You can do hundreds of sit-ups, so that must mean you have rock solid abs and a six-pack right? Unfortunately, we know it’s not that simple. Sit-ups, as we know, are at the bottom of the core exercise pile but fear not, we’ve got the perfect exercises to help you get a firm and strong core and advance your current training.
The underlying focus for everything we do, whether you’re a beginner or more advanced, is engaging the transverse abdominal muscle (or TVA for short). We do so by drawing in the belly button creating abdominal compression —improving your body’s built-in corset!
Beginners’ Core Workout At Home
If you’re at the start of your journey towards a strong core let’s keep it simple and very effective. The technique is everything and cutting corners because you will get a few extra reps and avoid that burning sensation isn’t a shortcut to good abs, if anything your dream of a strong and firm core will elude you until you change how you train. Try grouping 2 or 3 of these exercises together to create a burning core circuit.
Sets: 3 | Reps: 8 – 10 (each leg)
- Start with your knees above your hips with a 90-degree bend
- Slide your fingers under your hips with your palms facing down
- Draw your belly button in towards your spine and tilt your hips until you feel your lower back pushing against your fingers
- Lower one foot towards the ground whilst maintaining the pressure on your fingers and return to the starting position (don’t let your shoulders lift from the floor, try to relax your upper body)
- Alternate legs until you have completed all of your reps
Don’t allow your lower back to lift from the floor.
Progression – If you can keep your back down comfortable try both legs or extending your leg further.
2. TVA Crunch
Sets: 3 | Reps: 8 – 10
- Start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your hands in a position that is comfortable for you (reach to your knees to make it easier, fingers at your temples to make it slightly harder)
- Suck in your stomach and slowly peel your spine off the floor like a chain starting with your shoulders blades until you can’t lift any higher
- Between every rep reaffirm the TVA contraction by sucking in your abs
- This exercise is not about range of movement but contraction intensity so keep it slow, squeeze hard and don’t expect to come up very high
Don’t focus on the height of your crunch at the cost of your technique.
Progression – Try placing a cushion or rolled-up mat under your lower back to increase range of movement.
3. Glute Bridge
Sets: 3 | Reps: 10 – 15
- Start by laying on your back with a 90-degree bend at your knees
- Start the movement by tucking your hips under and activate your TVA by sucking in the belly button
- Lift your hips up until you can draw a straight line from your shoulders through your hips to your knees
- The pressure should be through the heels of your feet and you should try to prevent any excessive curvature to your lower back
- Return to the start of the movement without allowing your hips to rest on the floor
Do Not try to lift your hips higher than your glutes can contract.
4. Forearm Plank
Sets: 3 | Reps: 30 – 60 second hold
- Lying on your front with your elbows under your shoulders and your legs extended with toes under your ankles
- Lift your hips slightly above shoulder height, then squeeze your glutes and tuck your hip under and lower them back down until they are in line with your shoulders
- Engage your TVA by sucking in your abs and then tense your abs to prevent your lower back from taking the load
- Remember to keep breathing and on every outward breath create more tension in your core
Don’t allow your hips to drop below shoulder height.
Regression – Try this from your knees if the intensity gets too challenging.
Intermediate Core Workout At Home
Even if you have been training your core for some time and consider yourself intermediate or a seasoned pro and have a good set of washboard abs, it is always worth revisiting the basics above to hone your technique. If you’re happy with your technique then here is how you can advance your core training further. You can try super-setting or tri-setting some of these to add intensity to your core workout.
Sets: 3 – 4 | Reps: 8 – 10 (each side)
- Start with fingers at temples and knees above hips with a 90-degree bend
- Simultaneously lower and straighten your right leg whilst slightly rotating your shoulders and bringing your right elbow towards your left knee
- Return to the starting position and alternate sides until you have completed all your reps
- Focus should be maintaining the pressure between your lower back and the floor and moving slowly with control
Don’t move too fast, speed is not the aim of this exercise.
Regression – If you feel your lower back lifting, keep your knees bent throughout the movement to reduce the intensity.
