What if I told you that you can sculpt a stronger core without moving a single muscle?
I know that sounds like a bold promise – I’ll show you how this is possible with six different exercises, below – but first I am going to tell you why building core strength this way is important.
A lot of times people recommend doing sit-ups as one of the go-to abdominal exercises. The problem with that is sit-ups:
- Put a huge amount of stress on the spine
- Only strengthen the eight-pack muscles, the rectus abdominis, and
- Creates muscular imbalances, which can lead to postural issues and all sorts of other things.
Core Strength and Tension Development
My no-movement exercises work because of tension development, the key to core training.
The first exercise we’re going to do is a breathing exercise. It may look simple, but it’s going to teach your core how to brace, which is vital for the following movements.
To start, lie on the floor on your stomach, your arms in front of you, hands stacked one on top of the other, directly beneath your forehead. Your forehead should be gently pressing against the back of the top hand.
Now, inhale, pushing the belly button into the floor. And then exhale, drawing the belly button up toward the spine. From here, raise your pelvic floor, almost like you’re squeezing and doing a Kegel at the same time. Hold for 5 seconds.
Repeat for several breaths: inhale, press the belly button down; exhale, draw the belly button up.
During the exhale when you’re raising your belly button, that’s going to activate your transverse abdominis muscle, which is the natural waist belt inside your core.
This is an important breathing exercise to begin to train some of your deeper core muscles, which are so often neglected.
When you’re raising the pelvic floor as you’re drawing the belly button up, it creates more compression and more stabilization in your core.
That’s an important core strengthening exercise to start with because it’s a basic brace or contraction you want to have in the following exercises.
2. The Bird Dog
Next, we’re going to do a static bird dog, which requires no movement once you get into position.
To get into that position, you want to get on all fours on the floor, with your hands directly under your shoulders, your knees under your hips. Your spine should be neutral from your head to your tailbone while you draw in the abdominals and raise your pelvic floor.
Next, contract everything as your right leg extends directly behind you and your left arm lifts out to the side in alignment with your shoulder, your elbow at 90 degrees so your fist is in line with the top of your head.
Hold that position for 30 seconds. Now, you don’t want to just hang out — you want to fully contract all of your muscles from your fingertips through your core, all the way down your right glute to your leg and foot.
Make sure you’re not twisting: you’re square to the floor, body nice and level.
It’s a heavy amount of work. In fact, you should feel your body generating heat because your core is working to stabilize.
Once you’re done with 30 seconds on one side, we’ll switch sides so that the left leg extends behind you while the right arm comes up to the side.
When I do this, I get slightly out of breath, even though all I am doing is contracting my muscles.
I talk about this a lot, as the importance of muscle activation is a hugely neglected component to most people’s core workouts. Let me give you a perfect example with the next exercise for core strength.
3. The Plank
You may have been told that the plank is good, right?
I’m going to suggest you try a new approach to this popular abdominal exercise by really focusing on the core muscles.
The first thing is to get into plank position.
To do that, lie on the floor on your stomach, elbows directly below your shoulders, feet about hip-width apart.
Lift your upper body off the floor by popping up onto your knees, and then lift the knees off the floor, pushing into your heels, shrugging your quadriceps up the front part of your thighs, toward your hip bones.
So, that’s level one. Now what I want you to do is draw the belly button in and contract all of the muscles around your core. That is going to activate more muscle and make the plank a lot more challenging.
The key, especially in these static positions, is to activate your muscles appropriately. Most people don’t do that, and they waste their time with exercises like the plank, where they’re just hanging out and not getting the full benefit.
4. The Side Plank
Let’s do the same thing with the side plank.
To get into a side plank position, roll onto your left side and place your left elbow directly under your left shoulder. Align your body in a straight line, and then lift your hips off the floor.
You can support your body from the knees if you’re a beginner, or you can go from the feet if you’re more advanced.
Again, don’t just hang out. Make your body long as you contract the muscles around your core. And then if you want even more of a challenge, lift your right arm up directly toward the ceiling.
5. Dead Bug
For this next core strengthening exercise, you’re going to lie on your back. Your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, which makes it look like you’re about to do one of the most popular abdominal exercises of all time: the sit-up.
But instead, what you’re going to do is lift your legs so that your knees are directly over your hips, your shins parallel to the floor.
Next, press your hands into your thighs, with your thighs pushing back into the hands, holding an isometric contraction.
Draw your belly button down to activate those core muscles. Hold that for about ten seconds and relax. You can do that a couple reps, ten seconds on, a couple seconds off, and repeat for a couple rounds.
Note: for a harder variation of this exercise, check out The 9 Best Stability Ball Exercises for Core Training.
6. Squat with Extended Arms
With this core exercise you can add a light weight, 5 or 10 pounds at the most.
All you’re going to do is get into a squat position. You’ll want your feet facing directly in front of you, knees bent at 90 degrees, chest up, chin neutral.
Note: In this picture I’m not holding a dumbbell but YOU will be.
The difference here from a regular squat, though, is that you are going to extend your arms directly in front of your shoulders, holding a weight (or not).
It’s really important that you do this with a strong abdominal brace.
All you’re doing is sitting back on the heels and holding the weight out. When you do this, there’s a huge amount of activation through the pillar of your trunk.
If you enjoyed these core strengthening exercises, and are eager to take your core to the next level, then grab my FREE report called The Flat Stomach Secret. It’s packed with 7 unknown ways to help you lose belly fat and get amazing abs. Click the banner below to get it.
Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.