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30 exercises to tone your entire core and reduce back pain

In World
May 15, 2024

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For many people, core workouts and ab exercises are synonymous. However, you may be surprised to learn that the core is not only made up of the abdominals, but the back and glutes, too.

This is an important distinction because our core plays such a key role in posture, stability and balance, which enables us to perform everyday movements safely and effectively. Not to mention that having a weak core puts strain on the back, so strengthening these areas can help reduce back pain. That’s why a well-rounded routine that strengthens every major muscle group of the core, not only the abdominals, is so important.

These 30 core exercises from personal trainer and TODAY fitness contributor Stephanie Mansour target all of the important muscle groups that make up the core. String 5-7 together for an effective core routine that will target the abs, back and glutes.

Cobra

cobra execise

cobra execise

This is a stretch and strengthening exercise for the back. To start, place your hands alongside your chest and push an imaginary marble forward with your nose to lift up your head, neck and chest. Press down firmly through your hands and hug your elbows in toward your sides. Pull your navel in toward your spine and press your thighs down into the ground. Bring the shoulders back and lift the chin up. Take a deep breath in, and then rest.

Crunches

Lie down on your back with your knees bent, feet as wide as your hips and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your abs, pulling your belly button in toward your spine and making sure to engage your core throughout the exercise. With your hands placed gently behind your head and elbows wide, use your abs to bring your shoulder blades off the floor. Exhale as you lift your body. Slowly release the position, inhaling as your rest your head on the mat. Return to starting position and repeat.

Core exercises Double toe tap

Core exercises Double toe tap

Double toe tap

Get into the same position you did for toe taps, but this time hug your knees together so that your inner thighs are engaged. Squeeze your legs together and engage your abs. Lower your toes toward the ground, keeping the knees bent. Then come back to center. Repeat 10 times.

Core exercises boat pose

Core exercises boat pose

Boat pose to hollow hold

Start in a seated position with knees bent. Place the band around the bottom of your feet and hold one handle in each hand. Slightly lift your feet off the floor and keep your knees bent. Straighten your arms until they are next to your knees. Focus on not letting your back round as you push your legs straight out while lowering your upper body down toward the mat at the same time. Once your lower back (the bottom of your ribs) reaches the mat, raise back up to the starting position while also bending your legs until your hands are next to your knees again. Repeat.

Plank

Start on all fours. Line your shoulders up over your wrists, and make sure your wrists are parallel with the front of the mat. Walk your knees back a few inches, but make sure that your shoulders stay over your wrists. Pull your navel in toward your spine and tuck your toes under to lift your legs up off of the ground. Squeeze your quads and reach your heels toward the back of the room. Look a few inches in front of your fingers to keep your head and neck elongated. If you have a mirror, check yourself out to ensure that you’re in one straight line!

Renegade rows

renegade row exercise

renegade row exercise

Before you set up in a plank position, come on to all fours and place a dumbbell on either side of you, next to your shoulders. In tabletop position grasp a dumbbell in each hand. Then push up into a plank position or a modified plank position on your knees. With your back straight and core engaged, keep your hips and shoulders square to the floor as you drive your left elbow up toward the ceiling. Lower back to starting position. Alternate arms, performing 10 repetitions on each side.

Mountain climbers

Begin in plank position, keeping your back straight, your hips low and your core engaged. Bring your right knee under your chest toward your right elbow. Return your right leg back to plank position; bring your left leg under your chest toward your left elbow. This is one mountain climber. Repeat while alternating your legs, keeping a steady pace. Remember to breathe and concentrate on engaging your abs, glutes and hamstrings.

Swimmers

This exercise trains the back of the body to work in opposition to improve balance and spinal strength and mobility. Start by lying down on your stomach. Lift the right arm and the left leg off the ground. Then alternate, lifting the left arm and the right leg off the ground. Continue alternating, being sure to pull the abs in the entire time.

Single leg squat

Stand on your right foot with your left leg lifted out in front of you a few inches off the ground. Keep your arms at your sides or in front of you for balance. Bend your right knee, pushing your hips back into a sitting position. Squeeze your abs and glutes as your weight shifts into your right heel. This is a difficult move, so only lower as far as you are able to maintain proper form. Keep your left leg straight out in front of you as you squeeze the right glute to return to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions and then switch to the left leg.

