Best Exercises for Core: Get Stronger More Visible Abs and Improve Your Gym Performance

The Best Exercises for Core

In this article, we’ll go over the best exercises for the core and how to incorporate them into a complete workout routine.

Why are these exercises important? What’s the difference between abs and core?

Many people assume that training the abs and the core are the same things. People often use these terms interchangeably but when someone refers to the abs they are only talking about a portion of the core. Even people that train their abs regularly can have weak cores which can hold them back in many ways.

The core is arguably the most important muscle group in the body. These muscles are responsible for maintaining posture and stability of the body. A weak core can lead to many problems such as lower back pain, lifting injuries, and even hurt your progress with bigger lifts in the gym. Doing proper exercises for the core can entirely change your quality of life and improve your aesthetic and strength in almost every aspect.

These exercises are something anyone can do with any equipment or experience so you can start improving as soon as possible. If you’ve found yourself struggling to advance past the beginner stage in fitness or even just want to improve your physique or injury prevention, keep reading.

Why it is Essential to Train Your Core

The core is essential to almost every aspect of personal fitness and health. Having a strong core will improve your ability to get stronger, your posture, and even enhance your physique.

The core is a postural muscle group that helps to align the body and stabilize movement. This can help to better perform heavy lifts, prevent injury, and improve your posture which has many health benefits. Developing and strengthening these muscles can also improve the visibility of the abs by increasing the thickness of the deep abdominal muscles. This helps to push out the abs making them more prominent and visible thus enhancing the aesthetic of your physique.

These are the muscles you often see high-level athletes train from boxers to powerlifters. Even at varying body fat percentages, you can still see that they have a high level of fitness which is largely due to the presence of a strong core.

Now that we’ve covered the benefits of training the core and why it’s so important. Here is how we effectively train the core and bring your fitness and physique to the next level.

What is and how to exercise the core?

To fully understand the core we have to understand what muscles make up the core and what they do.

The “core” refers to the area of the body that is between the bottom of the chest to the pelvis. There are many more muscles than listed below, but there’s no reason to spend time attempting to train each of these muscles in isolation. Most of these muscles will be worked in conjunction with regular training. The best exercises for the core are any movements that challenge the core in a way that is similar to how you would challenge yourself in workouts or operate in your daily life.

The main muscles of the core:

exercise for core muscle anatomy

Rectus abdominis (anterior core)

Also known as the “six-pack” or abs. This is the muscle you use when you bend forward or bring your knees toward your chest.

Obliques (lateral core)

The oblique muscles are used when you bend or rotate your torso. They run along the sides of the rectus abdominis or “six-pack”. Usually worked by most core exercises.

Transverse abdominis (deep core)

The transverse abdominis runs underneath the rectus abdominis and the obliques. They function to support the torso and stabilize the spine and pelvis.

Spinal erectors/erector spinae (posterior core)

The spinal erector is a muscle that runs along the entire back and functions to help you stand up straight.

Now that we’ve covered the anatomy and function of the core muscles we’ll move on to the best exercises for the core.

The Best Exercises for Core

Exercise 1: Goblet Squat (core recruitment in full-body exercise)

The first exercise we’ll cover is a leg exercise but it is an essential lift for any beginner that wants overall strength, especially core strength. While there are exercises to teach you to engage your core such as abdominal bracing the purpose of the goblet squat is different.

Often people incorrectly neglect the practical application of the core or forget to build postural strength. The benefit of the goblet squat is that it strengthens the often-neglected spinal erectors while also engaging all of the other main core muscles. The position of the weight when performing the exercise forces us to engage our core with good form.

This exercise also builds strength in the upper back, upper and lower legs, and forearms. This makes it an ideal “full-body” exercise and helps us to practically implement exercises for the core.

goblet squat hold weight in hands feet shoulder width apart and toes slightly outward

To perform the exercise you start by holding a weight between your hands (if this is too difficult at first you can hold the weight with bent arms between your legs). Make sure the feet are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and the feet are pointed slightly outward. Take a deep breath into your stomach and bend at the knees and begin to squat. Go as low as your body comfortably allows and make sure to focus on staying upright. When standing up squeeze the air from your stomach and exhale. Make sure not to lock your knees out at the top of the movement. Repeat for each rep.

