A Core Strength Workout for Beginners That Will Teach You How to Fire Up Your Abs

We get it: Core training can be intimidating, since there are a bunch of core muscles and even more core exercises to work them. The antidote? A core strength workout for beginners with just four moves that will teach you how to fire up your midsection with simple-yet-effective exercises.

First though, let’s talk about what your core even is. Your core does include your rectus abdominis, the muscles which run vertically along the front of your abdomen, but it also is comprised of lots of other muscles too, like your obliques (the muscles on the sides of your torso), and transverse abdominis (the deepest core muscles that sit beneath your obliques), as well as your glutes, pelvic floor, and the muscles that stabilize your spine and hips.

Now, why does core strength even matter? For one, your core helps transfer power from your lower half to your upper half and vice versa, NASM-certified personal trainer Alicia Jamison, C.P.T., trainer at Bodyspace Fitness in New York City, tells SELF. The stronger your core, the more power can be shared, and the better you can perform movements.

Say, for example, you do a push-up. A strong core will transfer the power your upper body generates from pushing up off the ground into your hips. As a result, your lower body will be in ideal positioning—i.e. strong and elevated, instead of sagging towards the floor. That means less energy leak and a more efficient exercise.

Another important job your core has is providing a stable foundation for movements. Jamison gives the analogy of squatting on sand versus squatting on concrete. You’re going to feel stronger and more stable squatting in the latter scenario, and that’s the difference a strong core can make.

Your core also plays a vital role in protecting your spine from injury, since your core surrounds your spine “like a corset,” says Jamison. The stronger your core muscles, the more protection your spine has, both when performing movements at the gym and everyday tasks. Moreover, a strong core simply helps you move about day-to-day life with efficiency and ease, whether you’re power walking to work, hauling groceries to your fifth-floor walk-up, or lifting a squirming toddler.

Okay, so how do you go about engaging and ultimately strengthening these core muscles? There are two main ways: through movement, or dynamic exercises, and anti-movement. In dynamic exercises, your core engages as it moves, like in a crunch. With anti-movement exercises, your core engages to resists motion, like in a plank. 

You can think of anti-movement exercises as your “baseline core moves,” says Jamison. They are a great choice for beginners since they come with a lower risk of injury than dynamic movements, says Jamison.

With that in mind, Jamison created the following 12-minute core strength workout for beginners. It’s just four bodyweight moves—three of which are anti-movement and one (the Russian twist) that is a low-risk dynamic movement. Two of the moves—dead bug and leg lift—are performed on your back, which Jamison says is the safest position to perform core work. This position can also help beginners more easily engage their midsection since the floor can serve as a helpful cue: You know your core is engaged if your low back stays pressed into the ground.

Feeling ready to seriously fire up your core? Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about a safe and effective core strength workout for beginners.

The Workout

What you need: An exercise mat for comfort.

A Few Exercise Mats We Like

Manduka PROlite Yoga Mat

This latex-free yoga mat has a unique fabric-like surface and is also made of a “closed-cell” material, which helps prevent sweat and moisture from soaking into the mat. Bonus: It comes in 12 fun colors.
Manduka ProLite provides the perfect amount of cushion and the ability to be folded without the bulk. It’s light and easy to carry. In addition, the material is super supportive and easy to clean. —Nicole Winhoffer, founder of NW Method in New York City
Manduka mats are my absolute favorite yoga mat because they offer comfort and support without being too ‘fluffy.’ You want to be able to feel the ground beneath you rather than having the feeling like you are balancing on marshmallows. I find that the Manduka mats are also the best for hand and foot grip. When things get sweaty, you want to feel that sense of security. —Kara Duval, Pilates instructor in Boston
The PROlite has ultra-dense cushioning, so it provides all the support and stability you need during your practice. It’s also easy to clean and seals out moisture. It’s a standard, but reliable mat. —Mandy Ingber, celebrity yoga instructor and author of Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover 
I personally use the Manduka Pro Lite DAILY. It is such a sturdy mat that I have used throughout the pandemic to support my personal practice. I also use it when I teach on zoom. I practiced on the carpet and on the hard floor and I had an amazing experience. The Manduka mats are also easy to clean. —Amanda Gloria Valdes, master yoga instructor based in New York
Available in 71″ and 79″.

JadeYoga Harmony Mat

Made of natural rubber for extra grip and nearly a quarter of an inch thick, this mat is also great for giving a charitable boost: For every mat sold, JadeYoga will plant a tree. And if you purchase certain colors, some of the proceeds will be donated to a cancer charity.
Jade won my heart—and my dollars—because it is not too heavy and never slips off the floor. (It is absurd that any yoga mat slips, slides, or bunches up for every Upward Dog, but many do.) It is a great weight: heavy enough not to move, but light enough not to hurt my back carrying it. —H.K.
This is a great mat with excellent grip! I recommend it for power or hot classes that tend to steam up a room and have you in downward dog with sweat dripping out of you. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but if you’re looking for a long-lasting mat to withstand the test of time, this is a great choice. Plus, since Jade mats come from trees, they decided to give back by planting a tree for every mat sold! —Kelley Green, certified International Yoga Instructor in New York City
Available in 68″ and 74″.

Lululemon The Reversible Mat

This reversible mat has a natural rubber base and a polyurethane top layer that absorbs moisture, making it a great pick for sweatier practices. It also comes in a wide range of fun colors (the mat is typically solid on one side and features a pattern on the other).
The Reversible Mat is super grippy and has just the right thickness. —Neda Honarvar, certified yoga instructor and founder of Tough Love Yoga in Atlanta
Available in 71″.


  • Dead bug
  • Forearm side plank hip dip
  • Leg lift
  • Russian twist


  • Do each exercise for 30 seconds, then rest 30 seconds before moving onto the next exercise. Do the entire circuit three times total. Try not to take any extra rest in between rounds. (Of course, if you feel your form beginning to falter, you should rest as needed.)


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