5 best exercises for your core — according to a personal trainer

Woman doing side plank
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The internet, your local gym class timetable, and Instagram are all full of countless videos, tips, and tricks to exercises that will guarantee to give you a flat tum and toned core in time for your summer holiday. But, knowing where to start can be a daunting experience.

Building up a strong core isn't just essential for an enviable tum this summer, but it also helps to provide a strong foundation for other workouts and help prevent injury. You'll find that you rely on your core a lot when it comes to countless other exercises, such as squats, or during workouts that focus on improving your posture.

But if you're new to working your core, where should you start? Sam Prynn, an experienced Personal Trainer and Co-Founder at StrongHer, spoke with us about how to understand what a core exercise can do for you and your body, and shared tips on the best core exercises for beginners.

Why is it important to work on your core?

Core exercises are fundamental for any training that you’re doing. Whether it’s running, boxing, strength training or yoga — it’s imperative to have a strong core, which will help with stability and balance and reduce the risk of injury. They are important for you whether you are a total beginner or an advanced pro! 

Many people think that core exercises are just abdominal exercises (aka sit-ups) but they’re not. They are the entire trunk of your body — including your lower back (erector spinae).

Sam also recommends getting a resistance band, and it's one of her top investments for anybody wanting to up their core workout game. Looking for the best resistance bands for your home workouts? We've found them. 

The best core exercises for beginners 

If you're new to working your core, these are the exercises to add to your routine. Most of them will only require you to use your bodyweight, but it might help to invest in one of the best yoga mats to lie on. 

1. Side Plank

an illustration of a woman doing a side plank

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Start on the floor and on your side. Stack your legs straight out in line with your body and rest up onto your elbow pushing your hips up towards the ceiling, making sure your hips stay stacked on top of each other. Hold for around 20-30 secs and switch sides.

If this is too difficult, you can bend the bottom underneath leg in to a 90 degree angle, and have just the top leg straight out in line with your body – this will make it a little easier and you can build up to having both legs stacked on top of each other.

2. Deadbug 

Dead bugs

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Laying on your back, bend your legs up at 90-degree angles and your arms straight up over your chest (like a dead bug).

Option — keep your legs where they are and keep your lower back pulled into the floor, alternate your arms back one at a time maintaining your back connected to the floor.

Option 2 — keep your arms out in front of your chest and alternate dropping one leg at a time down towards the floor whilst again, maintaining your lower back being connected to the floor and not arching. 

Option 3 — alternate one leg and the opposite arm away from your body, return back to your dead bug initial position, and then switch.

With any option, go for between 6-10 on each side.

3. Pallof Press

a photo of a man doing a pallof press

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This is an exercise that you will need a resistance band for (check out the best resistance bands for working out at home here). Tie the resistance band to a door handle, a squat rack or even ask your workout buddy to hold it for you. You then want to stand sideways on to your anchor point holding the band in line with your belly button. The band will want to pull you towards the anchor point, but your aim is to extend your arms out in front of you, directly in front of you without rotating — thus using your obliques. Go for between 6-12 on each side.

4. Banded Woodchopper

a photo of a man doing cable woodchops

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This exercise requires a similar starting point to your pallof press, sideways to your anchor point with a resistance band attached and in your hands. You want to imagine you are chopping trees, so starting from towards your anchor point, chop across to the opposite side — away from your anchor point, and then think about controlling it and fighting against the resistance on the way back in. Go for again between 6-12 reps on each side.

5. Bird dog

an illustration of a woman doing the birddog exercise

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Onto the floor for this one and start on your hands and knees. Be sure that your shoulders are over your wrists and your knees are under your hips. Starting with your right leg and left leg — at the same time, extend away from the body keeping your back in a neutral position and trying not to arch and over-extend in your lower back. Bring the hand and the knee in towards each other and then extend back out again — go for around 8-12 reps on each side. If this is too difficult, similarly to the dead bug, just stick to either the legs or the arms until you find it easier, and then put arm and leg together.

Bonus: Hollow hold

a photo of a woman doing a v hold

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This core exercise is more of a challenge. Starting laying on your back, bring your arms up, outstretched over your head and straight and in line with your ears. Bend your knees up to a 90-degree angle — again keep thinking about keeping your lower back connected to the floor at all times. If it starts to peel away, it is too hard and you have come out of the correct position.

Curling up with your upper body engaging your upper abdominals, then extend your legs away from you as far as you can whilst keeping your lower body against the floor. The lower your legs, the harder it will be — hold for as long as possible. Again, if the back peels away, take your legs higher or come out of it completely.

Looking for more workout inspiration? We've found the best ab workouts on YouTube here, 8 of the best Pilates exercises that will target your core for the ultimate burn, and an exercise that is just as good as planks at blasting your core

Mollie Davies
Mollie is a UK based, Welsh, lifestyle journalist. She writes frequently on all things involving women, health and fitness, and beauty - amongst other topics. Her work can be found in Cosmopolitan, Insider, the Independent, Women’s Health and more. In her spare time, you’ll find her at the pottery wheel or walking her basset hound.