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8 Moves From A Certified Trainer to Strengthen Your Core

By Stephanie E - Jenny Craig Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, R.D. Science-Backed

Stop everything — and consider your posture. 


Are you sitting up straight? Are you standing? No matter what you’re doing right now, your core is working hard to keep you balanced and stable. And if you’re just starting to explore an exercise routine, learning how to strengthen your core could help support your fitness goals and your health. We sat down with Briana Rodriquez, Certified Personal Trainer (and Jenny Craig’s resident Registered Dietitian Nutritionist), who shared her top eight exercises to strengthen core muscles, and discussed how a strong core can benefit your entire body.    

What is your core?

Photo by medicalstocks on Shutterstock

core muscle diagramIf the first thing that comes to mind are your abs, you’re not wrong — but there’s more to your core than that, says Rodriquez. “Your ‘core,’ or your ‘trunk’ is a large group of muscles that supports your lower spine, hips and pelvis."


According to the American Council on Exercise, the main muscles that make up the core include:1

  • Rectus abdominis: Abdominal muscles that help you bend forward or sit up. These are your “six-pack” muscles.
  • Erector spinae: A back muscle that helps to extend your core when you stand up straight.
  • Internal and external obliques: Muscles that allow you to twist to the left and right. When your obliques and a single side of your rectus abdominis and erector spinae work together, you’re able to bend to the side.
  • Transversus abdominis: This muscle helps you to pull your belly button toward your spine.
  • Multifidi: This group of muscles supports your spine and promotes good posture.


All these muscles help you to move throughout the day and support practically every movement you make, whether you’re walking, bending, standing or sitting.


“Working your core is so important,” Rodriquez explains. “You need a strong core to make other exercises easier, have great posture and protect your spine — especially when doing other exercises.”

Science-backed benefits of strengthening your core

Besides being part of a well-rounded workout, boosting your core strength may have other great health benefits, including: 

  • Lessened back pain. A review of multiple studies found that core strength training can help alleviate chronic low back pain.2 Participants who experienced lower back pain practiced a variety of exercises involving balance, breathing while contracting abdominal muscles, and other more dynamic movements.
  • Improved athletic performance. If you enjoy cardio exercise, building core strength may help give you a competitive edge. One study suggests core training for 6-8 weeks may result in improved running economy, or the energy needed to maintain a constant speed while running.3
  • Improved balance and stability. The body’s muscle strength can weaken over time, which can affect your ability to balance and potentially, your likelihood of experiencing injuries and falls, one study suggests.4 To help with this, study participants practiced upper and lower core strengthening exercises 30 minutes each day, five times per week and showed significant improvements in their ability to balance. 

Core strength and weight loss

While many abdominal exercises claim to blast belly fat or get you closer to a six-pack, building core strength alone won’t guarantee weight loss, says Rodriquez. 


Instead, Rodriquez suggests focusing on enjoying a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly. Incorporating a combination of core-strengthening, resistance training and cardio moves may help to support your health, but it’s also important to be mindful of your eating habits, she says. 


What you eat, when you eat and the types of activity you do can all play a part in healthy, gradual weight loss. (Always be sure to check with your doctor before starting a new diet and exercise routine.) 

8 exercises to strengthen your core

One of the best ways to strengthen your core is to try a variety of exercises that will work different muscles, says Rodriquez. 


Here are Rodriquez’s top eight core-strengthening moves — try them while standing, down on the floor, or with the help of a stability ball. We’ve also included modified versions of each exercise — these are great options if you’re just starting an exercise routine!  

bridge core strengthening exercise

Photo by solar22 on Shutterstock

1. Bridge

This exercise works the hamstrings, lower back, and glutes. 


“I like the bridge because you can work on several of the “core” muscles at a time,” says Rodriquez. 


“If you do it correctly,” she explains, “you’ll also work on core stability by using your abdominal muscles, hamstrings and the muscles in your lower back.”