Single leg deadlift

Begin by placing one foot on your band. Place the other foot slightly behind you, resting lighly on your toe. Holding one handle in each hand, hinge forward, letting your torso lower toward the ground while raising your free leg up behind you until it is parallel with the floor. Slowly bring your leg back to the starting position. Repeat.

Situp

Lie on your back and bend your knees so that your heels are on the floor. Place your hands behind your head and bend your elbows out to the sides. Squeeze your abs as you curl up with your head, neck and chest. Lift until you’re sitting up as high as you can without rounding your elbows in, and exhale as you lift. The goal is to sit all the way up so that your chest almost reaches your knees, with a straight back. Lower your body back toward the ground slowly while inhaling.

Scissor kick

Lie on your back with your legs straight up toward the ceiling. Let your arms rest down at your sides. You can also place your hands under your butt for increased stabilization. Squeeze your core and lower both of your legs 6-12 inches down to about a 45-degree angle. Lift one leg up as your lower the other to the floor. Switch legs. Continue to alternate, moving your legs in a flutter motion. Repeat for about 15 repetitions, and make sure not to speed up as you go.

Burpee

Begin in a squat position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place both hands on the ground in front of you, shifting your weight to your hands. Kick your feet behind you so that you’re in plank position. Perform one pushup, making sure your back is straight and your core is engaged. Jump your feet forward so that you are back in a squat position and stand up. Jump up toward the sky reaching your arms above your head. Land softly with knees bent. This is one burpee. Immediately drop into a squat position and repeat the sequence.

Wood chopper

Stand up straight and hold a dumbbell above your head with both hands. Twist your torso slightly to the left and move your right foot out a bit so that it is not directly under your hip. Bring the dumbbell down and across your body from left to right as you bend and lift your right knee into the air. Bring the weight down to the side of your right hip before putting your foot down and lifting your arms back up into the air. Repeat 10 times, and then repeat on the opposite side.

Bicycle crunches

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground as wide as your hips. With your hands behind your head and your elbows bent out to the sides, use your abs to lift your left shoulder blade off the ground. At the same time, bring your right knee to meet your left elbow. When your right knee is bent, straighten your left leg and reach it out in front of you at a 45-degree angle. Perform on the opposite side, bringing your left knee to your right elbow, straightening the right leg. Continue alternating legs and squeeze your core. Brush your inner thighs together as you switch sides to ensure you’re hugging your legs in towards the midline of your body.

Glute bridge

Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Your knees should be hip-distance apart. Raise your hips by squeezing your glutes to create a straight line from your neck to your knees, being careful not to hyperextend your hips. Clasp your hands underneath your back for a deeper stretch or keep the arms extended on the floor, fingers pointing toward your feet. Hold the pose for 5 seconds. Don’t let your knees splay out to the side or collapse inward. Slowly lower down and repeat.

Side plank

Come into a plank position with your shoulders over your wrists. Pull your naval in toward your spine, and hug your legs together as you bring the left foot to touch the right. Turn onto the right outer edge of the right foot, stacking the left foot on top. Press down through your right hand, keeping it directly underneath your right shoulder, and slowly bring the left hand onto your left hip. Pull the abs in toward the spine and the right hip away from the floor. Extend the left arm straight up to the ceiling, and hold the side plank position for 30-45 seconds before coming through plank and switching sides.

Leg lifts

Lie on the floor with your arms at your sides and your legs straight out in front of you. Make sure to keep your low back on the ground as you pull your naval in toward the spine and squeeze your legs together. With your legs straight and together, lift into the air so that your body creates an “L” shape. Slowly lower your legs toward the mat without arching your back. Once your feet are hovering above the ground, hold for a few seconds before returning to the first step.

Weighted side bend

Start with the dumbbell in your right hand hanging down by your side. Place your left hand behind your head with your elbow pointed out toward the side. Bend at the waist to your right, reaching the dumbbell down the right side of your body. Then, with the dumbbell weighing you down, use your left obliques to pull yourself back up to a standing position. Repeat this 20 times, then switch the dumbbell to the left hand and perform on the opposite side.

Lunge

Stand up straight with your feet as wide as your hips. Step forward with your right foot, bending at the knee to form a 90-degree angle. Your left knee, when bent, should also be at a 90-degree angle. After holding the lunge for a few seconds, press down through the heel of the right foot and squeeze the right buttock to return to standing. Repeat all steps on the left leg. Alternate between the right and left leg, performing 10 reps on each side.

