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The Best Core Exercises For All Levels

The Best Core Exercises For All Levels

Regardless of your fitness level, experience or ultimate fitness goals, core exercises are crucial to success. For most people, when they think about their core, abs are what come to mind. However, your core goes beyond your abs, and it is so important for your success and safety to fully understand what the core encompasses to ensure that you’re focusing on developing that core strength in all the right places. 

The core is involved in almost every movement of the human body. Your core includes your abdominal muscles, pelvis, hips, and even your back muscles. All of this makes up your core, the hub, of your body, and it houses your most vital organs. For this reason alone, we should all want a stronger core. But why else are core exercises important?

Why are Core Exercises Important? 

Core exercises are an important part of any fitness routine at any fitness level. If you’re a beginner or an advanced athlete, you need to focus your efforts on core exercises on a regular basis. Core exercises can help improve your balance, improve the muscle tone of your abs, improve your overall performance in physical activities of any kind, increase stability, and help you achieve your fitness goals, like weight loss.

When you think of core exercise, your brain may drift to abdominal workouts like crunches, but there’s a whole world of core exercises out there. To know where to focus your efforts, you need to know what exercises really affect your core. Some examples that you might not think about are planks, pushups, rowing, cycling, and elliptical trainers.  

Here are some core exercises to consider based on your fitness levels.

Core Exercises for the Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced

Beginner:

  • Basic Planks: The plank looks similar to a push up. It is an essential core exercise, and it can be modified with positioning or a fitness ball. It engages muscles through the whole body. The muscle is the rectus abdominis, or the six-pack muscle. 

    To perform a plank: Begin by lying face-down on the floor. Prop yourself up on your forearms, knees, and feet. In a modified plank, you would hold this position. However, if you can continue, lift your torso, your legs, and your hips until your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels. As in a traditional pushup, try not to raise your bottom up too far. Finish this move by holding it for at least 10 seconds.

    As you are able, work the time you can hold this pose up to 30 seconds.
  • Bridge: This pose works your core, and it also activates your glutes as you raise your hips. Because it activates your glutes, it will also tone your butt and thighs. Any time you can effectively work more than one muscle group at a time, you want to consider adding it to your routine. 

    To perform a bridge pose: Begin by lying on your back with your legs bent to 90 degrees, your arms out to the side, and your feet flat and on the floor. Raise your hips and your back off the floor until your body is in a straight line from your knees down to your shoulders. Hold this pose for five to ten seconds. If you are able, interlace your fingers under your butt as you hold this pose.

    Repeat this pose, as you are able, 10 to 12 times, and as you progress, continue to attempt to interlace your fingers until you are able to do this.
  • Elliptical Trainer: The elliptical trainer is great for beginners because it allows you to get a total body workout, ease into cardio, and work your core without putting a lot of stress on your joints. 

    To use an elliptical trainer: Step onto the machine and push the pedals forward with your feet until you are making the elliptical revolutions. This will feel similar to riding a bike or running. Because the machine bears your weight, your joints won’t suffer the jarring impact that running on pavement or a treadmill can cause.

    Aim to complete 15 to 30 minutes, as you can tolerate when you first begin using the machine. Continue to use the machine regularly, and increase your time as you go until you can easily do about 45 minutes on this calorie-blasting machine.

Intermediate:

  • Side Planks: As you progress in your abilities, a lot of the exercises you learned as a beginner stay with you. The challenge is to modify them as you initially modified them to meet your abilities. One of the classic exercises that stays with you when you want to work on your core is the basic plank. As you progress, you will simply do planks for longer periods of time. The world record for holding a plank is eight hours, 15 minutes, and 15 seconds, but you don’t have to go for that long to get great benefits for your core. Instead, try the side plank. 

    To perform the side plank: Start on your side, feet together and pressed against the floor, and one elbow and forearm on the floor directly below the shoulder. Tighten your core and lift your hips until your body is in a straight line from head to feet. To correctly hold this plank, you keep this straight line without letting your hips dip.

    As with the basic plank when you were a beginner, start by holding this pose for at least 10 seconds. Repeat for the other side. Aim to hold for 30 seconds per side or longer.
  • Bird Dog: This move works both your abdominal and back muscles. It’s perfect for engaging your core, and it has the added benefits of increasing your coordination, improving your balance, and working on your stability. 

    To perform the aptly-named Bird Dog: You will begin on all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Contract at your core as you raise and extend your right leg behind you to be level with your hip. At the same time, raise and straighten your left arm out in front of you to be level with your shoulder, palm down. Give this position a slight pause before you lower back down into the original stance. Next, switch and repeat the move this time with your left leg and right arm. Pause again and come back to the starting position. This is one rep.

    Repeat this until you have done 10 to 12 reps as you can tolerate it. Increase your sets until you can do three sets of 12.
  • Rowing Machine: The motion of a complete revolution on the rowing machine targets your entire core. At the end of the stroke, as you come forward on the machine, you will target your abdominal muscles as a crunch would do, and the motion to push yourself back will engage your lower back muscles. As you advance your fitness level, it is important to choose exercises like the rowing machine that will strengthen your core in your back. This will continue to aid you in avoiding injury. 

    To use the rowing machine: Sit on the seat of this machine and strap your feet down to the provided holsters. To begin a stroke, you will start with a straight back, tightened core, grasping the handle, and your feet will be firmly set. Push yourself back with your legs and lower body, then as you reach the back of this motion, using your upper back to pull, your hands will come toward your chest.

    Lastly, you will release your arms toward the base of the machine while bending your knees to bring you gliding back to the starting position. It often helps to visualize actual rowing to get a rhythm of properly executing the rowing motion. 

Advanced

  • Shoulder tapping planks: As with intermediate, you will want to continue your basics as you become more advanced, but you will still want to modify them to challenge yourself. 

    Shoulder tapping planks are virtually self-explanatory. From a basic plank, simply tap your left shoulder with your right hand and repeat on the other side, leaving yourself in a momentary one-handed plank.
  • Captains Chair Crunch: When you’re in the captain’s chair, simply allow your legs to dangle beneath you, then engage your abs and raise your knees by pulling your center towards your spine. Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position. Repeat these as tolerated until you can do three sets of 15.
  • Bicycle Crunch: Holding and performing the bicycle crunch will tone your abdominal muscles and your back simultaneously. Start this exercise by sitting with your legs raised to a 45-degree angle, hands behind your head, and your core tightened. Begin making a cycling motion with your legs and reaching your elbow towards the opposite knee as you perform the revolutions. Repeat as tolerated until you can do three sets of 25.

Summary 

The human body needs its core to perform almost all movement. Now that you know your core includes your abdominal muscles, pelvis, hips, and your back muscles and the importance of strengthening those areas, begin exploring the right core exercises for you. Remember to keep it fun and sustainable so that you can continue to strengthen your core for years to come.

 

Sources:

  1. Core exercises: Why you should strengthen your core muscles | Mayo Clinic
  2. Slide show: Exercises to improve your core strength | Mayo Clinic
  3. Build core strength as you balance in bird dog | Mayo Clinic 
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