by: Yuri Elkaim

The 4 Best Core Strengthening Exercises for Beginners

Your core muscles deserve some love.

Wrapping around your entire midsection, they work hard to keep you upright, balanced, and mobile. They form the “core” of all your strength.

Plus, they have the potential to look pretty great.

That “looking great” aspect is why so many people focus on their core when they first start working out.

Unfortunately, there is a ton of misinformation out there about the best way to work the core (which includes your abs, your back, and your hips) including what kind of exercises you should be doing.

I’m going to break it down here for you so that you can get incredible results, fast – and also so you can give your core the right kind of attention it deserves.

The Problematic Crunch

First, we need to deal with one of the most persistent and common pieces of bad information when it comes to abdominal exercises: crunches.

Despite what you may have heard, crunches are most definitely not the best exercise for the core and are not on my list of the best core strengthening exercises for beginners.

For one thing, people generally do crunches all wrong. In fact, even when done with strict, correct form, the crunch represents an unnatural and awkward movement for the human spine.

Beginners and people dealing with back injuries should absolutely avoid crunches.

[Related: The 10 Worst Ab Exercises That Waste Your Time and Kill Your Spine]

But I dislike the crunch for another very important reason: It doesn’t work well.

While your core has the ability to perform that crunching movement, that isn’t its primary purpose. As mentioned, your core is mainly tasked with overseeing your stability and balance – which the crunch does not improve in any way.

Even when it comes to weight loss and developing a six-pack, crunches fall short.

By using a small movement to focus on a relatively small muscle group, crunches burn very few calories. And that means that they do very little to help you lose weight.

In general, then, I do not recommend crunches.

Core Strengthening Exercises for Beginners

Now, let’s get into the exercises I do recommend.

Once we cover these, I’ll show you how to chain them together into an effective workout.

Bird Dogs

Yuri Elkaim doing Bird Dog Exercise part 1

Begin on your hands and knees, with a neutral spine and a tight core.

Yuri Elkaim doing Bird Dog Exercise Part 2

In one movement, lift your left arm – bent to 90 degrees at the elbow – and your right leg off the ground. When your arm and leg are parallel to the ground,  hold the position for five seconds, keeping your core and glutes strong.

Slowly return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Plank

Yuri Elkaim doing a plank

This one is a “must” on any list of classic core strengthening exercises for beginners because it works.

Begin on the floor, supporting your weight on your elbows, which should be directly under your shoulders. Extend your legs straight out behind you, as you press into your heels.

Tighten your core and keep your back straight. Hold this position.

If this is too challenging to do with your knees elevated, you can drop your knees to the floor and hold from that position, being sure to keep your core engaged.

Side Plank

Yuri Elkaim doing a side plank

Lie on your side, with your weight on your right elbow, which should be aligned directly under your right shoulder, and your knees bent. Tighten your core and lift your hips off the ground. Hold this position.

Switch sides when the rep is complete. To make this more challenging, perform the plank with straight legs.

Glute Bridge

Glute Bridge Core Exercise Part 1

 

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.

Yuri Elkaim doing Glute Bridge Part 2

Tighten your glutes and lift your hips off the floor. 

At the highest position, there should be a straight line from your knees all the way to your shoulders. Be careful not to “crunch” your neck by shrugging your shoulders up toward your ears. Hold the contraction for five seconds before returning the to starting position.

To make this more challenging, perform the movement as described but lift your right leg off the floor when you reach the top of the bridge, keeping your glute muscles engaged. Return your right leg to the ground and then lift your left leg. Return to the starting position.

Core Strengthening Routine for Beginners

Here’s a great little circuit that will challenge your core safely and effectively:

  • Bird-dogs – 10-12 reps
  • Plank – 30 seconds
  • Side Plank – 30 seconds each side
  • Glute Bridge – 10–12 reps

Recover for 1 minute, repeat the circuit 2 more times

Mind-Muscle Connection

In order to make sure that you benefit as much a possible from this core strengthening workout, you have to put your mind into your muscle.

Throughout all of these exercises, it’s important to apply the principle of abdominal bracing. This involves tightening your core and pulling your your belly button to give your lower back added support.

If any of these exercises make you feel pain or discomfort in your lower back make sure that your core is properly braced and that you’re doing the movements deliberately.

[Related: The 14 Best Ab Exercises for a Rock Solid Core]

Of course, you’ll also need to check your form. If both of these things are in order and the pain remains, stop the exercise and give yourself a chance to recover.

Core Work that Works

These core exercises will give your body a strong foundation of strength, hitting your muscles from all directions.

Obviously, if having a visible six-pack is a goal, you’ll also have to make sure that your nutrition is in order so that your body fat is low enough that your ab muscles can peek through.

But these exercises will go a long way toward helping you achieve that goal.

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Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim

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.