How to Effectively Exercise Your Core

You may be surprised at some of the best exercises for targeting your core

Credit: Curb Ivanic

Effective core training involves a lot more than crunches and sit-ups

Almost everyone I’ve ever trained has been interested in developing a stronger core

But often they’re be surprised by the exercises I include in their strength training program. They wonder why I give them so few crunch or sit-up type exercises, if I included any at all.

My answer? You really don’t need to do a lot of crunches or sit-ups to effectively strengthen your core. Doing these occasionally is okay but you need other exercises to effectively train your core.

What is the “Core”?

Crunches mainly target one or two of your abdominal muscles. Same thing goes for sit-ups.

But the core involves many more muscles than simply the abdominal muscles. Technically the core involves 29 muscles that attach to the region known as the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. This is the region from your mid-torso down to mid-thigh.

There are only four abdominal muscles so if all your core training focuses solely on these muscles you’re targeting less than 15% of the core region.

Other major muscles of the core include the following muscles among others:

  • The multifidus
  • Spinal muscles running along either side of the spine
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip flexors
  • Quadriceps

You may be surprised the last three muscles are listed as these are often thought of as being solely leg muscles. (See pictures of the different muscles on my Core Running website.)

Exercises that Target Your Core

Another reason for including exercises other than crunches and sit-ups is that the abdominal muscles aren’t designed to create movement. Their main function is to provide stability during movement.

For example, the typical crunch targets the rectus abdominus; the “six-pack” muscle running down the front of your torso. In the exercise you contract the abs as you crunch up. But in real life rarely do you need the muscle to work this way. More often the rectus abdominus’ role is to prevent excessive extension of the spine (extension occurs when your spine arches backward).

Research proves that you’ll get higher abdominal muscle activation, along with the co-contraction of other muscles, doing stabilization exercises like planks and side-planks.

The photo at the top of this post is me demonstrating what I call a “swimmer’s plank.” This is an advanced movement where you hold a plank position then extend one arm in front of you, pause, bring the arm back then repeat with the other arm. A key point to keep in mind is to keep your hips level i.e. don’t tilt to one side as you extend the arm. Try it. You’ll get acquainted with your core very quickly.

Other exercises that target your core are full body exercises such as deadlifts, pushups with good form and lunges with unequal weight on either side. You can also try dumbbell chest presses one side at a time or try bent over rows.

Here’s the deadlift:


This exercise is one of the best overall exercises you can do. I recommend you get instruction from a knowledgeable trainer to do it right. But once you learn how to perform it properly it’ll work your legs, butt, back, arms and core like nothing else. Do it regularly and you’ll develop glutes Kim Kardashian would envy.