The Best Workout You Can Do for Your Core


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  41 comments   :  154,169 Views

We're all busy. But we can't let that get in the way of our desire to be fitter and healthier. That's why we need to know the best ways to maximize our efforts in the gym.
Recently someone asked me, "What is the best workout I can do for my core?"
It's a common question! And no wonder it's so confusing. There are so many abs gizmos, belly-fat-burning pills, and ab-centric workouts available, that it's hard to make sense of it all.
So what works best? Here's my answer.

I don't think there is a single core exercise that is the be-all-end-all; variety is key.
That said, I believe in working the core in functional ways. After all, it's designed to do so much more than "crunch."

The Best Core Workout
That said, I believe that Pilates is the absolute best core workout. Why? Because it includes every aspect of core training. It targets every single muscle group in the core (not just the outer layer of abs, which many exercises target). It both strengthens and lengthens (stretches) the core muscles; and it helps develop stability, balance and better posture. Plus, Pilates offers a huge variety of exercises in which to achieve these goals, so if you can attend a class, you'll get something different every time. And trust me, although many people think it's "easy" or gentle (and it certainly can be appropriate for people who prefer those types of workouts), IT IS TOUGH for people (yes, even men!) of all levels, especially when you do it correctly.
Here's a 15-minute Pilates core workout I designed to help you get started, along with two Pilates moves proven to help flatten the belly.

The Best Core Exercise
There have been various studies conducted on the best exercises to target the abs, but as I mentioned above, the abs are just ONE component of the core. If I had to pick a single exercise that is best for core strength, it'd be the plank. It targets every muscle in your core in a functional way and there are a lot of ways you can change it up to continually challenge yourself. Here's how to do it properly.

Align your wrists directly under your shoulders. Extend your legs behind you, legs squeezed together. Consciously pull your belly button up away from the floor while keeping your back flat. Try to maintain a straight line from your shoulder to your hip to your ankle. Hold the position for 30-60 seconds—only as long as you can while maintaining proper form and not allowing the hips to droop or rise. Rest for 30-60 seconds. Repeat 1-2 more times. Gradually work your way up to holding the position longer. Try this every other day throughout the week.
Looking for more on abs and core training? Read The Top 10 Abs Training Mistakes. Do you have a fitness question for me? Ask away in my town hall, where I answer the top three questions every Friday.

Are Pilates or plank exercises part of your core-training routine? Which core exercise do you like best?

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  • 41
    I have been doing the twelve minute abs at planet fitness now for a few weeks and I noticed that my abs are getting more defined. I still have a long way to go though so I will keep on doing this exercise. - 12/22/2016   6:28:04 PM
    My chosen abs favorites are the plank (not that I enjoy them, but that they WORK!) and the Pilates roll-up, because they make me really connect to my abs. - 2/15/2016   1:53:02 PM
  • 39
    Like I posted elsewhere the best exercise is the one you DO. - 2/14/2016   8:08:01 PM
  • 38
    I've been doing planks for a while and can tell that it has strengthened my core. - 2/13/2016   9:20:16 PM
  • 37
    Thank you for the "easy or gentle" comment, which applies to yoga, too. Performing the poses correctly takes a lot of strength. I'm about 40 pounds overweight, and my heart rate reaches the fat-burning range for about 50 minutes out of 75 minutes for a full class. - 2/13/2016   11:35:39 AM
    The best core movement for me is dead lift and squats - 2/13/2016   10:40:40 AM
  • 35
    Until I get a shot for my knee and shoulder I will not be bale to do Pilates or planks on the floor. I have arthritis in my right shoulder and my right knee. I can do standing core but only one side because of my shoulder.I used to do some yoga and Pilates before. But the really hard moves I could never do. - 11/27/2015   11:44:47 AM
    I like to do pilates, but all the planks and other movements where my weight rests on my hands cause so much pain in my wrists that I can't do them without pushup bars. - 7/10/2015   5:36:38 AM
    I have saved several of Nicole's articles to my favorites page. I am 70 years young and want to live a lot longer, but not unless I am healthy and strong. I am trying hard to get strength training added into my program. I now do stepping and walking of at least 10,000 steps per day. I am going to try one of the Pilates workouts and the stretching workout. I have also saved the 30 minute power walk (indoor) for days when I just can't get outside. I very much appreciate Nicole's very helpful ways in her videos and articles. Thank you Nicole. bestbets70 - 3/26/2015   9:55:46 AM
    For you girls that can't get down on floor to do ab workout only thing u have to do is look up standing core workouts k good luck - 2/5/2015   4:26:07 AM
  • RH0UGHT0
    My favorite core & ab workout is boxing. It is a great cardio workout as well. - 2/4/2015   10:01:22 PM
  • 30
    Pilates was my first love in the fitness world. I'm a group fitness instructor now, and I still love it even when teaching. I often wish I had a regular class more than once a week. It just makes me feel good, and does wonders for lower back injuries.

