Build Your Foundation – Target Your Core!

“Ab” exercises are outCore exercises are in

Strengthening your core musculature will help you reach your goal of a flatter, toned midsection and reduce low back pain.

Image source: NASM
Image source: NASM

What is the “core”?

  • Structures that form the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (LPHC), which include:  lumbar spine, pelvic girdle, abdomen, and hip joint.

What muscles make up the “core”?

  • Local Stabilization System:  Muscles attach directly to the vertebrae (spine), including:  Transverse AbdominisInternal ObliqueLumbar Multifidus, pelvic floor muscles, and Diaphragm 
  • Global Stabilization System:  Muscles attach from the pelvis to the spine, including:  Quadratus LomborumPsoas MajorExternal Obliqueportion of Internal ObliqueRectus Abdominis, Gluteus MaximusAdductor Complex (Adductor MagnusAdductor LongusAdductor BrevisGracilis, Pectineus)
  • Movement System:  Muscles attach the spine and/or pelvis to the extremities, including:  Latissimus DorsiHip FlexorsHamstring Complex, and Quadriceps

How do you strengthen the “core”?

  • First, strengthen the muscles of the  Local Stabilization System.
  • Second, strengthen the muscles of the  Global Stabilization System.
  • Third, strengthen the muscles of the Movement System.

How do you know if your “core” is weak?

  • Perform a lunge, squat, or overhead shoulder press.  If you display excessive spinal extension (over-arching low back), strengthen your core musculature!

5 Exercises to Strengthen Your Core

No Crunches Involved!

Image source:
Image source:
  • Plank Up Down:  This exercise challenges trunk stability.  You will move up and down from your forearms to hands while maintaining a solid plank.  It is critical to maintain a straight line from head to toe, keep your abdominals tight (drawing in your naval towards your spine), hips and neck in a neutral position, and align your shoulders with your elbows.  Start with your forearms on the floor.  Place your left palm on the floor and extend left elbow, followed by the right side.  Lower your right forearm to the floor, followed by the left side, and return to the start position.  Perform 5 repetitions each side, switching sides every repetition.
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Image source:
  • Turkish Get Up (TGU):  The TGU is a full body exercise, however it is complex and takes practice, persistence, and motivation!  To focus on the core musculature, only perform the first part of the TGU (which is relatively simple to accomplish!). Start on your right side, holding a kettlebell (or dumbbell) in your right hand extended overhead.  Right leg bent with left leg and arm extended out to the side.  Avoid shrugging your right shoulder up towards your ear!  Exhale as you raise up onto your left forearm, pressing your left forearm and right foot firmly into the floor.  Pause for 1 to 2 seconds, and slowly lower to your back with your left shoulder touching the floor first.  Perform 5 to 10 repetitions, and switch sides.
  • (Image above denotes start position on left side.)
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  • The Suitcase Deadlift:  Place a kettlebell (or dumbbell) on a small box (box height should reach your shins).  Stand directly next to the box with your feet shoulder-width apart.  Lower to a squat position and grasp the handle of the weight, pulling your shoulder down and back.  Avoid knees moving past toes during lowering phase.  Knees face forward (between second and third toes) throughout entire movement pattern.  Stand up with the weight in hand, maintaining proper alignment.  Return to squat position, placing weight on the box.  Perform 5 to 10 repetitions, and switch sides.
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Image source:
  • The Rolling Plank:  Start with your forearms on the floor.  Form a straight line from your head to toes, draw in your naval towards your spine, keep your hips and neck neutral, and align your shoulders with your elbows.  Rotate to one side, pulling your top shoulder down and back and keeping your bottom shoulder stacked on top of elbow.  You may extend your top elbow, gazing up at palm, or maintain a bent elbow position.  Engage your obliques by raising your hips.  Return to the starting position.  Perform exercise on the other side.  Perform 5 to 10 repetitions on each side.
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Image source:
  • The Kettlebell Swing:  Another full body exercise! It is recommended to master the kettlebell deadlift before  performing this exercise.  Start with your feet shoulder-width apart (or slightly further apart for increased stability).  Slightly bend your knees, baring your weight in your heels and maintaining a long spine.  Hold the kettlebell (at the handle) with both hands slightly in front of you.  Pull your shoulders down and back, and squeeze your scapulae (shoulder blades) together.  Maintaining a slight bend at your elbows, inhale and pull the kettlebell through your legs.  Avoid lowering the kettlebell below your knees.  Exhale forcefully and snap your hips to propel the kettlebell forward, raising it to shoulder height.  At the top position, your gluteal muscles, abdominals, and legs are all engaged.  Lower the kettlebell and pull it through your legs, repeating the exercise.  During the entire movement pattern, avoid rounding your back (at the bottom) or arching your back (at the top).  All of the movement is at the hips, as the arms guide the kettlebell.   Perform 5 to 10 repetitions, and progress to 10 to 20 repetitions.


Clark, M. A., Lucett, S.C., & Sutton, B.G. (2012).  NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training4 ed.  p. 209-212. Baltimore, MD:  Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

My FitnessPal Staff (2014). “5 Ways to Work Your Core (Without Crunches!).” Posted February 19, 2014,  doi://  Accessed March 2, 2014.

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