To progress with this lift continue adding reps, sets, or weight to adequately challenge yourself. You can also try this exercise with kettlebells or barbells.

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Exercise 2: Reverse Crunches (anterior core)

The second exercise, reverse crunches, is a great exercise for primarily working the rectus abdominis.

reverse crunch lie down Kees 90° brace abs

To perform the exercise you start by laying down face-up on the floor or a mat with knees bent 90 degrees. You can either grab a bench (as shown) or place your arms palms down close to your sides. Exhale to brace your core. Next, keep your legs bent lift your knees and tuck them until your lower back is off the ground. Try to control your movement and don’t swing your knees. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Then, slowly lower your legs into the start position.

To increase the difficulty of this exercise you can increase the reps, slow down the reps, or add a medicine ball between your knees.

Exercise 3: Plank (anterior, lateral, and posterior core)

The third exercise, the plank, is one of the best fundamental core exercises you can incorporate into your routine. On top of being a great all-around exercise for the core, this is an exercise that engages almost every major muscle group in the body.

plank elbows under shoulders back neck hips in line

To perform this exercise you lie face-down on the ground with your elbows directly under your shoulders. Make sure your feet are hip-width apart. Raise your torso and knees off of the ground so that only your forearms and toes are the only things touching the floor. Engage your core while maintaining a neutral spine and keep your hips and neck from lifting. Hold this position for as long as you can maintain the proper form.

To adjust the difficulty of this exercise you can start on your knees in a kneeling plank to make it easier or raise one foot to make it more difficult. You can also adjust the time you perform the exercise or the number of sets to adjust the intensity.

Exercise 4: Side Plank (lateral core)

The fourth exercise, the side plank, is a great way to focus on the obliques and improve balance.

side plank lie on side with one foot on top of the other

To perform the exercise lie on one side with your legs straight and one foot resting on top of the other. Place your elbow directly under your shoulder and have your forearm rest at a right angle to your body. Lift your hips and brace your core while keeping your neck in a neutral position. Your body should form a straight line. Hold this position for as long as you can maintain the proper form. When the rep is a complete repeat on the other side.

To adjust the difficulty of this exercise you can start on your knees in a kneeling side plank to make it easier or raise one foot to make it more difficult. You can also adjust the time you perform the exercise or the number of sets to adjust the intensity.

Exercise 5: Suitcase Carries (lateral core)

The final exercise, suitcase carries, is a unilateral exercise meaning that the resistance is placed on one side of the body. This is an exercise where you attempt to walk upright with your shoulders in a neutral position.

suitcase carries hold dumbbell in one hand

To perform the exercise take a weight in one hand, either a dumbbell or kettlebell. The weight should be heavy enough to challenge you to stay upright but not so heavy that it’s too heavy to hold with a firm grip. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slowly walk forward, keeping your torso upright and your core engaged the whole time. When finishing a rep put down the weight and repeat the rep holding the weight in the opposite hand.

To increase or decrease the difficulty of this exercise, adjust the number of steps or the weight of the dumbbell/kettlebell.

The Best Exercises for Core List

In summary, here is a list of the best exercises for the core:

Exercise 1: Goblet Squat (1-5 sets of 5-15 reps)

Exercise 2: Reverse Crunches (2-3 sets of 8-15 reps)

Exercise 3: Plank (1-3 sets of 60-second holds)

Exercise 4: Side Plank (1-3 sets of 60-second holds)

Exercise 5: Suitcase Carries (2-4 sets of 10-15 steps)

The Best Exercise for Core Summary

This article is aimed at showing you why the core is one of the most important muscle groups that you need to train. Here we provide the best exercises for core along with instructions on how to perform them.

The core is arguably the most important muscle group in the body. These muscles are responsible for maintaining posture and stability of the body. A weak core can lead to many problems such as lower back pain, lifting injuries, and even hurt your progress with bigger lifts in the gym. Doing these exercises for the core can entirely change your quality of life and improve your aesthetic and strength in almost every aspect.

If you’ve found yourself struggling to advance past the beginner stage in fitness or even just want to improve your physique or injury prevention, this article may help you.

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