Core vs. Abs: Is there a difference?
While it’s important to work your abs, your abdominal muscles are just a small part of the front of your body. However, your core is made up of over 20 muscles that are responsible for having better balance, better posture and can even reduce back pain! Strengthening your core can help you improve on many beloved activities like golfing, tennis, swimming, and more!
Here are some of our favorite core exercises, broken down into beginner, intermediate, and advanced routines.
Deadbug – Don’t let the name fool you. This exercise targets the lower core, an area that most sit ups and crunches never reach. Begin laying face up with your arms extended towards the ceiling and your legs in a tabletop position, knees bent at 90 degrees and in line with the hip joints. This is your starting position. Extend your right arm back and your left leg out simultaneously, keeping your low back pressed against the floor the entire time. Return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Don’t forget to breathe!
Beginner: This exercise is tougher than it looks. If you’re just beginning, try getting in the starting position and just extend the arms, and then just extend the legs. Every time you practice, see if you can do one leg and one arm simultaneously. Remember, don’t let your low back off the ground! This can cause unnecessary back pain. Start with 10 total reps, 2-3 rounds.
Intermediate: Grab a yoga ball and get into your starting tabletop position. Place the ball on the tops of your thighs and your triceps resting on top of the ball. Perform the exercise, extending your arm and leg simultaneously, and don’t let the ball drop or shift. This requires a new level of stability. Try for 10 total reps, 3 rounds.
Advanced: Grab a yoga ball and perform the exercise like described in the intermediate section – only you’re also going to wrap a resistance band around the soles of your feet, adding that extra bit of resistance to the mix. Try for 10 total reps, 3 rounds.
Plank – The plank position is one of the best ways to strengthen and challenge your core, along with your gluts, back, and abs. There are many ways to change it up to meet you where you’re at, but here are the basics:
Start on all fours with your weight distributed evenly. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders with your chest in line between your thumbs. Make sure your weight is not sinking into your hips. Step the feet backwards, one at a time, weight on the toes into your plank position. Your weight should still feel even, with your shoulders in line with your hands and your focus forward, keeping the spine in a direct line. Be careful not to arch or tuck the pelvis.
Beginner: Use your knees to balance in the plank position instead of your feet. You may also lower your hands and use your forearms instead. This takes some pressure off of the wrist joint. Hold for 30 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds.
Intermediate: Hold the plank on your hands and toes and challenge yourself each day with time. First start with 30 seconds, and work your way up each time by 5-10 second increments.
Advanced: There are a lot of ways to kick your planks up a notch: you can add some weight to the thick of your back, which adds resistance, add shoulder taps, making sure your hips stay stable and facing front, you can add a push up and on the push movement, bring your elbow to the opposite knee. There are lots of ways to continue building on the plank.
Row Boat, or “Russian Twist” – You may have seen this exercise in a fitness routine before, but we’re going bring it back to the basics. This is used a lot as an oblique strengthening exercise (the ab muscles on the sides that can make a “V” shape). These muscles are an important part of our overall core. Start by laying on the ground with your spine in neutral alignment (no tucking the pelvis or arching the back) and your knees bent, in line with the sits bones. Keeping the legs together, contract and lift them off the floor until they form a 45~ degree angle with your torso. Using your core, bring your upper body off the floor and clasp your hands in front of you. Twist from one side to the other, keeping your hips as still as possible, only moving the core from one direction to the other.
Beginner: Instead of having your hands clasped in front of you, place them underneath your hips on the floor for extra support. You can also keep your knees bent, but heels gently placed on the ground. Work your way up to the 45 degree angle. Perform 10 repetitions on each side, 3 rounds.
Intermediate: Straighten your legs out for more of a challenge, targeting the lower core which is a pesky place to get to! Perform for 15 reps each side, 3 rounds.
Advanced: Use the intermediate cue by trying to stretch your legs out, and grab a light – medium sized weight in your hands, adding resistance. If you’re feeling super strong, you can even add a light-medium weight between the soles of your feet and challenge your legs too, making this a full body workout. Perform for 20 reps each side, 3 rounds.
Don’t forget to breathe and don’t shift your hips to move from side to side!
Hovers – Start on all fours with your weight distributed evenly. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders with your chest in line between your thumbs. Make sure your weight is not sinking into your hips. Inhale to start and on the exhale, press into the floor with your hands and hover your knees above the ground.
Beginner: Count to 5 and lower back down. Rest for 10 seconds, and repeat 4 rounds.
Intermediate: Count to 10 and lower back down. Rest for 5 seconds, and repeat 4 rounds.
Advanced: Perform with a shoulder tap, shifting to bring the right arm to the opposite shoulder and back down, bring the left arm up and tap the opposite shoulder, and back down. Repeat for 10 total taps, 3-4 rounds.