Try it: Lie on your back with your hands resting by your sides, palms flat on the ground. Tighten the muscles in your abs and buttocks, then slowly raise your hips. Stop when your hips make a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Squeeze your core and draw your belly button inward, as if you’re sucking in your stomach. Hold for 20-30 seconds and bring your back down to the ground — that’s one rep. Do three sets of 10 reps.  


Modify it: Place a yoga block or a firm pillow under your lower back for extra support when holding this position.  


Know the lingo: Repeating an exercise is also called a “rep.” A group of reps is referred to as a “set.” This handy guide will give you a quick intro to helpful exercise terms.

bird dog core strengthening exercise

Photo by solar22 on Shutterstock

2. Bird dog

Don’t worry — there aren’t any animals involved in this core strengthening exercise! It might look a little complicated at first, but we promise you’ll get the hang of it. You’ll alternate lifting one arm and the opposite leg, while tightening your core and keeping your back straight.


“The bird dog is great for improving core strength and coordination, and it works your shoulders and glutes,” Rodriquez says.


Try it: Start by kneeling on the ground. Put your knees and feet hip-width apart and gently rest the tops of your feet and toes against the ground. Lean forward to put your hands on the ground so that they’re directly under your shoulders. Look down to keep your head aligned with your spine. Your fingers should point forward. Tighten your core and abdominal muscles to keep your spine straight, like a tabletop. Slowly raise your right arm and straighten it out in front of you, while simultaneously raising your left leg and straightening it out behind you. Slowly lower your arm and leg to return to all fours and repeat on the opposite side — good work! That counts as one rep. Do three sets of 10 reps.  


Modify it: Start by just raising each arm, one at a time, and lowering slowly. Then raise and lower each leg. Work your way up to lifting your opposite arm and leg at the same time. 

plank core strengthening exercise

Photo by solar22 on Shutterstock

3. Plank 

“This is one of the best exercises,” Rodriquez says. “It even activates the glutes and hamstrings and helps with building balance and good posture.”


The plank requires strength and endurance to be able to hold accurately, she explains. You’ll use your core muscles (specifically, your back and abs) to do this exercise. 


Try it: Lower yourself onto all fours and rest your weight on your knees and forearms. Keep your arms directly underneath your shoulders. Slowly move your feet back to extend your legs and keep your toes pressed against the ground. Your legs should be straight behind you. Tighten your abdominal muscles, keep your hips from falling to the ground and look straight down. Hold this for 10 seconds, gently lower yourself to the ground, and try again.


With a little practice, you’ll be able to hold a plank for longer periods of time. If your body starts to shake while holding a plank, that’s totally normal — lower yourself back down, take a rest, and then try again. Remember to listen to always listen to your body!


Modify it: If you’re just starting out, try a modified version of this exercise to start. Simply lower to your knees to the ground instead of extending your legs fully. 

bicycle crunch core strengthening exercise

Photo by solar22 on Shutterstock

4. Bicycle crunch

Ready to feel the burn? (In a good way, of course!) A bicycle crunch is a variation on a traditional crunch and is a great one to work on your abdominal muscles.


“Don’t try to speed through these — going slowly can help keep you from straining your neck and allows you to work your abs more thoroughly,” says Rodriquez. “And remember to breathe! Breathing is so important — exhale as you twist up, inhale as you lower yourself back down.”


Try it: Lie on the floor with your lower back pressed against the ground. Draw your belly button in toward your spine. Put your hands behind your head and bring both knees inward, toward your chest. Lift your shoulder blades off the ground and look up at the ceiling to avoid neck strain. Straighten your right leg to a 45-degree angle while slowly and gently twisting your upper body to the left. Bring your right elbow toward your left knee, then do the same on the opposite side to bring your left elbow toward your right knee. That’s one rep! Do three sets of 10 reps.  


If it’s too hard to touch your elbow to your knee, that’s OK — don’t strain your neck. 


Modify it: Lie on the ground and rest your legs on a bench or exercise ball. Support your head and neck by lightly placing your hands behind your head. Your elbows should point out on either side. Squeeze your abs and sit up, twisting toward one knee. Lower yourself down and repeat on the other side — that’s one rep.   

standing side crunch core strengthening exercise

Photo by solar22 on Shutterstock

5. Standing side crunch

This is a great exercise for beginners, Rodriquez says. It’s a standing ab exercise that targets the obliques.


