Best Core Exercises for Men and Women | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

Best Core Exercises for Men and Women

Core strength training should be a part of any workout routine.  While building a strong core will help you get six pack abs, the core actually plays a much more important role in the overall function of your body.  So what are the best core exercises for men and women?  They’re exercises that work the abdominals, hips, and back.  As you’ll see, most of these core exercises involve keeping your body straight as well.

Importance of Core Strength Training

Your core is a group of muscles centered around the belly and mid/lower back.  Aside from helping you stand up straight, core muscles assist in lifting and pushing.  These types of motions are a part of being functionally fit; that is being able to perform every day actions.  Just as important, core strength helps prevent lower back problems and injuries.  Core strength training is important for athletes as well since the core is responsible for generating more powerful movements.  A side effect of core strength training is that once you reduce body fat, you’ll have a nice set of six pack abs.

Some of the muscles that make up your core

Best Core Exercises

There are quite a few ways to work your core muscles.  Here are some of my favorite exercises that will help you get a stronger core.

Plank: in my opinion, the old school yoga plank is still the best way to get a strong core.  For a long time, I resisted this exercise thinking it wasn’t adequately difficult.  Boy was I wrong!  In addition to the traditional straight body forearm plank, there are a number of different plank exercises you can perform.

Side Plank: one notable variation of the plank is the side plank.  While the traditional plank will work your middle core muscles, the side plank specifically targets your obliques (your side abdominal muscles).

Pushups: a plank is really just a static hold of a pushup position in many ways.  Well, real pushups require and recruit core strength as well.  There’s a reason that you’ve always heard about the importance of keeping a straight back when doing pushups and it’s so you work those core muscles.

Ab Wheel: this little piece of equipment will really utilize your ab muscles.  Simple but effective!

Hanging Straight Leg Raises: hanging from a pull up bar, you utilize your core muscles to slowly lift and lower your legs.  If you can’t do these yet, then you could consider following the progressions outlined in Convict Conditioning.

Back Bridges: another Convict Conditioning exercise, bridges will help you work your back muscles and serve as a way to prevent future injury.  If you can get to the point where you’re doing stand-to-stand bridges, you probably won’t need to worry about many future back injuries.

Weightlifting Core Exercises

Bodyweight exercises aren’t the only ways to recruit core muscles.  In fact, a number of compound weightlifting exercises can also help you improve core strength.

Standing Shoulder Press: one of my favorite exercises, standing shoulder presses require you to stabilize your core in order to press the weight over your head.  I think using a barbell is the most effective way to work the core.

Renegade Rows: this is a challenging movement that requires you to perform one arm dumbbell rows while in a pushup position.

Deadlift: form is critical when performing a deadlift as you could very easily get injured.  The idea is to stand up straight while lifting a very heavy weight off the ground.  Definitely a full body exercise that requires leg, back, arm, and grip strength.

Front/Goblet Squats: squats while either holding a heavy dumbbell in front of you (goblet squats) or front squats where you hold the barbell at shoulder level both necessitate a strong core to complete the exercise.

Perfect Posture

Aside from exercising, a very simple way to help stabilize your core is simply to stand up or sit up straight as often as possible.  The less you slouch, the tighter your core will become.  Vince DelMonte’s free report on Perfect Posture reviews some ways to help you improve your posture.

Core Strength Training

Make core strength training a part of your workout routine.  There’s a good chance that you’re already using your core muscles in many of your weight training exercises.  You also utilize your core on a regular basis just by performing everyday movements.  However, the best core exercises for men and women listed above can really target those muscles centered around your abs and back.  This in turn will help prevent injury and probably increase your strength in other areas as well.

25 Responses to “Best Core Exercises for Men and Women”

  • Excellent list of exercise I’ll to help develop core muscles and hopefully a 6 pack! … I’ve heard a lot of the ab roller but never tried I might see if I can make one or just simply buy it.
    The video is a shows vert good instructions on the roller I’d probably make all those mistakes he talks about but it will help me.
    For sure I think plans are underrated too, they don’t seem that tough but seem really effective.
    Thanks for listing them out.
    Raymond

  • Dave,

    Great list of ab exercises. My current ab routine is hanging leg raises/knee ups twice a week and renegade rows/planks/ab wheel once a week. These exercises are all definitely way better than doing crunches, which I gave up a while back.

    Alykhan

  • mark:

    I have read so many articles on 6-pack abs; I have lost count. Basically, the key to 6-packs is low body fat (around 18% range.) I have see people try to spot reduce with 8 abd exercises. Spot reduction does not work. The best exercises for strengthening the core are hanging leg raises (convict conditioning), L-Sit (www.beastskills.com), and hanging windshield wipers (Chris Sommer’s website). I modified Bruce Lee’s Abd workout, and it seems to work fine (it’s is quick, clean, and efficient).

    My modified Bruce Lee’s Abd workout: 1) Situps (standard military type) on an incline board. You can progress these with weights and elevation (Ethan Hawke’s gravity boots in Gattica.) 2) Leg levers (standard SEAL type) you can progress these to hanging leg raises and V ups. 3) Saxon side bends. Saxon used to work-out with 120lbs, so you don’t need to go up too high. 3) Vacuums (see http://www.dragondoor.com) they look silly but they work.

    Cheers

  • Hi Dave

    Good advice to develop a strong core. I agree about the plank being the best for overall strength. For variation I like to do them with a stability ball or a medicine ball. Started using the ab wheel recently and have noticed my core tighten up already, roll outs with a stability ball also work well. I love renegade rows and front squats for building core strength plus I find holding doing overhead squats and lunges where the weight above my head is extremely effective too.

    Cheers

    H

  • Good stuff Dave. You know I am a big proponent of training your abs on the plain in which they are used.

