Reinforce every lift, bolster your body and build rock-hard power in your mid-section with these core strengthening exercises.
The benefits of working your core are endless. They have the power to improve your posture, make each of your big lifts more stable, reduce the risk of back injury and craft a head-turning midriff. From running to lifting weights, perfecting these powerful stabilizing muscles is essential to creating a functional physique.
When we say core, we’re not just talking about abs. A lot of people thing working your core is all about achieving rippling abdominals, which is part of core strengthening exercises, but it’s so much more than that. It’s actually about creating a strong, well-rounded physique by working on those key muscles that help you stabilize every exercise you do.
Check out this article to find out which core strengthening exercises you should be doing and how they’ll impact your body.
What is the core?
Despite what you might think, girl it’s so much more than just abs. Your core is actually a huge selection of major and minor muscles, all working in perfect harmony to give you a steady, powerful body.
The core muscles are always working for you, without them you wouldn’t be able to stand, sit or do pretty much anything. To give you an idea of how sophisticated and essential this collection of muscles are, you gotta think about the way they work.
At any one time, 29 pairs of muscles are working across three planes of motion just to keep us upright and balanced. Pretty important.
What muscles are in your core?
As we’ve said, it’s not just about the abs, girl. In fact, by just working abs and nothing else, you could end up compromising your core strength by overworking some areas, which may make others weaker. To get all the benefits of a powerful mid-section, you need to find the right core strengthening exercises that are designed to put all the right muscles to work.
Getting all those muscles working hard and growing stronger is no easy feat. You need to know exactly what they are and where they are to target them. Here’s a list of all the big ones in your core.
Major core muscles
- Transverse Abdominis – This is the deepest of your abdominal muscles and sits beneath your obliques. It wraps around your spine to bring stability to your lower back, much like your weightlifting belt.
- Internal and external obliques – These muscles layer each other on the side and front of the abdomen.
- Multifidus – The multifidus sits deep in your spine and works to stabilize the joints. It’s thin, yet very stiff, which helps every vertebra work properly.
- Rectus abdominis – You’ll recognize this as the ‘six-pack’ muscle. It’s a long muscle that extends down the front of your abdominals.
- Erector spinae – These are collections of core muscles that run down the side of your spine from the neck to the lower back. They work to keep your spine in place and you standing up straight.
- Pelvic floor and diaphragm – These two muscles sit deep within your core and are essential for stabilization and even for helping regulate your internal functions.
These are just the major muscles that play a part in your core strength, there’s also plenty more, smaller, deeper muscles that are essential to rounding out your core power.
Why you need core strengthening exercises
Each of the muscles in your core works in a highly sophisticated way to allow your body to move in a range of different planes. When you strengthen them, you improve a number of the functions they perform.
- Improved balance
By strengthening up these stabilizing muscles, you’re improving your ability to balance. Gravity, weights and a whole load of other forces are constantly pulling our body in different ways. Our core muscles are always making tiny adjustments to account for this. By making these muscles stronger you’re improving their ability to resist these forces, boosting your balance under a variety of different strains.
- Better posture
Girl, whether you’re slaying in the gym or heading out in a hot new outfit, body language is everything and nothing says confident sass-queen like good posture.
Supporting the spine, shoring up your abs and strengthening the mid-section of your body is key to achieving a proud, upright body that’s ready to take on the strain of heavy lifts or day-to-day life. Working on every aspect of your core can help iron out imbalances and make you stand up taller.
- Reduced risk of injury
The lower back is a constant source of pain for the lifting community. The truth is, a lot of people try to pick up heavy weights without developing their core first.
If you have a weak spot, your body compensates by pulling in other, less well-placed muscles to take over. They’re not optimized to do the job and you’ll start to feel the strain with a sore, stiff back and balled up, painful sections of muscle.
- Athletic performance
The core is the link between your upper and lower body. Without it we’d basically just crumple. With this in mind, it’s becomes clearer how essential this area of your body is to creating a powerful, athletic physique.
Overall, a strong, hard-working core can transform your body’s ability to move with ease. From running, to squatting a new PB, there’s never a moment when your core isn’t engaged, so don’t neglect it.
- Core strengthening exercises
Target your whole mid-section and incorporate these core strengthening exercises into your workout routine to get the powerful results you’re looking for. To help you hit all of those essential core muscles, we’ve split our workout into abdominal and lower back movements. That way you can alter your workout to suit your physical needs and address your weak spots by picking and choosing the exercises you perform.
We’d say pick two exercises from the abdominal list and two from the lower back list and you should have a well-rounded core workout.
Perform these exercises together to target all the abdominal muscles listed above, including your obliques.
