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.
What you need: An exercise mat for comfort.
A Few Exercise Mats We Like
- 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.)