    Planks and renegade rows, though done horizontally, still train in the vertical plain, which will result in better performance when using the core athletically.

  • I think planks are great. I have been doing side planks a lot lately also. I think leg raises are still the best if you don’t get any back pain from them. I also like doing push ups with my feet suspended in my rope and then doing knee ins between each rep.They are pretty brutal!

    -Kelly

  • From studies that I’ve read, the 2 exercises that activate the core the most are the Deadlift and the Barbell Squat. I’d also like to add that Pullups are great for your core. It never fails that the day after I do pullups, my abs are killing me!

  • Planks are definitely superior to the countless crunches and sit ups I used to do all the time.

    However, I always like to point out that doing big, compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and pull ups all work your abs as well!

    I’ve ditched direct ab work recently for time reasons and have just been focusing on these lifts.

  • Raymond,
    I agree with you on planks, nothing about them looks hard, but when you try to do them, they are hard.

    Alykhan,
    Sounds like some nice variety in your routine. I gave up crunches over a year ago and haven’t looked back!

    Mark,
    Agreed, spot reduction is a total myth. I’d say body fat has to be under 10% for men and 18% for women to see noticeable abs. Good list of exercises…I like to include stomach vacuums in my routine as well.

    Howard,
    Overhead squats or lunges are extremely challenging. One of the more impressive feats I’ve seen are the videos of guys doing 300-400lbs on overhead squats. Assuming these videos are legit, that’s some serious strength!

    Josh,
    I like your verbiage better than mine…train your abs in the same plane in which they are used. Good stuff.

    Kelly,
    The push ups with the rope and knee ins are a new one. They certainly sound tough.

    Mike,
    Cool that science backs up what feels right. Pull ups are great too…that’s partly why hanging leg raises are so effective.

    Darrin,
    You’re right, compound exercises can definitely create a stronger core to the point where other core exercises might not be necessary. Still, in my opinion, there’s no such thing as too much core strength…if you have time.

    Dave

  • Hey David,

    Planks are one of the best ways to safely condition your mid section. I teach them to all my personal training clients and perform them myself on a regular basis.

    Best – Mike

  • I use leg raises, roll outs, planks and some time renegade rows for my core routine. I suggest this way to people all the time. Some try it and love it other just look at me funny and say “What about crunches?” Great post keep up the good work.

    Louis

  • Yeah I would have to go with any type of plank being the best for your core. But you can get creative just like renegade rows and pull-ups count as a plank exercise for your abs but you are working more than just your abs making them even more effective. I also like to do the Bruce Lee “Breath of the Dragon” routine from time to time to tighten my abs up mid day…

  • Mike,
    Planks are great because anyone can do them. The better you get, the longer you can hold them.

    Louis,
    Like many people, I used to buy into the endless crunches model…heck, practically every magazine you read talks about doing crunches or some variation to get six pack abs. It’s hard to realize it’s a myth unless you ask the right questions.

    Mike,
    I agree. Lots of good exercises work your core. I wrote an earlier post about breathing exercises for Bruce Lee abs including the routine you mention (I know it at Farmer Burns Stomach Flattener) along with the stomach vacuum.

    Dave

  • Bill:

    Hey Dave, thanks for all the great information on this site! I couldnt agree more about doing core exercises. After doing a few of the bodyweight exercises you mentioned above for a couple of weeks my back pain that I had blamed on my bed, my job and my excess weight went away. I can lay on the floor and play with my kids again. Thanks again.

  • Bill,
    Nice to hear these exercises helped you. Keep them up and hopefully you’ll remain injury free for a long time. A few simple exercises in exchange for the pleasure of playing with your kids…definitely a worthwhile trade-off!
    Dave

  • Great article, I find so many of my new clients think that crunches are the answer, but once they start engaging and activating their core correctly, they love that internal corset effect they achieve, and then they find they can squat heavier weights and bench more weight. A must for everyone regardless of your age, goals or exercise experience as everyone can start somewhere.

  • Aster,
    For some reason it’s been ingrained in us to believe that crunches strengthen our core (or worse, spot reduce abdominal fat!). Fortunately, with trainers like you, hopefully people will become more educating and realize there are better ways to strengthen their core and tighten up their abs.
    Dave

  • I’ve always been a fan of planks but I recently started using the ab wheel and it’s awesome. Good advice Dave.

  • Kevin,
    The ab wheel is a fun little device…as long as you use it properly, it’s a great core exercise.
    Dave

  • Hi Dave,

    Which abs program would you recommend if you had to choose between Truth about Abs or Visual Impact Muscle Building?

    Thanks in advance
    Kelly

  • Kelly,
    I’d start with the free Abs Blueprint Guide:

    http://www.notyouraveragefitnesstips.com/recommends/abs-blueprint

    It was put together by Visual Impact author Rusty Moore. It focuses entirely on abs training. Truth About Abs is a bit more comprehensive and covers a lot about diet. Visual Impact Muscle Building is designed to help add mass and does include some ab work as part of the routines. Let me know if you have any other questions.

    Dave

  • Adam:

    Nice exercises to help you build your core and show off those sexy abs for once. How well do you think kettlebells would fit into these core exercises?

  • Adam,
    Kettlebells can certainly help improve your abs. Windmills, renegade rows, figure 8s, and Turkish get-ups all involve the core.
    Dave

  • Derek:

    Great list of exercises… I do the ab wheel and leg raises for about ten minutes after each workout. The only thing that I felt was left out was the breathing technique. I am a trainer, myself, and have been taught that the diaphragm must be completely expelled of air for a true full contraction. Otherwise, it is like you are rolling on a ball when you have your lungs filled or are holding you breathe. Every rep needs that full contraction to get the rewards of your effort…

  • Derek,
    Great insights, thanks!
    Dave

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