Target a range of abdominal muscles and benefit from the challenge of constant cable resistance in this core strengthening exercise.
- Set a high cable with a rope attachment
- Kneel in front, facing the cable and reach up to pull it down until your hands are on either side of your face
- Extend at the hip until you’re about 45 degrees from sitting up vertically and ensure your back is strong and flat
- Keeping the hips in the same position, bend at the hips by contracting the abdominal muscles until your face is just a couple of inches off the floor
- Hold this position for a second before slowly returning to your start position
Tip: Keep your hips in the same position and don’t use your body weight to pull down on the cable. The power should all come from your abdominals.
Dumbbell side bend
Home in on your obliques and improve stability with the barbell side bend.
- Stand in a neutral position with a dumbbell in one hand
- Engage your core and stand up straight
- Keeping your shoulders aligned and a firm grip on the dumbbell, bend sideways at the waist, dipping the dumbbell until you can’t go any further. It should go down to about your knee
- Stand up straight again complete your reps on that side. Swap the dumbbell to the other hand and do the same on the other side
Tip: Start light with this one and avoid putting large weights on the bar as you they could tip you over if you’re not a seasoned pro.
Swiss ball leg pull-in
This one will put those deep stabilizing muscles to the test and help you boost your core stability.
- Place an exercise ball on the floor and lay with your shins next to it
- Straighten your arms so you’re holding your weight on them, then move both legs so your shins are resting on the ball
- Keeping your back completely straight and your arms in the same position, bend your knees in towards your chest and contract your abs so the ball rolls towards you
- Hold that position for a second before returning to the start
Tip: Don’t worry if this feels shaky to start with. The more your practice this kind of movement, the stronger your core will become when it comes to keeping you stable.
This is one of the best exercises you can do to get your core working together in harmony, growing strength and boosting those stabilizing muscles. Pick up an ab wheel or a bar with plates on the end and give it a go.
- Set up a mat and kneel on it, holding an ab roller between your hands so it’s resting on the floor in front of you. This is your start position
- Lock down your core by taking a deep breath and holding it in. Then tense your core and glutes
- Begin to roll outwards, without letting your hips dip. Maintain a strong back and think about creating a straight line from your shoulders to your hips
- Stop when you go as far as you can, then contract at the abs and use your lats to pull your arms in and return to the start position
Tip: If you’re new to the ab roller, roll out to a wall or heavy plate, so you have something to stop yourself. This will make the movement slightly easier, but as soon as you’re strong enough, try it without the bumper.
Lower back exercises
Strengthen up your lower back and perfect your core with these essential core strengthening exercises.
Stiff leg deadlift
Focus in on your lower back strength to support your spine in every lift with this core strengthening exercise.
- Stand in a neutral position holding a light bar
- Keep your shoulders back and tight and your back strong. Break at the knees slightly
- Without bending at the knees any further and maintaining a strong back, lower the bar to around mid-shin
- Return to the start position by extending your hips again until you’re stood again
Tip: To get the most out of this core strengthening exercise, really think about engaging your muscles by keeping your back strong.
Get your glutes and your core muscles working in perfect unison with this movement.
- Stand in a neutral position with your feet at hips-width apart and hold a light bar across the back of your shoulders like you’re going to do a back squat
- Break at the knees, then hinge at the hips. Your hips should be moving backwards, as you lean forward so the weight stays on your heels
- Keep your back straight with your scapula’s together, your head up and your lower back in a strong, flat position
- Stop the movement when your chest is just above parallel to the floor
- From there, extend the hips and raise your chest until you’re stood up straight again
Tip: Perfect form is queen on this one girl. This movement really puts the strain on your lower back so take it easy, then build it up.
This movement will strengthen up your lower back muscles for a strong, powerful core.
- Lie face down on a mat with your arms fully extended in front of you and your legs straight behind you
- Raise your arms, chest and legs off the floor at the same time
- At the top of the movement, squeeze your lower back and hold it or a second
- Slowly lower your hands, chest and feet back down to the floor
Tip: Take this movement up a notch and boost the stabilizing factor by performing it over an exercise ball, with a weight held to your chest.
Add some of these core strengthening exercises to your workout routine and you’ll start to feel the difference in your physique and your overall fitness performance too. A powerful core can help you boost the strength of your squat, take your deadlift to the next level and even make you a more efficient runner.
Girl, don’t just aim for the six pack. Take your body to a new level of functional prowess and use these core strengthening exercises today.
Looking for more functional powerhouse movements? Check out these articles:
- Essential Lifts Every Woman Should Know
- Chest and Shoulder Workouts for Women
- Barbell Legs Workouts for Women