Still saving core exercises for the last 15 minutes of your workout? There’s a better way: Incorporating moves into your main set that target multiple muscle groups—core included—can help you gain valuable strength and save time.
“Unlike stationary machines and isolation work, functional exercises gets your body moving in different planes of motion and engage multiple joints simultaneously, mimicking everyday movements, like lugging groceries or picking up the baby,” says Fitbit Coach and certified personal trainer Adrian Richardson.
Ready to work your abs in a different way? Each exercise below has been tweaked slightly to target your core. If you’re a fitness newbie, start with 10 to 12 reps (or 15 to 30 seconds) of each one. If you’re at an intermediate level, try for 15 to 20 reps (or 30 to 45 seconds). Advanced? Aim for 20 to 25 reps (or 45 to 60 seconds). Run through the full cycle twice.
Targets: chest, shoulders, back, legs, core
Key core component: “Your transverse abdominus (the layer of muscle on the front and side of the abdominal wall) is held in a static position throughout the crawl, causing deep contraction of the abdominal muscles,” says Richardson.
1. Get on all fours.
2. Press your hands against the floor as if you’re trying to push it away from your body, creating space between your shoulder blades.
3. Tuck your toes and raise your knees 2 to 4 inches off the floor. Your back should be flat and your core engaged. You should feel some tension in your glutes and legs.
4. Once you’ve locked in the “static bear,” crawl five steps forward, five steps backwards, five steps to the left, and five steps to the right. That’s one rep.
LUNGE WITH TWIST
Targets: glutes, quads, hamstrings, core
Key core component: “By adding a slight rotation at the top of your lunge, you’re activating your obliques and your transverse abdominis, which helps support your spine and acts as an internal ‘weight belt.’” When doing this movement, start slowly, and only incorporate a medicine ball or other weight once you’ve mastered it without one.
1. Start in a standing position. Step your left foot forward and slowly lower into a lunge. Your left knee should be directly above your ankle and your right knee hovering a few inches off the ground.
2. Tightening your core, rotate your torso to the left and hold the contraction for a second before returning to center.
3. Pushing through your left foot, stand back up, switch legs, and repeat on the right side. That’s one rep.
Targets: obliques, transverse abdominis, glutes, quads, hamstrings
Key core component: “The dip causes your obliques to fire harder as they contract and relax, and also strengthens the muscles around the spine,” says Richardson.
1. Lay on your side with your legs extended and stacked and your upper body resting on your forearm with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder.
2. Keeping your core tight, raise your hips in a slow, controlled motion until you form a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Pause here.
3. Slowly lower your bottom hip towards the ground then raise it back up. That’s one rep.
4. Do all reps on one side before switching to the other one.
Targets: back, core
Key core component: “Keep your core fully engaged the entire time to protect your back,” says Richardson. “That means no slouching as your torso rotates.”
1. Sit on the ground with knees bent. Holding a medicine ball—your arms in front of you, elbows slightly bent—engage your core and lean back so that your upper body forms a V-shape with your thighs.
2. Twist your torso to the right until you feel your obliques engage. Pause for one breath.
3. Rotate back to the center before twisting to the left. That’s one rep. For added difficulty, use a medicine ball.
Targets: legs, shoulders, core
Key core component: “When you add the jumping jack leg movement to this already killer exercise, you increase muscle activation throughout the core,” says Richardson. “Plank jacks also increase your heart rate, producing a great cardio burn.”
1. Start in a forearm plank, with forearms on the floor and elbows under shoulders.
2. Keeping your core tight to prevent your hips from sagging, jump your feet out and away from your body and then back in again. That’s one rep.
LOW-INCLINE LEG RAISES
Targets: hip flexor, core
Key core component: “While doing leg raises on the floor you might feel fatigue in the lower portion of your abdominal wall,” says Richardson. “ But it doesn’t actually cause the abs and obliques to contract.” This version swaps the floor for an incline bench to better target your abs.
1. Lie flat on an incline bench with your head positioned higher than your feet.
2. Reach your hands above your head and grab the padded foot cradles, top handle, or sides of the bench.
3. Squeeze your core and raise your legs, keeping them as straight as possible, until they’re stacked directly over your hips.
4. Slightly tuck your hips, and press your feet towards the sky.
5. Slowly roll your hips down and lower your legs (go as low as possible while maintaining contact between your back and then bench). You shouldn’t fully “rest” between reps but rather keep tension throughout the movement. That’s one rep.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.