Developing a strong core is mandatory for your performance.
Most people don't know that developing the muscles of their core will greatly improve their performance, regardless of the activity.
If you want to increase your sports performance, improve your posture, and get nice looking abs in the process, then you are in the right place.
We are not only going to present you one of the best core workouts, but you will also find out everything there is to know about core exercises.
Lately the terms six-pack and core have been used interchangeably even though they are very different.
If you had to choose between a developed core and a developed six-pack, I guarantee that after reading this article you will choose the former.
So what is the big difference between the two of them?
To answer that question and better understand the facts, we will have to see what muscles make up the core and what muscles are part of the six-pack.
There are eight muscles that are, without a doubt, part of the core.
Why do we say without a doubt?
Because there are people who consider muscles such as the latissimus dorsi as being part of the core. And while we do not agree with them, we'll also mention those muscles for people who are open to these ideas.
These muscles have the function of holding the organs and structure of the lower abdomen in place.
They affect sexual, colorectal, and urological functions.
Truth be told, you don’t have to directly workout these muscles.
Even though they are part of the core you won’t even notice them being worked out.
The transverse abdominis is a muscle group located underneath the obliques.
It wraps around the spine providing stability and protection and is the deepest layer of the abdominal muscles.
This muscle is located in the deepest layer of the back, along the spine. Its function is to provide stabilization and make each vertebra work more effectively.
The internal oblique lays just under the external oblique and over the transverse abdominis muscle.
It has two major functions: assists the diaphragm in respiration and, in conjunction with the external oblique, assists with rotation and side bending.
This muscle is the outermost and the biggest among the three that comprise the lateral anterior abdomen.
Its function is to help with side bending, rotating the body, as well as pulling the chest downwards.
Also known as the six-pack, the rectus abdominis is an important muscle that helps with posture.
Its function is to flex the lumbar spine, as well as assist in respiration. Needless to say, this is the most popular abdominal muscle.
But why do I say muscle and not muscles?
As you may or may not know, the rectus abdominis is a single muscle – not six, not eight, not ten.
That is why it is hard to only train the ‘lower abs’, and attempting to do so will rarely bring results. More on that in the misconception section below.
The erector spinae is a group of tendons and muscles that have the function of straightening and rotating the back.
Most compound movements, such as the pull-up, squat, and deadlift help with training this muscle group.
As you can see, even the main respiratory muscle is part of the core.
There is no specific way to train this muscle (at least in a workout session), but this goes to show just how many muscles are part of the core and why it is important to train the entire core, not only the abs.
When people train ‘abs’ they mostly think about the rectus abdominis and at the very most the obliques.
It is said that the following three muscles are part of the core as well:
We personally feel like considering these muscles as part of the core is a bit of an over-exaggeration.
However, we’ve included them in this article just so that you can have your own take on this matter.
Now that we’ve glanced over the muscles that make up the core, it’s time to see what is the function of this area.
You will see how developing a stronger core will increase our performance, decrease lower back pain, and give us a boost in confidence.
There are two reasons why a strong core is needed in sports:
Regardless of the exercise, the stronger our core is, the better our stability is.
Stability will allow us to perform movements using a full range of motion while at the same time maintaining good form throughout the movement.
This is especially important with compound movements.
You may find yourself in the position of doing weighted pull-ups and, even though you have the necessary strength to keep pulling, you will literally feel the core losing tension and your performance/strength will decrease.
In handstands, the core has to be tight at all times to prevent injury and help with balance.
If you lack core tension then you’ll do what’s called a banana handstand and a lot of unnecessary pressure will be placed on the lower back.
Another function of the core is to keep the body in as good a posture as possible, so that it can function at maximum capacity.
Issues such as the anterior pelvic tilt may arise as a byproduct of having a weak core, glutes, and hamstrings.
The anterior pelvic tilt leads to lower back pain due to an increased arch in the lower back.
