Your core is at the center of every move you make day to day. As a fitness editor, I’ve typed that sentence hundreds of times—not only because it’s true, but because it’s important. Your core is responsible for holding up your body, twisting and turning your torso, and stabilizing and balancing you as you move through your everyday life, which is why it’s critical to keep it strong no matter where you are in your fitness journey. The good news? Doing so doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, all you really need to keep your core well functioning is four basic moves that any beginner can master.
Scroll through for the exercises that will work every single muscle in your core—put ’em all together, and you’ve got your abs workout for the day.
There’s a reason why you can rarely get through any workout—whether yoga, HIIT, or Pilates—without being asked to pop into plank pose. Your core is made up of a dozen different muscles, and this move hits them all. When you’re properly engaging through your abs, obliques, and back body, you’re able to target all 360 degrees of your torso.
As far as core moves go, crunches are about as classic as they come, but you’ll want to make sure you’re doing them properly in order to reap their full abdominal strengthening benefits. Since your hands are placed behind your head, it can be tempting to use them to yank your upper body off of the ground, but that’s the wrong way to do things. “The whole point of doing crunches is to work your abs, but if you’re pulling your neck up to try to get the motion of a crunch as opposed to actively engaging your abs, you’re actually going to hurt yourself as opposed to helping yourself,” DOGPOUND founding trainer and chief experience officer Rhys Athayde previously told Well+Good. Instead, you’ll want to glue your lower back to the floor and engage through your abs to lift your head, neck, and shoulders. It’s not about how high you get—as long as you’re pulling through your abdominals and getting your sports bra straps up off the floor, you’ll feel the movement through your midline.
3. Side planks
Your obliques—aka the sides of your abs—are responsible for all of the twisting and turning motions you make throughout the day. Plus, because they’re so closely connected to your back, keeping them strong can help you avoid injury and improve your posture. To work them, you simply have to flip your plank on its side. Think about keeping your body in a straight, solid line from your head to your toes, with your wrist planted directly below your shoulders and your hips lifted. If you need a little more support, you can stagger your feet so that your back toes are touching your front heel.
4. Bicycle crunches
Bicycle crunches are a great way to hit those hard-to-reach lower abs and obliques at the same time. Be careful to avoid twisting from your neck, which will totally wreck your form. Instead, glue your hips to the floor and think about using your abs to lift your chest and back off of the floor, then twist through the rib cage. Keep your hips square, and remember that the lower your feet are to the ground, the more work you’ll get in the lower part of your core.
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