Ab slam

Think of this move as a situp with a dumbbell component. First, lie down on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Hold the dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest. Perform a situp, bringing the dumbbell forward and in between your legs, and tapping the floor to “slam” the dumbbell onto the ground. Pull your naval in toward the spine the entire time. This move should feel slightly more difficult than an ordinary situp, and it will increase power and core strength.

Standing crossover toe touch

This move combines flexibility training with abdominal strength training for a multi-purpose exercise. Stand tall with your feet slightly wider than hips-distance apart. Reach your right hand toward your left foot, raising your left leg straight out in front of you, until your fingertips touch your toes. Squeeze your abs as your return to the starting position. Then reach your left hand toward your right toes. Alternate, performing 10 times on each side.

Russian twist

Sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet either hovering above the floor or resting on the ground. Tilt your upper body backward to a 45-degree angle (this will feel like you are at the top position of a situp). Hold the dumbbell in both hands, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your shoulders away from your ears. Keeping the dumbbell in front of your chest, twist your torso to the right tapping the dumbbell on the floor, then move back through center and twist to the left, tapping the dumbbell on the floor. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Standing bicycle crunches

Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Place both hands behind your head with the elbows bent out to the sides. Bend your right knee and bring it up to meet your left elbow, twisting at the core. Alternate sides, crunching your right elbow toward your left knee. Squeeze your abdominals throughout. Repeat 10 times to each side.

Plank hop

This move works your obliques and rectus abdominis. Begin in plank position with your hands flat on the mat. Squeeze your abs and keep your legs together as you jump your feet to your right elbow and back to starting position. Then, jump your feet to your left elbow and back to starting position. Continue alternating.

V-sit

Seated on a mat, engage your core muscles and gently lean back a couple of inches. Slowly lift your legs up in the air so that are in a table-top position. Reach your arms straight out in front of you so that they are parallel with the mat. Keeping your core engaged, extend the legs straight up to a 45-degree angle, forming a “V” shape with your body. If you feel balanced here, attempt reaching your arms up toward the ceiling. You always have the option to leave them straight out in front of you. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Keep the shoulders relaxed, abs pulled in and the inner thighs squeezing together.

Windshield wipers

Lie on your back with your arms straight out at your sides in a “T” position for stabilization. Lift your legs up, with knees bent in a tabletop position (for a more challenging move, straighten your legs toward the sky) engaging the core. Using your abs to control the movement, slowly lower your legs to the right hovering a few inches off of the floor. When your feet get close to the floor, reverse the movement of your legs, moving them back through center and down to the left side of your body. One movement of the legs from the right to the left completes one rep of the windshield wiper. Repeat the move 10 times.

Wide leg open toe squat

With your feet wider than your shoulders and your toes turned out, squeeze your core and shift your weight onto your heels. Bring your palms together in front of your chest in prayer position for balance. Bend the knees out to the sides and keep the spine straight as you lower down into the squat with your back and butt in a straight line. Don’t lean forward. Then, push your weight into your heels and squeeze your glutes as you return to the starting position. Perform 10 repetitions

Superman

This exercise engages the entire back of the body, from the upper back to the bottom of the legs. Lifting up into this position teaches the posterior muscles to work together in tandem, with the shoulders lifting up the arms and the glutes, hamstrings and back working to lift the legs. Lie on your stomach and reach the arms forward and legs back. Open the legs as wide as the hips and the arms as wide as the shoulders. Pull the belly button in away from the ground to engage the abs. Relax the shoulders as you reach the arms up off of the ground and squeeze the quads as you lift the legs off the ground. Avoid putting too much pressure on the low back by ensuring that the abdominals stay contracted. All the muscles in the back of the body, from the calves to the upper back, will be engaged.

Good mornings

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your hands placed behind your head. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and your core muscles engaged. Take a deep breath in and on the exhale, hinge forward at the hips and lower your chest toward the ground, so that your body forms an upside-down “L” shape. Stop when you feel a slight stretch in the back of the hamstrings. If you feel any pain or uncomfortable pulling, you’ve lowered too far! Slowly move back into a standing position on your exhale. Repeat.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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