5 of the best core exercises — and not a situp or crunch in the bunch!

August 06, 2018 | by Victor Valentin
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Fitness can be overwhelming, whether it’s starting a new program or trying a different and new exercise.

“Fitness” is an umbrella term encompassing different types of exercise, such as resistance training, strength training, cardio training, balance and stabilization, and even core strengthening.

When it comes to your core, everyone thinks about their abdomen region (abs). Some individuals may want toned (slimmed/defined) abs, whereas others may want stronger abs.

Keep in mind that your core muscles are supposed to brace your spine for stability. When it comes to working out your core, many think about doing situps or crunches. These movements tend to put unnecessary pressure on your lower back and cause you to use momentum to relieve the pain. Using momentum in any exercise will not effectively strengthen the muscles you want to target.

First, let’s look at what muscles create the core. Those that are bolded in black are the primary muscles we work with when activating the core.

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There are many core exercises that do not involve doing a situp or crunch, so let’s discuss a few and the benefit of each:

Bird/Dog

How to:

  1. Remain on all fours and tighten your abdominal muscles, keeping your spine and neck in a neutral position.
  2. You should be looking at the floor (top illustration). Slowly extend your left leg behind you while reaching your right arm forward (bottom illustration).
  3. Keep your hips and shoulders square and make sure your lower back doesn’t arch.
  4. Hold for five seconds. Slowly return to the starting position and do the move on the opposite side. Complete 5-10 repetitions on each side.

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Muscles worked:

  • Responsible for extending, flexing, and rotating the spine (core activation)
  • Involves the gluteus maximus muscle of the buttocks
  • Engages the trapezius muscles of the upper back and the deltoids of the shoulder

Benefits:

  • Increases core strength in both abs and lower back
  • Increases kinesthetic awareness (where your body is in space and time)

Flutter Kicks

How to:

  1. Lie on your back on a mat with your legs extended and your arms alongside your hips, palms down.
  2. Lift your legs 4-6 inches off the floor. Press your lower back into the mat.
  3. Keep your legs straight as you rhythmically raise one leg higher, then switch. Move in a fluttering, up and down motion.
  4. Do 15-20 repetitions. Alternatively, flutter kick for a period of time, such as 20-30 seconds.

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Muscles worked:

  • Works your rectus abdominis
  • Works the hip flexors, which attach the pelvis, back and legs together
  • Targets the internal and external obliques

Benefits:

  • Increases core strength and definition, and improves your endurance and flexibility
  • Targets the abdominal muscles and helps to define and slim down your waist

Core Hip Lift

How to:

  1. Raise your legs so they are straight up toward the ceiling and perpendicular to your torso.
  2. Pull your navel toward your spine and lift your hips a few inches off the floor, keeping your legs pointed straight up.
  3. Slowly lower your hips back to the floor.

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Muscles worked:

  • Strengthens the rectus abdominis (the muscle between the ribs and hips)
  • Targets the obliques (muscles that run down the sides of the torso)

Benefits:

  •  Increases glute and lower back strength
  • Activates the rectus abdominis, and upper abdomen region

Standing Oblique Twist

How to:

  1. Stand with your knees slightly soft.
  2. Keep your pelvis stable as you rotate your ribcage right and left, to complete one rep.
  3. Be sure to keep your abs pulled toward your spine as you twist from side to side.

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Muscle worked:

  • Targets the internal and external obliques
  • Targets the transverse abdominis

Benefits:

  • Works two sets of oblique muscles: internal and external obliques
  • The motion of oblique twists firms your obliques and your transverse abdominals
  • Improves balance and posture

Pallof Press

How to:

  1. Position yourself perpendicular to a cable column and move a couple of feet away to allow for tension on the cable (should be aligned with your midsection).
  2. Keep your stomach tight, chest tall, and shoulders back; slowly control the cable away from your body staying in line with your sternum until your elbows are almost locked out.
  3. Pause for 2-3 seconds and return to start.

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Muscles worked:

  • Targets the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and external obliques.

Benefits:

  • Maintains rigidity through the trunk and hips
  • Trains the true function of the core, which is the ability to resist motion (in this case, rotation)

Learn more about Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness.

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