Oftentimes people train the abs while ignoring the lower back. That leads to imbalances that can and will affect them further down the road.
What’s even worse is that they do it to get a neat, shredded six-pack but they don’t even do it right. Let’s have a look on why that is.
As with a lot of things in the fitness industry, there are some common misconceptions that lead people astray when it comes to their ab training.
Being aware of these will save you a lot of time and effort that can be used in better ways:
One of the greatest misconceptions surrounding this area is the fact that having a visible, perhaps even shredded, six-pack is a hallmark of a strong core.
That may or may not be true.
Having good looking abs does not necessarily mean that you have a strong core.
A better way to showcase that would be performing a gymnastics core workout.
What we mean to say is that everybody can have a six-pack with the correct diet and discipline.
Which leads us to the next point…
Again, this may or may not be true.
The most important factor for having good looking washboard abs is not doing a core workout every single day or even doing it every other day.
That will help out...
However, there are two ways to achieve better looking abdominals faster:
The right diet combined with cardio exercise will help decrease your body fat percentage.
What you should be aware of however, is that there is no...
“All I need is to get rid of this belly.”
It doesn’t work like this.
When losing fat, you should be aware that it will not be targeted.
You cannot decrease the fat in you buttocks only, or only on your belly.
When you lose fate, it is a process throughout your whole body. Regardless of whether you’re doing a core workout or a hundred push-ups.
Indeed the muscles that are getting worked out get more toned, but the fat percentage drops throughout the whole body.
Now that you have a general idea of what the deal is with this whole ‘core training’ concept, we can go ahead and have a look over the best core exercises. Below this section are a couple core routines readily available. However knowing what the best exercises are and how to correctly do them will help you in designing you own routine.
If you don’t want to design your own routine, we still encourage you to quickly glance over this section as it will provide information on how to correctly perform each exercise.
One of the best ways to get your strength to the next level is through using isometric exercises. You should incorporate these into your own core routine for increased strength and stability. Exercises in which your muscles aren’t changing in length, even though fully tensed, are regarded as isometric exercises.
These are the best core isometric exercises with their levels of intensity and different variations.
We’ve all heard of this exercise. The plank helps in building your core’s strength, stability and endurance. To do it get into a push-up position but with your forearms on the floor. Focus on tensing the glutes and straightening the lower back for increased difficulty.
1. Keep a straight line from your heels to the crown of your head
2. Do not look up or ahead but at the floor
3. Strive to keep your hips in line with the rest of your body; do not let them drop or stick your butt up
Level 1: Push-up plank
Level 2: Forearm plank
Level 3: Forearm plank with protracted scapula
Level 4: Extended forearm plank
Level 5: Extended push-up plank
Protracting the scapula in a plank will not only work the aforementioned core muscles but also the serratus anterior muscles.
1. Side plank
2. Reverse plank
3. One legged plank
There are lots of variations for this exercise. However I don’t really find them useful. The best thing anyone can do is stick with the basics and keep exercising simple. There is no need for a one-leg, one-arm, elevated reverse side plank. That is just too much.
The hollow body hold (HBH) is a staple exercise in gymnastics and there’s a good reason for it. Once you reach the advanced level in this movement, it mimics the hollow position needed in a perfect form handstand.
The handstand is one of the fundamental skills in gymnastics and even though you may not want to train this skill per se, reaching an advanced level in the hollow body position will ensure that you have a crazy strong core.
1. Keep your lower back in contact with the ground at all times
2. Your leg muscles and abs will naturally be fully contracted. Strive to keep them contracted throughout the hold
3. Do not overextend your head (do not stick it out through the shoulders)
Level 1: Tuck HBH - keep your lower back in contact with the floor and your legs up with bent knees
Level 2: Straddle HBH – lower back is touching the floor at all times while the legs are in front of you, apart (straddle)
Level 3: Full HBH – keep your legs together and your lower back on the floor. To make the progression harder extend your arms over your head
There are not so many variations when it comes to the hollow body position. You could do some kind of a hybrid HBH to especially target the lateral of your abdominal area, however this may also be a feat of balance (how well you can balance your body before rolling over).
