Ask most people what core exercises are and you’ll likely get an answer pertaining to six-pack abs. In reality, working one’s core has little to do with muscle definition and everything to do with preventing core stability of the torso and the spine in particular.
If you allow the muscles that support the spine to get weak, you might see diminished posture and balance, but more likely than not you risk significant back pain and injury. A few simple exercises will help prevent instability and give you a foundation for a truly strong core. Building a six pack on top of that is completely optional.
1) Pelvic Tilt
Pelvic tilt is a basic core exercise that targets the muscles deep in the abdomen that connect to the pelvis. To perform this exercise, lie on your back and bend your knees. With your feet on the floor near your buttocks and your arms either relaxed at your sides or resting on your stomach, squeeze your abs and tilt your pelvis to push your lower back into the floor. Hold the position for a moment and then relax so that your pelvis returns to its neutral position. That counts as one pelvic tilt.
Work up to holding each tilt for 10 seconds. Do at least 10 repetitions before moving on to the next exercise.
2) Pelvic Tilt with Heel Slides
Now that you are familiar with pelvic tilts, try to maintain that posture while moving your legs. This exercise mimics the necessity of your core muscles working to stabilize the spine while walking or standing upright.
Start in the same position as before, but this time keep your back flat throughout the entire exercise. Alternatively, slide one heel along the floor until each leg is straight and then slide it back to the starting position before repeating with the opposite leg. Count each heel slide as one rep until you have done 10. Only then should you relax your abdominal muscles and let your pelvis move out of the tilted position.
3) Pelvic Tilts with Alternating Arm Raises
Your core muscles also have to maintain spinal stability when you move your upper body. Alternating arm raises train the muscles to stabilize during arm movement.
Assume the starting position with both arms lying flat at your sides. Squeeze your abs and flatten your lower back. Keep the pelvic tilt as you lift your right arm up off the floor and back until it rests on the floor above your head. Bring your right arm back to your side as you lift your left arm. Continue switching positions of your arms until you have done 10 reps.
The clam exercise strengthens the muscles on the outer hips. Lie on your right side with your knees bent at 90-degree angles and with your left leg directly on top of your right. Slowly lift your left leg toward the ceiling but keep contact at your feet. Your legs will look like an open clam. Then, lower your left leg back onto your right to complete one rep.
Perform 10 repetitions with your left leg. Then, roll onto your left side and repeat with your right leg.
5) Assisted Back Extensions
Assuming you have no current injury or instability in your back, you shouldn’t have any trouble doing the back extension exercise. But it doesn’t hurt to play it safe and start with an assisted version.
Lie on your abdomen with your legs straight and position your hands on the floor underneath your chest. Squeeze your ab muscles and slowly raise your chest off the floor. Your arms may help push your upper body but it is your back muscles that should do most of the work. Perform up to 10 back extensions.
If you do not experience pain or discomfort, you can try the exercise with your arms relaxed at your sides or with your hands behind your head. The latter is the most difficult variation.
These exercises are meant to work together as a basic workout for the often overlooked muscles of the core. The adductors and obliques are also important for stability. You might also wish to work the rectus abdominis, especially if you want a six pack.