Top trainers share their favorite core strengthening exercises.
If a lean, toned core is what you’re after (and who isn’t?), we’ve got the moves for you. While there are countless ways to sculpt abs, these core strengthening exercises—from some of the hottest trainers in the country—will get you on your way to a six-pack.
The Trainer: Fred DeVito, co-creator of Exhale: Core Fusion 30-Day Sculpt DVD
The Move: The Curl. “This core strengthening exercise is my favorite because it works the entire abdominal wall, but really targets the deepest abdominals—the transversals—which are the main core stabilizers,” DeVito says.
How to: Sit on a mat or carpeted surface, rest back on your elbows, press your lower back down, and tuck your pelvis up while pulling the abdominals in (A). Once set, reach up and take hold of your outer thighs, keeping your elbows wide, shoulders down, chin open, abdominals in and pelvis tucked (B). Release your legs, and raise your arms without falling back (C). Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat for a total of 3 sets.
The Trainer: Nichole Nichols, creator of SparkPeople: Total Body Sculpting DVD
The Move: The Bicycle Crunch. “This classic move, ranked the number-one most effective move for your abs by research from the American Council on Exercise, activates both the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack abs”) and the obliques (at the sides of the waist),” Nichols says.
How to: Start lying on your back with knees in table top, hands clasped behind your head, and your shoulder blades off the floor (A). Extend your right leg out almost parallel to the floor, bending the right knee into your chest as the left shoulder twists toward the left knee (B). Quickly switch to the other side. That’s one rep. Do 20 reps. Be sure to keep your elbows wide, and avoid pulling on your head with your hands.
The Trainer: Nichole Nichols
The Move: The Mermaid. “This move works your abs and obliques, plus the shoulders and arms,” Nichols says. “You will feel it all over—and will still feel it the next day. Best of all, there is no crunching involved!”
How to: Begin in a side plank with your legs staggered (top leg forward, bottom leg back), with your supporting hand directly under your shoulder and the top arm extended (A). Inhale and reach your top arm up and over (next to your ear) while lifting your bottom hip even higher from the floor, flexing the spine while keeping the hips and shoulders square (B). Exhale and lower your bottom hip halfway down toward the mat, sweeping your top arm down next to your thigh (C). Continue moving between the lifted (A) and lowered (C) position without pausing to complete 15 reps before switching sides. Work up to 3 sets of 15 on each side.
The Trainer: Simone De La Rue, fitness expert and trainer to celebrities like Naomi Watts and Sandra Bullock. Find more of her workouts at bodybysimonetv.com.
The Move: Sliding Plank. “My favorite core move is the plank,” De La Rue says. “It is a wonderful all-over body workout and one of the best ways to strengthen your core.”
How to: Start off in plank position with a small towel under your left foot (A). Slide your left knee in toward your chest, keeping legs parallel (B). Slide your left foot back out to starting position(C). Repeat 10 times. Then, “window wipe” your left leg out to the side; then back to meet the right foot (D). Repeat 10 times. Repeat the entire sequence with the right leg.
The Trainer: Leah Sarago, creator of the Ballet Body DVD series
The Move: Single Leg Barre-Assisted C-Curve Twist. “This variation of c-curve offers a great amount of control that allows for proper naval-to-spine action, which is essential for activating the deep core muscles that work like a corset to tighten the abdominal wall,” Sarago says.
How to: Begin with hips away from the barre or wall, legs lengthened at a 45-degree angle with feet resting on the barre or wall. Keeping the right leg straight and toes pointed, draw it in toward your center, holding the leg above or below the knee with both hands. Draw the naval into the spine and round the arms, tuck the chin slightly, and pull the shoulders down. Lift high off the floor and hold for 8 seconds (A). Weave the left arm between the right arm and leg, and slightly twist your torso to the right. Hold for 8 seconds (B). Stretch the left arm out to the side and slightly twist the torso to the left. Hold for 8 seconds (C). Rotate back to center (A). Repeat, doing 3 sets of 8 reps on each side. Try to lift yourself higher with every rep.
The Trainer: Elisabeth Halfpapp, co-creator of Exhale: Core Fusion 30-Day Sculpt DVD
The Move: Fly Ups. “This move targets the rectus abdominis, transversalis, and legs,” Halfpapp says. “I love this core exercise because it also adds some leg work and gives your back a great stretch.”
How to: Sit on the floor on a folded towel, lean back to rest on your elbows, and place your feet hip-width apart on a wall in front of you so that knees are bent about 90 degrees (A). Press your rounded lower back into the floor and squeeze your abs as you extend the legs up, keeping feet against wall and lifting arms to reach toward feet, with elbows soft. Pulse here—curling torso up 1 inch then back down—for 20 reps. Do 3 sets, hugging knees to chest between each.