Once you reach a 45-60 second hold of the full HBH, you can go ahead and add just a bit of weight on your legs and arms. That should increase the intensity by quite a lot.
The L-sit is a great exercise to add into your core workout routine. Not only is it a cool skill, but proficiency at this one movement will guarantee a strong core – just as with the hollow body position. Besides, it can be advanced to an even improved, awesome exercise, the V-sit hold.
Let’s start with the basics.
You should know that the L-sit also works the depression strength of your scapula, the hip flexors and a bit of the triceps. Way to do a full body workout with a single exercise!
1. Do not shrug. Avoid shrugging by pressing on the floor, or parallel bars, to depress the scapula
2. Keep your arms fully locked, making sure not to bend at the elbows
Level 1: Tuck L-sit – take the L-sit position with your thighs at an approximate angle of 45 degrees from your torso
Level 2: One leg L-sit – assume the tuck L-sit position but this time keep one of the legs straight
Level 3: Full L-sit
You should know that there are more progressions after these but for the purpose of this article, this is more than enough. The progressions that follow are gymnastics specific, helping with transitions from an L-sit to handstand or moving into the V-sit progression.
If you are interested in gymnastics or high level calisthenics, there will be an article regarding the next progressions in the future. However for the sole purpose of the core workout article, the full L-sit is the final and ideal level.
There are no variations to the L-sit that can target more of an area than others (e.g. the difference between a plank and a side plank). There is a slight difference if you hold the position on parallettes, parallel bars, dumbbells, etc., versus holding it on the floor.
The floor version is just a bit harder as it will require more scapular depression strength so that you can lift your whole weight off the ground.
One last exercise I want to add to this section is the superman hold. This movement focuses on the back area of the core more than, for example, a plank would.
To start this exercise, lie on your belly on the floor or a yoga mat. Raise your legs, chest, and arms off the floor and hold that contraction.
1. Squeeze your glutes, quads and lower back
2.Don’t lose tension in any of the mentioned areas
The exercise cannot be changed in intensity by a lot. What you can do if you find it hard to hold the position, is bend your arms at the elbow and hold the position that way instead of keeping your arms fully extended.
There are not any variations for this exercise either. However, working with the basic variation will bring a lot of good results and you really don’t need more than that one variation.
As we are able to see, there are lots of options when it comes to core exercises. Even though I’ve presented just four exercises, adding the variations together will lead to seven or eight that you can choose from.
Let’s check out some dynamic exercises so we can incorporate some range of motion in your core workout routine.
Depending on your level you can start with hanging knee raises or even hanging leg raises. The latter is a harder progression but it will engage the core even more.
1. Maintain a posterior pelvic tilt to engage and keep the abs tensed at all times
2. Focus on controlling the movement so there is no swing
Level 1: Knee raises with back support
Level 2: Knee raises with no support
Level 3: Leg raises with back support
Level 4: Leg raises
If you have something or someone to support your back the exercise will get easier, as you’ll no longer have to focus on not swinging. With time, however, you will want to move away from the support and slowly work your way towards the harder progression.
1. Side knee raises
2. Floor variation
3. Parallel bars variation
There are not so many variations available for hanging raises. The only one that changes the movement is the side knee raises that will target the oblique muscles more.
Both the knee and the leg raises can be done on the floor, hanging, or on the parallel bars. In my experience the one that works best is the hanging variation, as it requires more muscle engagement to control the movement and prevent swinging.
For me, this exercise is one of the best out there as it targets the core muscles really well (especially the rectus abdominis). Importantly, if you suffer from anterior pelvic tilt, this exercise is a great addition.