    I don't know why, but it's a format people have a tendency to worry about trying. It's not intimidating I promise. Just try it, and if you don't like one teacher, always go and try another. We are all different!! - 2/4/2015   4:40:58 PM
  • 29
    Yes - need standing core moves! I have a low back injury and associated sciatica, and CANNOT plank anymore.
    I CAN use machines, so advice on which ab machines, if any, will improve core strenght. I can use the sitting and lying ab machines, but not the hammer cruch machine.
    I am able to use the cable weights, too, so suggestions for that would be nice. - 12/22/2014   1:39:32 PM
  • 28
    I will try pilates. I haven't yet but am willing to try. That's my first step.

    Have a good day all!
    - 11/30/2014   1:22:20 PM
    I agree with some of the comments. I can't get on the floor, and I'm not even that old, but between my tailbone and my knees, it ain't happening. Standing exercises would be greatly appreciated. - 9/5/2014   11:12:17 PM
  • TISH0125
    I'm up to a 1-minute + plank! & Pilates has always helped me trim my middle :) Thanks for the continued motivation SP! - 6/5/2014   12:54:50 PM
  • 25
    I've been doing planks. They look so easy but I am struggling to even do 10 seconds. Yes sad I know. Practise, practise, practise! - 2/21/2014   5:39:39 AM
  • 24
    It's not just age, it's health problems that come with age. I have lower back problems and simply cannot do some of the exercises shown. Need more exercises for those of us who with health problems. - 9/1/2013   10:21:38 PM
    I would love to see Coach Nicole do a standing core exercise video. There are many standing exercises that strengthen the core, and would be very helpful for those of use with back, neck, hip, and knee issues. I have arthritis in my lower spine, and have tried Pilates mat classes. I was in so much pain that I had to quit the class. I cannot lay on my back for any length of time, especially with the legs straight. I can't kneel because of knee issues. But I can do aerobics without a problem, and I've seen some workout videos with some standing core exercises, but I'd like to see a whole video dedicated to standing core work. - 9/1/2013   2:03:16 PM
  • 22
    For the fans who are saying that the pilates classes are too expensive - where I live they are too. I found that using the community education classes are very affordable and most often your health insurance will pay for it or at least contribute to the cost.

