The 5 Best Core Exercises (Build a Strong Core)
So you want to learn about the best core exercises?
Well my friend, you’ve arrived at the right place!
We help men, women, and intergalactic bounty hunters grow strong as part of our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program, and we always put an emphasis on core muscles when we build client workouts.
Here’s what we’ll cover to answer the question, “What are the best core exercises?”
Alright buckeroo, let’s do this thang!
You use your core muscles for just about everything:
- Getting out of bed in the morning? Not without a sturdy core.
- Pushing a grocery store cart across the parking lot? Your core will make that happen.
- Fighting off ninjas who just discovered your secret identity? Karate kicks require a strong core.
You get the gist.
So what exactly do we mean when we say “core”?
Contrary to popular belief, your core isn’t just your abs.
Some of the muscles found in your core include:
- Erector spinae: this is the muscle around your spine and helps you stand up straight.
- Rector abdominis: better known as your “abs.”
- Obliques: these are found on the sides of your torso and help you twist (and shout).
- Gluteal muscles: also known as your “glutes” or “butt” or “bum” or “ass” or – okay, you get the point – which connects your legs to your core.
You might also hear your core referred to as your “trunk.” Same thing.
The core muscles really are the foundation of the human body. And much like building a house, when it comes to fitness, you need to start with a strong foundation.
This is why we focus on building a strong core with each of our coaching clients.
What Are the Best Core Exercises for Beginners? How Can I Strengthen My Core at Home?
If you’re just starting your fitness journey, we won’t make you jump into the deep end quite yet.
Here are the Best Core Exercises for Beginners:
Your entire core is engaged in a plank, as you stabilize yourself in a straight line (don’t sink)!
If you can’t quite support yourself into a full plank, have no fear, you can start with…
#2) Knee Plank
Just like a regular plank, but you have your knees for support. Start with these until you can do the real thing.
#3) Hip Bridge
The hip bridge will activate the glutes and the rest of your core as you bring your body up.
#4) The Hollow Body Hold
The hollow body is one of the best ways to engage the midsection and stabilize the body. We utilize the hollow body exercise as part of our strategy for getting your first handstand.
Once you get comfortable holding the position, try…
#5) The Hollow Body Rocking
These 5 exercises will go a long way towards developing serious core strength.
“Steve, these moves are easy peezy. What are some advanced core exercises?”
The 5 Best Core Exercises
Now the real fun starts.
Here are The 5 Best Core Exercises:
Squats? Yes, squats.
Squats train just about every muscle in your core (and lower body). Your core is engaged as you stabilize yourself up and down. If you don’t currently train with squats, start with a simple assisted bodyweight squat:
You can also read our full guide on how to perform squats to level up your game.
We’re big fans of the deadlift around these parts. Not only is it a core exercise, but it’s really an EVERYTHING exercise (lower body, core, and upper body).
Senior Coach Staci credits performing deadlifts to her visible abs:
If you want a strong core, start performing deadlifts.
Just like how a plank forces you to stabilize your core, a push-up will do all that and more as you push yourself up and down.
How’s your push-up form? Most people do them incorrectly.
Read our full guide on how to do a proper push-up to hone your technique.
Yes, pull-ups are an upper-body exercise. But you’ll engage your core as you hoist yourself up. The more you keep your body in control (don’t flail about as you go up and down), the more you’ll train your core.
Can’t do a pull-up yet? No problem, read “How to Get Your First Pull-Up in 30 Days.”
#5) Knees to Elbow
This will challenge your core like you wouldn’t believe. The slower you go, the more intense it will be.
Bonus Core Exercise: Toes to Bar
This is an advanced move, but a great core exercise that only requires a pull-up bar!
Are you doing these moves correctly?
A good way to check would be to record a video of yourself and match it against the gifs and videos here. If they look close, you’re doing great!
The other option would be to have a trained professional review your form, which we can do in our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program!
Our spiffy mobile app lets you send a video of your training directly to your coach, who will provide feedback so you can perfect your technique.
