Regular cardio exercises can help keep you fit, but strengthening your core is an essential, age-defying activity that should be a consistent part of your weekly routine. Having strong lower back, ab and waist muscles not only will help chisel your body into a bathing-suit-worthy physique — it will make other activities like holding your kids, climbing stairs and carrying your groceries much easier down the line.
“Your core is the central component of your entire existence,” says Mike Ryan, a personal trainer at the Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute. “When you strengthen it, your whole life is going to be easier. It will even make everyday activities more fun.”
Core strengthening also improves cognitive functioning and helps prevent bone and muscle weakening — not to mention that it will give you a confidence-boosting midsection that looks good in (and out of) your clothes.
ULTIMATE CORE WORKOUT OF 6 ESSENTIAL EXERCISES
Start with 10 minutes of cardio, and end with five minutes of stretching. Don’t forget to hydrate throughout. Do this routine three times a week, and you’ll start to see results within a month.
STABILITY BALL CRUNCHES
Three sets of 10 reps
Lie back on a stability ball, with your feet flat on the floor and your body forming a 45-degree angle with the ball. Cross your hands and place them on your upper chest. Contract your abs to lift your torso five to 10 inches off the ball, keeping your feet and neck stable, then slowly lower back down.
Our expert says: “If you’re up for a bigger challenge, curl your left shoulder toward your right knee, alternating sides with each rep.”
STABILITY BALL BACK EXTENSION
Three sets of 10
Lie facedown on a stability ball, with your feet about hip-distance apart behind and supporting you. Hold your arms out Superman-style and slowly lift yourself up. Drop your chin to the ball, and elevate your upper torso so that your back and rear are in a straight line; be sure not to overextend into a curve.
Our expert says: “This is an amazing lower-back exercise that also recruits the hamstrings and glutes. For a deeper burn, hold a light weight in each hand as you elevate.”
Hold for 45 seconds
Lie on your stomach in a pushup position. Keep your arms bent, with palms and forearms on the floor and legs extended straight out, and be up on your toes. Contract your ab muscles and slowly lift your torso off the floor, keeping your palms, elbows, forearms and toes on the floor. Hold the position for 45 seconds, then slowly drop and recover for 30 seconds.
Our expert says: “When you feel stronger, increase your hold time up to a minute.”
Three sets of 12
That’s right, squats. This one exercise can have a major impact on your core. Place a stability ball between your mid-back and a wall. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart; keep your back straight and your head up. Bend your knees, drop your torso. Lower your butt toward the floor, the ball rolling with you as you move, as if you were sitting in a chair. As you stand back up, push through the heels of your feet. For more of a challenge, hold a five-pound barbell (or whatever weight works for you) in each hand.
Our expert says: “This’ll work everything — your abs, your glutes and your lower back — plus it helps develop strength and endurance.”
SIDE TRUNK RAISE ON HYPEREXTENSION BENCH
Three sets of 12 on both sides
Position yourself sideways on the hyperextension bench so that one hip is resting on the large pad, and your feet are hooked under the foot pads, securing you. Let one arm hang down relaxed, the other rested on your hip or behind your head. Slowly exhale, contract your oblique muscles and lower your free arm toward the floor. Keep your neck straight and don’t twist your upper body. Inhale as you return to the starting position. Alternate sides between each set.
Our expert says: “This is a major love-handle buster, since it works the side abdominal muscles. Hold a dumbbell in your free hand to make it more challenging.”
THE AB WHEEL
Three sets of 10
An ab wheel is a small wheel with a handle on either side. With your knees bent and resting on the floor, contract your core and slightly tilt your pelvis back to prevent arching your lower back. Grab the handles on the wheel with both hands and hold it directly below your shoulders, keeping your arms straight. Roll the wheel straight out in front of you, moving it far enough to work all of your ab muscles. (Trust us, you’ll feel it.) Squeeze your abs, use your lower-back muscles, and pull the wheel back toward you.
Our expert says: “This one will make you sweat. For more of a challenge, push the wheel laterally to work your oblique and intercostal ab muscles.”