    And for the older woman who commented that they are not able due to their age - that is just not so. I've been taking these classes for years and there has been many older woman in class. Yes it may be a bit harder to start but the more you do it the easier it will get. Most often they will show you a modified version so you can be successful. - 9/1/2013   10:07:09 AM
    I totally agree with BOMMERGIRL, those of us in the 60+ plus crowd are simply not able to do some of the exercises clearly aimed at much younger people. - 9/1/2013   7:10:17 AM
    I read the exercise section daily and it depresses me. Look at the model, young thin fit and agile. I am 63 , I have serious arthritis problems in my hips, knees ankles and feet. I can no more do these exercises than I can walk/run down the street. Do the people ( Nicole) honestly think about these before they put them out there for us to only lose hope ever doing? If I actually got down on the floor I CERTAINLY COULDN'T GET BACK UP.PLEASE - give me something i can actually do. - 8/31/2013   9:38:30 PM
  • 19
    I know it's not winter yet, but when winter arrives, and you are cold, do a plank for 1 minute. GUARANTEED!! It will warm you up. - 8/31/2013   4:52:53 PM
  • 18
    i would love to include pilates to help my core strengh, but I have a tailbone issue that flares up when I practice certain moves, especially the one when you lift your legs and upper body up at the same time so your profile looks like a v. Too much pressure on a sensitive area! - 8/31/2013   12:01:44 PM
  • 17
    I definitely need to work my core but I don't really like Pilates. I need to learn to like it, and I need to work on planks more often. - 8/31/2013   9:36:57 AM
  • 16
    Best way to avoid back problems and middle age spread. - 10/23/2012   5:25:08 PM
  • 15
    I have taken a handful of pilates classes and I agree that it is very challenging! Planks are one of my favorites (they're hard too) and I get all excited as they have become easier for me over time. My core was the single most important area that needed my attention when I began using SP. - 10/7/2012   9:34:23 PM
  • 14
    Planks are what i do at home i am working on side planks right now the trainer has me doing planks that have me lower to the floor must me modified planks that i am doing because i not as high up in the air as the picture shows - 10/7/2012   6:49:37 PM
    I really like all the info Nicole has for exercising. I broke my neck 4 yrs ago and have a fusion. That gives me problems when I try to do ab crunches. I have trouble doing some of the Pilates due to my neck. I would really like to know if there are other ab exercises that are different, so less strain on my neck. - 10/6/2012   6:47:45 PM
  • 12
    I would like to reprint this article for my blog. How can I reblog this on WordPress? - 10/6/2012   5:59:20 PM
  • 11
    This is something to consider, looks interesting. - 10/6/2012   2:05:16 PM
  • 10
    The Pilates classes here are so expensive, so I wouldn't bother. I do have several Pilates videos that I bought at yard sales for a $1. - 10/6/2012   7:53:47 AM
  • 9
    I rather do planks then pilates. But I'm open to change. I'm trying to find a workout for my core that I really enjoy. I do mostly Spark Videos now for my strength training. Tried several challenging core routines including the pilates. So I won't give up on pilates...yet! lol Thank you for this very important information. I did hear or read that bicycle crunches are the BEST exercise for abs. - 10/5/2012   11:31:57 PM
  • 8
    I work out at our local YMCA and they offer a lot of different classes with the membership. I have been doing Zumba for about two months, and water aerobics for about a month-but I do want to try pilates and tae bo. They do a lot of core work in Zumba and water aerobics; but I don't think you can ever get enough-- or at least I cannot (lol). - 10/5/2012   11:14:02 PM
  • 7's a Friday evening and i am sitting here trying to improve my points (LOL)...have always been very interested in the pilates and especially anything that improves my core (the worst area for me)...I too realize how expensive it is too be part of the pilates group here and am excited and so appreciative of all the information that Spark makes available to us ....i am going to watch these videos and going to start with the plank tomorrow am and see if I can hold it for at least 5 seconds or steps! Thanks ...will check out your video! - 10/5/2012   6:55:02 PM
  • 6
    Pilates classes in my area are ridiculously expensive -- I cannot find any that cost less than 20 bucks a class. However, I've been trying out the ten minute solution Pilates dvds (first from the library, and then I just wound up buying some of them) and have really noticed a difference in my core. I had an ugly lower belly bulge because of a c-section 12 years ago that I never could get rid of... but ever since I've been doing Pilates it has been slowly pulling in. You can now barely tell it's there. I'm a pilates convert! - 10/5/2012   6:19:11 PM
  • 5
    This sounds like something I need to get into. My back is sore from carrying around so much extra weight, and I know strengthening my core will help loads! Thank you for this resource! - 10/5/2012   3:14:50 PM
  • KK1980
    Great information! I am interested in tryin out Pilates so I think I will try it out soon because I am looking for an ab work out that targets all my ab muscles. As for the plank, I have tried it and I am not to fond of it because I do not feel the burn in my core. However, I will try the plank again because maybe when I tried it, I was not doing it correctly. Thank you! - 10/5/2012   11:49:43 AM
    I love pilates ab workouts, they make me feel great in general! I do a good deal of these abs every day, but for some reason my abdominal muscles still seem to hide under a layer of fat I just can't get rid of! Is it true that abs are actually done "in the kitchen"? meaning, no matter how hard you work them out, if you really want that chiselled tummy you just have to lose weight? Are there any specific excersizes I should do? I already to many, but maybe they're not the right ones...! - 10/5/2012   11:15:15 AM
  • 2
    I have been taking pilates classes for 3 months now and can totally feel the difference in my core. I am sitting up straighter and have so much better balance.
    - 10/5/2012   10:48:57 AM
  • 1
    I totally agree. I work out at Gold's gym and they offer a class called CX works. It is one of the best core strength classes I have ever taken. I can definitely see the results in my abdominals. They have a track that emphasizes lots of plank work and it kills me, but I can now hold planks for a lot longer and I know my abs are so much stronger. - 10/5/2012   9:10:14 AM

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