Last Updated October 27, 2023 (originally published February 28, 2017)
Developing core strength is essential for everyday health and well-being, as a strong core protects the spine, reduces back pain, enhances movement patterns, and improves balance, stability and posture.
There are many methods for developing core strength, as well as various pieces of equipment that assist in that development. However, there are plenty of exercises that require only body weight or basic equipment. The most important thing to remember when training the core is to avoid using momentum and instead perform each exercise with awareness so that the core muscles are engaged.
The following seven core stability exercises can be added to your current workout routine. If some of these exercises feel too challenging, try the alternate version. If the featured equipment is not available, use your own body weight.
BOSU Bird Dog
Focus: Core stability
How to perform: Set your left knee on the center of the dome and place both hands on the floor underneath the shoulders. Extend the right leg behind you to hip height, keeping the foot flexed. Raise the left arm to shoulder height with your thumb facing the ceiling. Hold for 20 seconds and switch sides.
Alternate version: Perform the exercise on the floor.
Supine Heel Taps
Focus: Core stability
How to perform: Lie on your back and place your arms by your sides. Engage the abdominals and draw the navel toward your spine. Lift the knees to 90 degrees. With control, lower your right foot to touch the floor with your heel before returning it back to 90 degrees. Perform the same movement with your left leg and continue to alternate tapping the right and then the left heel onto the floor. Perform 10 repetitions with each leg. Each repetition should take about four seconds to complete, two seconds to lower the leg and two seconds to raise the leg back to 90 degrees.
Alternate version: Keep your feet on the floor, and slide your heel on the mat, alternating legs.
Marching Glute Bridge
Focus: Lumbo-pelvic stability
How to perform: Lie on your back and place your hands by your sides. Lift the hips and hold a glute bridge. Lift the right foot off the floor to 90 degrees at the hip and knee. Return the foot to the floor and then lift the left foot to 90 degrees; return to center. Keep the hips lifted and maintain a neutral pelvis as you alternate leg lifts for 20 repetitions.
Alternate version: Hold a static glute bridge, keeping both feet on the floor for 30 or more seconds.
Stability Ball Dead Bug
Focus: Core stability
How to perform: Lie on your back and lift your knees to 90 degrees. Place a stability ball at the knees and press your hands and legs into the stability ball. Engage the core muscles and draw the navel toward the spine. Extend the left arm and right leg while continuing to hold the ball with your left leg and right hand. The straighter the limbs, the more challenging the exercise. Make sure the knees stay at 90 degrees when returning back to center (the calves touching the hamstrings makes the exercise easier). Complete 10 repetitions on each side, alternating which arm and leg are extended with each repetition.
Alternate version: Perform the exercise without a stability ball and keep your knees at 90 degrees as you lower. It’s similar to the Supine Heel Taps exercise described above, but with the addition of the arms.
Forearm Plank with Toe Taps
Focus: Core stability and hip strength
How to perform: Position the body into a forearm plank with the arms resting on the dome side of a BOSU balance trainer. Begin alternating lateral toe taps, where the right foot pushes away from the body, touches the floor and then returns to center. Repeat with the left leg. Complete a set of 10 repetitions on each leg.
Alternate version: Perform a static forearm plank with feet hip-distance apart and the forearms on the floor.
Side Plank with Torso Rotation
Focus: Core strength and shoulder stability
How to perform: Position the body into a forearm side plank with both legs extended. Lift the top arm over the chest and then rotate with your rib cage to draw the hand underneath the ribs. Repeat this motion for 10 to 12 repetitions and then perform on the other side.
Alternate version: Perform the exercise in modified side plank with your bottom shin on the floor.
Focus: Posterior chain strength
How to perform: Hold a set of dumbbells and stand tall with feet hip-distance apart. Lift the right foot off the floor and hinge the pelvis to glide over the top of the left leg. The head and the foot should counterbalance each other. The lowest hinging point should be when the body is parallel to the floor. Keep the pelvis as neutral as possible. Complete 12 repetitions on each leg.
Alternate version: Perform the exercise without dumbbells or complete a deadlift with both feet on the floor.