’t pull you to the side. (No leaning!) You’ll feel your obliques engage as you work to maintain good posture.
- Walk forward 10 to 12 steps, then turn and come back.
- Repeat on both sides, 3 times.
8 Shoulder Taps
shoulder taps are a great core stabilizing exercise because all the various muscles of your core have to work together to hold you up. It’s tricky, but worth the burn.
- Start off in a
high plank, arms straight, hands under shoulders, legs extended back behind you.
- Keep your hips stable as you bring your left hand to tap right shoulder.
- Place left hand back down.
- Bring your right hand to tap left shoulder.
- To modify, move your legs a little further apart.
- Alternate taps for 30 seconds, 3 times.
9 Pallof Press
resistance band handy? Lampa recommends anchoring it at chest height for another anti-rotational exercise that hits the abs and obliques.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart. Anchor will be at your side.
- Hold band in both hands. With arms outstretched, use your core to pull the band across your body.
- Move slowly with control. The goal is to make sure the band doesn’t pull you towards the anchor, Lampa says.
- Return to start.
- Try 10 presses on each side, 3 rounds each.
10 Hollow Body Crunches
To work the front of your abs, Russo recommends giving hollow body crunches a try.
- Lie on your back, extend legs out straight and arms out overhead.
- Inhale, curl your shoulders and head up as you lift both legs about 2 inches off the ground.
- Make the body concave or “hollow” as you hold arms and legs up.
- Exhale and lower to the floor.
- To modify, bend your knees.
- Aim for 15 curls.
11 Ab Tucks
Yoga and Pilates trainer
Kelley Fertitta-Nemiro says the ab tuck is her go-to core strengthening exercise. “It targets the internal and external obliques, the rectus and transverse abdominis muscles, and the hip flexors,” she tells Bustle.
- Start in a seated position on the floor, legs extended out in front of you.
- With palms facing the ground and elbows bent, lean slightly back to engage your core.
- Keep your back tall and shoulders relaxed.
- Bend knees and bring them off the floor. Use the core to keep feet from touching the ground.
- Bring knees to chest, then extend legs using core.
- Keep your back and legs from dropping.
- Pull knees back into your chest.
- Repeat 12 to 15 reps for 3 sets.
12 Side Planks
Last but not least are
side planks, which are one of the best ways to fire up your obliques, says Russo.
- Lie on your side.
- Prop up onto forearm.
- Lift your hips off the floor.
- Hold for 15 seconds.
For a challenge, Russo recommends moving from a side plank to a
reverse plank to a side plank on the other side, then moving all the way back around to a high plank. Sources: Alayna Curry, AFAA-certified fitness instructor Cheryl Russo, certified personal fitness and group fitness trainer Gia Calhoun, Pilates instructor and vice president of Pilates Anytime Andy Stern, fitness trainer and VP of talent and programming at Rumble Vanessa Liu, certified fitness trainer Tatiana Lampa, trainer Kelley Fertitta-Nemiro, Pilates and yoga trainer
Get Even More From Bustle — Sign Up For The Newsletter
From hair trends to relationship advice, our daily newsletter has everything you need to sound like a person who’s on TikTok, even if you aren’t.