At the core of every movement is just that: your core. And while lots of times “core” and “abs” become synonymous, it’s not 100% correct to use them interchangeably. Your rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus and obliques do comprise your midsection, but those aren’t the only muscles involved. Your back, hips and glutes also provide that stable base you need for stepping forward and backward, jumping side-to-side or turning all about. So to get a serious core workout you need to work them all.
“Core strength and stability not only enhances physical and athletic performance, but also helps maintain and correct posture and form, and prevent injury,” says Andia Winslow, a Daily Burn Audio Workouts trainer. “Those who have an awareness of their core and ability to engage it properly also have enhanced proprioception — or a sense of the positions of their extremities, without actually seeing them.”
Just picture elite athlete’s movement, Winslow explains, and how rhythmic and easy they travel through space, often in several planes of motion at the same time. They can thank strong trunk muscles for that. “Core should be a focus in every workout,” Winslow says. “Workouts won’t be as effective without proper core engagement.”
That’s not to say crunches need a permanent place in your sweat sessions. You can easily sneak in added core challenges during other common exercises. “When folks elect to add difficulty to workouts, they often increase weight, repetition or duration. Another — and often more effective — way to increase the intensity is by altering stance, ground contact, and/or dynamic variance equipment [think: sand or water],” Winslow says. Shifting your weight, testing your balance, or focusing on sticking a landing, all engage your middle more.
Learn how to get a solid core workout in every strength session with these sneaky midsection-scorching strategies from Winslow.
Strength Tips: How to Work Your Core in Every Workout
1. Add weight overhead.
Whether you’re doing squats or lunges, Winslow suggests pushing or holding a weight overhead — or even just keeping your arms straight up — to activate your abs and shoulders. These muscle groups have to work harder to keep your spine in a neutral position so you don’t over-arch, straining your low back. Translation: Put your hands in the air like you really care (about your core workout).
2. Hold your step-ups and pull-ups.
Stepping up onto a bench, chair or box requires you to use one leg, driving off your heel to reach the top. While balancing on one limb already works your core to keep you upright, Winslow explains that pausing at the top (with knee raised) will incorporate your midsection more. When you stand up, simply hold for a two- to five-second count, then go back down.
Same strategy holds (literally!) for chin-ups and pull-ups. By pausing with your chin at the bar, your core fires to keep you steady and in one solid line. Leg or arm day turned core workout.
3. Stick a single-leg landing on box jumps.
To crank up the core work in a box jump, start by bringing the hop height down. Then, keep the explosive leap to one leg and really stick the landing. (Hold it at the top for one to three seconds before standing up and stepping off.) One full-body exercise at its finest.
4. Do a single-arm dumbbell press or fly.
Make your arm and ab routine go hand-in-hand. Moving one arm at a time in exercises like a dumbbell press or fly, drives your midsection to work against the rotation to keep your hips square and your back straight. This will work whether you’re standing or lying on your back. Lift your hips into a bridge and you target your glutes, too. So many muscles; so much less time.
5. Go for a twist.
We tend to rotate in multiple directions all day, from turning to give a fellow studio mate a high five to twisting around to chat with a co-worker. But to keep that movement safe, your core needs enough strength to prop you upright and protect the spine. Enter: rotational exercises to build stability. Try twisting your torso at the top of a step-up or the bottom of a front or side lunge, so your body learns to better handle those turns you take throughout the day.
6. Throw punches during wall sits.
Turn a static wall sit into a full-body exercise by getting your arms involved. Simply extend your arms out in front of you to turn on your abs and arms. Or throw some ‘bows to up the cardio element, too.
7. Lift a limb in planks.
It’s no secret that planks target your entire core. But pick up an arm, leg, or better yet both — and bam — a bigger burn. That’s because removing one base of support causes your abs, back muscles and legs to work harder to keep you in one straight line, Winslow says. This same principle holds true for push-ups, too. Pick one foot off the ground as you go and your middle will light up. Even tougher…a single-arm push-up.
8. Stand on one foot during arm exercises.
So you want to strengthen your shoulders or build your biceps? Well, you might as well get your core workout in as well. As you do shoulder presses, bicep curls or triceps extensions, stand on one leg. Not only will your abs and back work to keep you upright with a straight spine, the glutes in your standing leg will also go into overdrive to maintain stability. More muscles engaged equals more calories burned.
RELATED: This Is How to Get Toned Arms
9. Grab a sandbag.
Use any equipment that brings a varying dynamic (aka without a solid surface) and it forces you to get extra sweaty as you try to keep steady. For instance, as the sand in a sandbag moves around while you push, pull or throw it, the stability challenge skyrockets. The same goes for BOSU or stability balls.