Try it: Grab a light weight with your left hand — 2-3 pounds is all you need. Place both feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart, with a slight bend in your knees. Put your right hand behind your ear. Inhale, lowering the weight down your left leg. Pull your ribs toward your left hip. Exhale, squeezing your right obliques and straightening your torso so that you’re standing up straight again. Nice work, you’ve done one rep! Complete three sets of 10 reps with the weight on the left side before switching over to the right.


Modify it: Try this exercise without any weights if you’re just getting started. 

squat core strengthening exercise

Photo by solar22 on Shutterstock

6. Squat

Work out your legs and your abs at the same time with this powerful move.


“Squats build lower body muscle strength but also require you to engage the core. This can help improve strength and stability in the upper body,” explains Rodriquez.


Try it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your knees, bringing your torso slightly forward — this will help take some of the pressure off your knees. Bring your hips down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep your knees pointed forward and don’t let them collapse toward each other. Straighten your legs by driving up through your heels and squeeze your glutes at the top. That’s one rep! Do three sets of 10 reps.


Modify it: If you have knee or lower back problems, you might want to opt for a modified version, Rodriquez suggests. Start by sitting on a firm chair (without wheels) and keep your legs at a 90-degree angle. Then, without grabbing onto the chair for assistance, use your leg and core strength to lift yourself up slowly to a standing position. Slowly, lower yourself to hover right above the chair (don’t sit down!), hold the position for a few seconds, and then lift yourself back up. 

oblique twist core strengthening exercise

Photo by solar22 on Shutterstock

7. Oblique twist

Oblique twists are a seated exercise that require a torso twist. 


“They’re very effective for working your abdominal muscles. You can use a medicine ball or a light weight to make it more challenging,” Rodriquez says.


Try it: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Squeeze your abs while lowering yourself backwards, at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Hold the medicine ball in front of you. While squeezing your abs, slowly and gently twist your torso to the right and touch the ball lightly to the ground. A little quicker this time, contract your abs and twist toward the center to return to your original position. Then, twist to the left and touch the medicine ball to the ground. These three moves — right, center, left — equal one rep. Do three sets of 10 reps. 


Modify it: Make this exercise a little easier by ditching any added weight — just clasp your hands in front of you instead.

leg raise core strengthening exercise

Photo by solar22 on Shutterstock

8. Leg raise

This move might sound like it’s all about the legs, but it actually targets the lower abs. 


“Leg raises help strengthen the hip flexors and help with hip mobility. They’re a good exercise to do, especially if you sit all day,” says Rodriquez.


Try it: Lie on the floor, with your back touching the ground. Your legs should be extended in front of you. Place your hands underneath your lower back to support your pelvis. Raise your legs toward the ceiling, keeping them straight with your thighs pressed together, as high as you can go. Avoid arching your back and keep your movements nice and slow. Lower your legs, without touching your feet to the floor: That’s one rep. Do three sets of 10 reps.


Modify it: Keep your knees bent instead of fully extended to make this exercise a little easier. 

 

We hope you give one or all of these core strengthening exercises a try! Which one is your favorite? Leave us a comment below!

 

Sources:

[1] https://www.acefitness.org/fitness-certifications/ace-answers/exam-preparation-blog/3562/core-anatomy-muscles-of-the-core

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4395677/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6407754/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4668157/

 

Stephanie Eng-Aponte

Stephanie Eng-Aponte
Stephanie Eng-Aponte is a copywriter for Jenny Craig and has written for the health and wellness, tech, and environmental industries. Stephanie graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Media Studies. They employ an “eat first, write later” approach to food blogging and enjoy the occasional Oxford comma. Outside of writing, you can find them photographing a muttley crew of rescue pups, brewing kombucha, or exploring San Diego.


Favorite healthy snack: green apple slices with sunflower butter

 

 

 

Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN

Briana Rodriquez
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs. 

 

Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!) 

 

Quote

This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.

 

Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy. 

 

This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source. 

 


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