There’s more to a strong stomach than a million sit-ups—and this beginner core workout is here to prove it. It’s a quick six-move series that targets all 360 degrees of your midsection—from your rectus abdominis (those are your “six-pack” muscles) to your obliques (a.k.a. side abs) to your back (yep, it’s part of your core too!).
I chose these moves to target a variety of different abdominal muscles and to work both major core muscles as well as stabilizer muscles. (Stabilizer muscles, just FYI, include your pelvic floor, transverse abdominis, and diaphragm—none of which you can see looking at your stomach, but all of which play a major supporting roll in helping your trunk move as efficiently as possible.)
What’s more, I’ve included non-traditional moves to show just how many different ways you can work your core. These exercises, in particular, are easy to scale down if your core needs a little extra love—and ramp up if you’re ready for more burn.
One final pro tip to keep in mind: Make sure that you coordinate your breath with the movement. Exhale with the exertion, or when the effort is the most challenging.
Time: 10 minutes
Good for: Core
Instructions: Go through each exercise below in order. Complete the indicated reps and then continue to the next move. Once you’ve completed all six, rest for 30 seconds and then repeat the entire circuit once more. Tack this one onto the end of another workout (or do it on its own!) at least three times a week.
1. Weather Vane
Target: Rectus abdominus (RA), obliques, transversus abdominus (TA), erector spinae
How to: Begin on all fours, with palms flat on the floor (fingers facing forward) and wrists and elbows directly beneath shoulders. Knees should be directly below hips and neck should be long and neutral. Engage core, then slowly extend right arm forward and left leg back until both are parallel with the floor. This is your start position. With control, reach right arm out to the right side and left leg out to the left as far as possible while keeping back flat and level. Reverse and return to start position. That’s one rep. Perform 15 reps on each side.
Modifications: Make this move easier on your balance by reaching extended arm out to the side and returning to starting position before reaching extended leg.
2. Tabletop Knee Taps
Target: RA, TA, low back
How to: Start on all fours with palms flat on the floor (fingers facing forward) and wrists and elbows directly beneath shoulders. Knees should be directly below hips with toes tucked and pressed into the mat. Keep neck long and neutral. This is your start position. With core tight, lift knees up off the mat so that hips are in line with shoulders. Hover for one to two seconds, then release knees to the ground. That’s one rep. Perform 15.
Modifications: Increase the difficulty of this move by holding hover for longer.
3. Single Leg Stretch
How to: Lie on back with left leg extended straight in air, just above mat, and head and shoulders curled up off floor to hug right knee to chest with arms. Keeping left leg straight, hover left foot a few inches off the ground. This is your starting position. Slowly and with control, release and straighten right leg to hover above the floor, while bending left knee in towards chest and wrapping hands around left shin. That’s one rep. Perform 15.
Modifications: To make this one easier, rest foot of extended leg on the floor.
4. Modified Plank Holds
Target: RA, TA, obliques, low back
How to: Start in a forearm plank with knees on floor, shoulders should be over elbows and body should form a straight line from shoulders to knees. Hold for one to two seconds, then push hips back to bring shoulders a few inches behind elbows to rest for a breathe. That’s one rep. Perform 15.
Modifications: To up the challenge of this move, increase time in the modified plank position and decrease (or eliminate) the break.
5. Toe Taps
How to: Start lying on back with arms on the floor at sides, palms facing down, and legs in air (knees over hips) bent at 90 degrees. Keeping core tight and back pressed into the mat, slowly lower right leg until right toes hover just above the floor. Reverse the movement to return to starting position and repeat with the other leg. That’s one rep. Perform 15.
Modifications: Make this move a little easier by tapping each foot to the ground completely, instead of hovering.
6. Assisted Crunching
How to: Start lying on back with legs in air (knees over hips) bent at 90 degrees, arms rounded and hands gently resting on backs of thighs, just below knees. Use core to curl forward so that head, shoulders, and upper back lift up off the ground and towards knees as elbows bend outwards. Lower back a few inches and then forward (i.e. pulsing). That’s one rep. Perform 30.
Modifications: To make the move more challenging, bring hands behind head, cross arms over chest, or extend them straight out on either side of knees.