2. Pike Crunch
Sets: 3 – 4 | Reps: 10-15
- Whilst lying on your back with your legs straight and above your hips, slowly lower your legs stopping just before you feel you lose pressure between your lower back and the floor
- With extended arms peel your spine off the floor starting with your shoulders and upper back reaching your fingers towards your toes
- Return to your starting position whilst maintaining control
Don’t use your arms for momentum.
Regression – Bend your knees or bring your legs further over your hips.
3. High Plank with Toe Reach
Sets: 3 – 4 | Reps: 10 – 15 (each arm)
- Starting in a high plank with hands under shoulders and legs extended at hip-width
- Push your hips up into a pike position and reach your right hand through towards your left foot
- Return to plank and avoid your hip dropping below the height of your shoulders
- Repeat on the other side
Don’t bend your knees in order to reach your toes.
Regression – Lower your range of movement to match your level of flexibility.
4. Reverse Crunch
Sets: 3 -4 | Reps: 10 – 15
- Lay on your back with your arms by your side and legs extended above hips
- Lower your legs whilst maintaining control of your lower back
- Return your legs and without using momentum lift your hips from the floor just enough to feel your abs contracting
- Take your time with this movement and if done correctly don’t expect to complete high reps straight away
Don’t put your hands under your glutes for support.
Regression – Keep your knees bent throughout and reduce your range of movement.
5. Sit Through
Sets: 3 | Reps: 10 – 20 (each leg)
- Start with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips and roughly 3 inches off the floor (same as a bear crawl)
- Lift your left hand from the floor and simultaneously bring your right leg through and under your body
- Your hip should be just a couple of inches from the floor in the finish position
Don’t straighten your supporting leg.
Regression – Keep both hands on the floor for added stability and shorten your range of movement.
Regular’s Core Workout At Home
If you fall into this category you are more than likely already doing many of the exercises above and are in need of some variety and advancement. Try these in addition to your current training to vary the types of movement you perform.
1. Push Back Sit Through
Sets: 3 – 4 | Reps: 10 – 20 (each side)
- From a press-up starting position push your hips back towards your ankles keeping your knees off the floor
- Drive out of this position, lift your left arm and land on your left foot whilst extending your right leg under your left shoulder
- Engage your abs to prevent your right foot from touching the floor
- Drive your right leg back under and return to your loaded position
Don’t generate too much power so you lose control in the extended position.
Regression – Try a regular Sit Through without the Push Back.
2. Spider Press-up
Sets: 3 – 4 | Reps: 5 – 10 (each side)
- Your hands should sit just outside of your shoulder and your feet hip-width apart
- Lower your chest to elbow height whilst simultaneously bringing your right knee towards your right elbow
- Your abs should contract hard move your knee in and prevent your foot from touching the floor
- Return your foot as you press back to the starting position
Don’t let your foot touch the floor.
Regression – Drop to your knees to reduce the intensity of the press up.
3. Hollow Hold
Sets: 3 – 4 | Reps: 30 – 45 seconds
- Extend your arms overhead, your legs extended and your lower back firmly against the ground
- If you can, lift your shoulders from the floor just enough to feel an added intensity in your upper abs
- Suck in your belly button to engage your TVA and take deep continuous breaths
Don’t let your lower back lift off the floor.
Regression – Bend your knees to ease the intensity to a level that matches your ability.
Sets: 3 – 4 | Reps: 10 – 30 second holds
- Use a set of dumbbells or an appropriate surface to raise yourself up a few inches
- With straight legs ensure you have correct posture by depressing your shoulders and lifting your chest
- Lift your knees and slowly extend your legs
- Hold your position by engaging your abs and remember to take deep continuous breaths
Don’t let your shoulders and upper back round.
Regression – Let one foot touch down and alternate which leg you raise each set.
Take Home Message
When training your core it really is about taking your time to do the exercises correctly, failing to do so will significantly impact the effectiveness of your training. Lower your range of movement and your rep speed and focus on engaging the right muscles and perfecting the movement before you move on to the more advanced exercises.