Core Exercises for Health, Rehab, and Fitness

The term “core” refers to not just your abs, but the tissues and structures around them as well. Your core includes the abdominal muscles, the multifidus, pelvic floor, diaphragm, and more. While many people seek out core and ab exercises because they aspire to a flat, well-defined midsection, they often miss out on the greater benefits. Your core is responsible for stability and force transfer and can help to prevent and rehabilitate injuries, as well as promote long term health, regardless of whether you are a high-performance athlete or a wellness enthusiast.

Try out the exercises below to get started. Start with the easiest version, and work your way up the progressions if you are ready for more of a challenge. Don’t push yourself too quickly, and ensure that you maintain good movement. Practice breathing with your entire trunk, from your diaphragm to your lower belly, but don’t allow your ribs to flare outwards. Keep your shoulders from tensing up towards your ears by relaxing them downwards, and maintain a neutral, spine-elongating head position.

None of these exercises require equipment, so you can easily perform them at home. Pick just two exercises per day, and complete them at the end of a workout or just on their own.

  1. Plank

Targets core stability and muscular endurance.

Place your palms and feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Use your core and hips to maintain this position for as long as you can keep up good posture. Repeat for 3-5 sets.

Progression 1: Rest on your forearms instead of your palms.

Progression 2: Maintaining position, slowly bring one knee towards your chest, then return to an extended position. Basically mountain climbers, but with more control.

Alternating sides, repeat 10x/side.

Extra Challenge: Maintain the basic position, but add other movements, such as walking your hands or feet or by lifting a hand or foot to balance on fewer points.

  1. Side Plank

Targets hips, core stability, shoulders, and muscular endurance.

Start on your side, with one palm on the ground and stacked under your shoulder; keep your knees together and slightly bent, with your feet stacked. Perform a rep by raising your hips from the floor and extending so that your body forms a straight line. Repeat 10x/side for 3-5 sets.

Progression 1: The more horizontal your body is and the less your knees are bent, the harder this exercise becomes. Try resting on your forearm and straightening your legs. Repeat 10x/side for 3-5 sets.

Progression 2: With your forearm on the ground and knees slightly bent, raise and extend your hips so that your body forms a straight line, and hold this position for 10 seconds. Lower, and then repeat 5-8 times each side for 3-5 sets.

Extra Challenge: Add variation such as knee, hip, or shoulder variation, and try to hold positions longer.

  1. Dead Bug

Targets core, hip mobility, and muscular endurance.

Start by lying on your back, extending your arms toward the ceiling, and with your legs bent 90 degrees, hip-width apart. Keeping your lower back pressed into the floor, slowly drop your left arm overhead while also extending your right leg straight. Only lower as far as is comfortable for you. Bring your arm and legs back to the starting position, then repeat for alternating sides.  Repeat 8-12x/side, for 3-5 sets.

Progression 1: Hold a light weight in both hands, and lower it overhead as you extend one leg at a time. Repeat 8-12x/side, for 3-5 sets.

Progression 2: Try lowering both arms overhead at the same time as extending both of your legs.  Repeat 5-8x/side, for 3-5 sets.

Extra Challenge: Trying adjusting the weight in your hands, by placing a small medicine ball between your knees, or by holding the extended positions for 5-10 seconds.

Remember to start easy and challenge yourself only when you’re ready. Your core is an important part of your body that helps you move effectively and healthily, so try these exercises at home or at the gym, and see how much the benefits transfer to other aspects of your life, whether they are athletic pursuits, daily activities, or long term health.