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How Core Exercises Benefit Your Training (Plus, A 5-Move Circuit To Try)

Building a strong core doesn't mean you need a sculpted six-pack. Instead, you want to think of it as the foundation for all of your training. And while you might think you need to add countless sit-ups into your workout routine, there are actually tons of core exercises you can do to build a solid core — no crunches required.

We tapped Max Artsis, CAFS, PES, Coach Developmental Lead for Tonal and Michael Miraglia, FRC mobility specialist and coach, to give you all the benefits of incorporating core workouts into your routine, plus a core workout you can try right now!

Can core exercises build muscle?

"Core exercises can certainly build muscle, you just have to make sure each movement is chosen purposefully and at the correct stimulus for building muscle," Miraglia tells Lively

And, it can actually benefit you more to focus on other exercises, such as doing heavier lifting than doing mindless amounts of sit-ups, Artsis tells Lively. Your core should be engaged during nearly every part of your workout, whether is full-body or an isolated move.

You can find more success in building your core that way. From a functional point of view, you can try many different variations of planks to help build your core.

"The core, in theory, prevents your body from going into extension, so what you want to do is tempt your body into extension and then use your core to 'say no,'" Artsis says.

What are the main core exercises?

Getting a strong core doesn't require doing hundreds of crunches — or even a single one. Artsis says that you should incorporate more than just the classic sit-up into your routine. One of his favorite moves: the plank.

Remember, when you're working your core you're working more than just your ab muscles. Your core also involves muscles in your lower back and hips.

There are seven qualities Artsis recommends training when you're trying to build your core. You should focus on creating rotation (mountain climbers), anti-rotation (plank with shoulder taps), dynamic movement (woodchops), stability (single-leg deadlift), dynamic stability (bracing), and functional movement (lifts, chops, throws).

core exercises | core workouts

Are 10-minute core workouts effective?

If you're short on time, adding a 10-minute core workout to your day can be a very effective way to build core strength. Doing exercises, like those mentioned above, can help increase strength and stability, which is important for getting stronger and performing other strength-training moves properly to avoid injury.

What are 5 core exercises?

There are many exercises you can do to work your core, so there's no need to narrow it down to just five. If you're looking for something new to add to your core routine, try this circuit of 5 core exercises created by Artsis.

How to do it:Complete each move until you're no longer able to perform with proper form. Then, move to the next. Repeat the circuit 2 times.

Dragon Flag
Lie faceup on a bench, holding onto the top of the bench with arms bent by your ears, knees bent at 45-degree angle, shins parallel to bench. Engage core and raise back up off the bench as you straighten legs toward ceiling. With control, lower straight legs down until back is on the bench. In one motion, return to starting position and repeat.

Lying Leg Raise
Lie faceup with hands under lower back for support, legs straight up in the air. Engage your lower abs and slowly lower your legs until they are a few inches off the ground with control, then bring them back up to starting position.

Lying Knee Raise
Lie faceup with arms by sides. Keeping core tight. Bend right knee and bring right leg toward chest, keeping shin parallel to chest. Slowly lower leg to return to starting position then repeat on other side. Continue to alternate.

For an added challenge, perform the move with both legs and head and shoulders slightly elevated.

Dead Bug
Lie faceup with knees and elbows bent, feet flexed. Engage core to crunch up and draw elbows to touch knees. Hold there, then extend your right arm out behind you and lower right leg until it is a few inches off the ground. Return to starting position. Repeat on the other side, left arm and left leg. Continue to alternate.

Butterfly Sit-Up
Lie face-up with knees bent and the soles of the feet touching. Engage core and slowly sit up, touching the ground in front of your feet with fingertips. In a controlled motion, return to starting position and repeat.

Pro Tip: Save this handy workout guide for easy access during your next sweat session!

core exercises

How can athletes benefit from having a strong core?

"You core is in the center of everything," says Artsis. "Power comes from being able to create rigidity, meaning having a strong, impactful core."

Having a weakened transverse abdominious (the deepest part of the core) makes you more susceptible to injuries, Artsis explains.

And, a strong core can help athletes move efficiently through space no matter what their sport is, adds Miraglia.

What are the best core exercises?

There is no one exercise that is better, especially since everyone moves differently and requires different types of training, Miraglia says. One move he finds works for most people to build a strong core is the Farmer’s carry.

Some examples of core exercises that Artsis considers the best bang for your buck include plank, deadlift, goblet squat and pull-up.

"All of these moves involve core recruitment, while building functional strength," Artsis says. 

core exercises | Core workouts

How often should I do core exercises?

Isolation exercises are fine in moderation, says Artsis. "I think of core exercises as an accent piece, like the seasoning on top of a meal," he says.

Though it depends on your goals and fitness level, you can try doing core exercises two to three times per week. You can also sprinkle some core moves into your other workouts. If that's what you want to do, Artsis suggests adding 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps of core exercises to your workouts.

How can I strengthen my core at home?

You don't need access to a gym to strengthen your core. Many core exercises require body weight or much space and can easily be done at home. If you're looking for more of a challenge, you can purchase dumbbells, resistance bands, or an ab roller — all of which take up minimal space. You can also improvise and use items around the house such as books or cans, or use a towel in place of sliders.

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