People who have an anteriorly tilted pelvis should avoid engaging their hip flexors in movements that could strengthen them. This being said the parallel bar crunch does not involve the hip flexors at all – it is a pure, raw core exercise.
1. Keep your elbows locked as much as possible
2. Focus on tensing the abdominals when doing the movement, instead of lifting your butt
There are no progressions for this exercise so we cannot discuss intensity. The only way you could increase the demands of the parallel bar crunch would be to use additional weight such as a weighted vest.
1. Parallel bar twists
To do this variation, twist your body to one side when doing a repetition. Doing the movement in this manner will focus most of the effort on the side of your abs instead of the rectus abdominis.
There are so many people that do not know the benefits of reverse hyperextensions it makes me (slightly) angry. This is by far one of the most beneficial accessory exercises that anyone who practices bodyweight fitness should incorporate in their core routine.
To do this exercise lie on a bench – or any elevated surface for that matter – on your stomach, having the edge of the bench just above your hips. Now choose from below the intensity that you can work with and raise your legs until your body forms a straight line from head to toe.
1. Do a posterior pelvic tilt so that you have as much of a straight lower back as possible (a slight arch is natural given that you are lying on your belly)
2. Control the movement as much as possible
3. Only extend at the hips and do not compensate by arching the lower back
Level 1: Tuck position to full extension
Level 2: Full extension position to full extension position
2. Straddle position
3.Legs together position
The variation that you’re going to choose depends on whether you have specific goals such as front lever, back lever, or planche. If you’re working on a straddle position in any of the exercises, then doing the reverse hyperextensions with that variation will help out a lot.
If you don’t have any body weight strength exercises that you’re working towards, you can choose whichever variation fits you best. The tuck is the easiest one, while the one in which you hold your legs together is the most difficult.
Scissors is a great exercise that can be done pretty much anywhere. All you have to do is lay on your back with the hands under your butt, lift your legs and move them up and down. To increase the difficulty of the exercise do the posterior pelvic tilt which will ensure that you isolate the core.
The leg raise is the floor variation of the hanging leg raise. Even though it does not require as much stabilization, it is still a great exercise that can be performed anywhere.
If you are tired of the isometric version of the plank, you can make it more appealing using this dynamic version. Take the plank position then rock your body from side to side. It’s an overall great core exercise as it focuses on multiple ranges of motion, increasing the strength in each area.
Now that we’ve discussed some great core exercises, common misconceptions, and cleared out the clutter when it comes to abdominal and core training, it’s time to put together a couple of core workouts.
Do these workouts as cycles. That means that you will complete one exercise, take a short 30 second break, then go right into the next exercise. When you’re done with all of them, take a 1-2 minute break and then begin again. Do this for a total of 3-4 cycles.
For each exercise choose the intensity that fits you best and strive to progress every single workout. You can add more time or increase the intensity.
As you can see, the exercises presented above can easily be combined into a routine. What you may want to have in mind – even though it’s not necessarily a rule – is the balance aspect of it. Even though the core muscles are worked together, there are some muscles that work more than others.
For this very reason, you would not want a routine only focused on exercises that mainly engage the rectus abodminis. Strive to add at least one oblique (side) exercise and a back exercise (reverse hyperextensions or superman hold).
Let’s have a look at a routine that combines both dynamic and isometric exercises.
In this routine the number of cycles and rest times stay the same. We’ll only change the exercises.
You may notice that I am trying to keep a balanced routine as much as possible. There are two exercises that mainly focus on the front part, two for the back and two for the sides. As long as you have this balance in mind, you can play around adding whatever exercises and the routine will be good.
In this article we’ve went ahead and debunked some of the most common misconceptions regarding core training, the difference between core and abs, and also glanced over the muscles that comprise the core.
Now you have a base of the best exercises you can implement in your core workout routine, as well as a few pre-made workouts.
Having a strong core is not easy but it’s truly a goal we should all strive to achieve. Over to you.