They’ll also build a workout program that’s custom to your situation, which can improve your core strength!
Why You Shouldn’t Do Sit-Ups
You may have noticed that we haven’t covered sit-ups in our guide on the best core exercises.
This is 100% intentional. You don’t need to do sit-ups.
In fact, there’s an argument you SHOULDN’T do sit-ups at all.
Sit-ups can be hard on your back. They’re also an incomplete exercise, as they don’t work out your entire core (stomach AND lower back).
So skip the sit-ups and crunches.
If you’re gonna do a crunch for your core exercise, go with a Reverse Crunch:
“What Exercise Burns the Most Belly Fat?” (Best Core Exercise for Weight Loss)
There’s a common belief that if you simply do enough crunches or sit-ups, you’ll get a flat stomach.
I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t true.
It’s something I bring up in the article: “Can You Actually Banish Belly Fat?”
You cannot spot reduce fat on your body:
- Not on your thighs.
- Not on your love handles.
- Not on your stomach.
This is why the Thighmaster is a joke:
Depending on your age, weight, sex, and genetic makeup, your body will lose fat in a certain order, from certain parts of your body, that you can’t control.
Here are some things to consider:
- Everybody has abdominal muscles. Yep, even you! They might be tiny, or weak, but everybody has 6-pack abs. They might just be hidden under a layer of fat. No judgment, just reality.
- Fat does NOT turn into muscle – they are two different things. Like oil and water, fat sits on top of muscle. You could have ridiculously strong abs ready to pop out, but if they are buried under a lot of fat, no amount of exercise will give you a flat stomach or make those abs pop, because it doesn’t address the fat on top of your muscles.
- A flat stomach only appears when you have a low enough bodyfat percentage. The reason there are 1,000,000,000 ab workouts on YouTube is that people know there’s BIG money in the ab-industry for people desperate to get a flat stomach! And ab exercises are much easier to market as exciting than “eat better, get strong, move more, for a long long time.”
So if you want a flat stomach or six-pack abs, we need to create a plan for sustainable weight loss.
I know, WAY EASIER SAID THAN DONE.
Have no fear, I have a couple of resources for you:
How to Build a Core Workout (Next Steps)
Now that we know how to perform the best core exercises, you know what time it is?
It’s my favorite time.
It’s time to build a workout routine!
I generally recommend beginners strength train two to three times a week with a full-body workout.
We’re going to make sure our full-body workout hits the following:
- Quads (front of your legs).
- Butt and hamstrings (back of your legs).
- Chest, shoulders, and triceps: (“push” muscles).
- Back, biceps, and grip ( “pull” muscles).
- Core (abdominals and lower back).
We just went over what you should do for that last segment, “core”.
What should you do for the others? For ideas, read our guide: “How To Build Your Own Workout Routine.”
That will help you build a practice to grow strong.
Don’t get startled by my comment that you should train “two to three times a week.” If you can only do a full-body workout once a week, that’s WAY BETTER than none a week.
Once you get the practice going, we can always work to increase the frequency later.
The most important thing you can do today is start:
Want a little help getting going? The perfect next step on what you should do now?
Here are 3 options on how to continue with Nerd Fitness:
Option #1) If you want step-by-step guidance on how to lose weight, eat better, and get stronger, check out our killer 1-on-1 coaching program:
Option #2) If you want an exact roadmap for getting fit, check out NF Journey. Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).
Plus, we have Missions specifically designed to help you achieve a strong core.
Try your free trial right here:
Option #3) Join the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.
Sign-up below and receive our free guide Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. It includes step-by-step instructions for the Best Core Exercises covered in today’s guide.
Download our comprehensive guide
- Everything you need to know about getting strong.
- Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
Alright, enough from me. Your turn:
Do you agree with my list of the best core exercises?
Do you think I’m missing any?
Am I completely off base on my position on sit-ups?
Let me know in the comments!
PS: Many of the exercises covered today came from our post “The 42 Best Bodyweight Exercises.” Give it a read if you’d like to start training without a gym!
GIF Source: kung fu challenge