So maybe you aren’t in good enough shape to get down and give us 50 crunches. But we know you’re not looking to ignore your core either. Well here’s no small truth: A strong midsection isn’t all about six-pack abs. Every time you carry groceries, laundry, or even your kids, you’re relying on your core as a foundation of strength, explains Justin Rubin, a trainer.
“Lots of beginners have upper back tension or lower back issues,” says Rubin. “Your core is located in your posterior chain and strengthening it will help keep your chest up and your spine strong,” which can correlate to some back pain relief.
Whether you’re getting back into fitness after a lapse or you’re an exercise newbie, developing a solid core will increase your stability and balance. Translation: You’ll be able to perform more advanced moves with confidence as you regain your strength.
Ab Workout: 6 Beginner Core Exercises
If you think you need to use a fancy machine to target those inner belly muscles, think again. We asked Rubin to demonstrate six easy-to-follow core exercises for beginners, which don’t require any equipment. Follow along with the GIFs below to bring variety to your next core workout.
- Bird-Dog Crunch
Targets: Abs, hamstrings, glutes and shoulders
Stronger abs don’t develop overnight — you’ll have to first learn how to activate your core. For this essential True Beginner core exercise, start on the floor on all fours, hands placed directly underneath your shoulders, hips in line with your knees. This is your starting position. Lift your right hand and extend your arm straight out in on you, keeping it shoulder height, while simultaneously lifting your left leg and extending it straight back(a). Your whole body should be in a straight line from right fingertips to left toes. Bring your left leg to touch your right elbow under your stomach. Extend your leg and arm out again. Return to starting position (b). Repeat on the other side (c). Do five reps on each side.
Modification: If you’re unable to maintain form, simplify this movement by forgoing the crunch. Instead, extend your arm and opposite leg out and hold for three seconds, then switch sides.
- Standing Bicycle Crunches
Targets: Obliques, rotational muscles
Do traditional crunches cause discomfort? Rubin suggests this True Beginner variation instead. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands placed behind your head. With a tight core, straight back and relaxed shoulders lift your right leg and simultaneously raise your right knee and lower your left elbow towards each other (a). Return to the starting position (b). Repeat on the opposite side. Do five reps on each side.
Modification: If rotating your upper body downwards is too difficult, simply lift your knee to your chest while keeping your upper body still, alternating legs.
- Seated Leg Lifts
Targets: Abs, hamstrings
Don’t be fooled by this basic-looking leg lift: Beginners to even more advanced folks will start feeling the burn after a few reps. Sit on the floor, legs extended straight out in front of you. Keeping your core engaged, lean back slightly, so you’re able to place your hands on either side of your glutes. Take a deep breath and lift one leg six inches off the ground (a). Hold for five seconds, and then put it down. Repeat with the other leg (b). Continue alternating for one-minute straight, then take a 20 second break. Repeat for five rounds.
Modification: To make this exercise easier, lift one leg at a time without stopping to hold each one extended for five seconds. Need more of a challenge? After lifting a heel, bring your knee into your chest, then extend your heel back out and lower down. Repeat on the opposite side.
Targets: Abs, possibly hip flexors depending on range of motion
If performed incorrectly, sit-ups can cause more pain than they’re worth. Rubin breaks down how to safely and effectively perform the move. To start, sit on the floor with your knees bent, heels touching the floor, hands on either side of your head, shoulders dropped and relaxed to avoid tension in the neck. Keeping your feet on the ground, lay back until your back is flat on the floor, or as far as you’re able (a). Rise back up (b). Continue for one-minute straight, then take a 20 second break. Repeat for five rounds.
Modification: Having trouble keeping your core and back engaged? Slowly lower yourself as far as you can, and work up to lowering completely down to the floor. There’s no need to go all the way back until you can maintain perfect form, says Rubin.
- Modified Bicycle Crunch
Targets: Obliques, rotational muscles
Start in the same neutral position as the sit-up, sitting with knees bent, heels flat on the floor, hands on either side of your head (a). Bring the right knee and left elbow towards one another, with a simple and gentle twist (b). Return to the start position (c). Complete the movement with the left knee and right elbow. Continue for one-minute straight, then take a 20 second break. Repeat for five rounds.
Modification: This is a major progression from the sit-up, so if this movement is tough for you, keep practicing sit-ups (above).
- Spider Plank Crunch
Targets: Lower abs, glutes
Still have fuel left in the tank? Rubin challenges True Beginners to tap into their Spidey sense. Start in a push-up position, hands on the ground directly underneath your shoulders, legs extended backwards with your toes on the ground, so your body is in a straight line. Lift your right leg and bring your knee towards the outside of your right elbow (a). Return to plank position (b). Repeat the movement with the other leg. Do five reps with each leg.
Modification: If this is too challenging, simply hold a plank on your elbows or hands for 30 seconds at a time, for three rounds. (If you have a wrist issue, Rubin recommends doing this movement on your elbows.)