Non-Weighted Core Exercises (using only your body weight) are very effective for developing your body’s core’s strength. Many think that conditioning the abdominals with Non-Weighted Core Exercises or Weighted Core Exercises alone will strengthen the body’s core is over-rated when it comes to real core strength and conditioning. The reality, abdominals have very limited and specific action.
What Muscles Makes Up Your Body’s “Core?”
The list of muscles that make up the “core” is not exact and different health and fitness experts include different muscles as part of the “core.” In general, the core muscles run the length of the trunk and torso; and when they contract they stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle and create a solid base of support. These core muscles include:
- External Obliques – External Obliques are the largest and the most superficial (outermost) of the three flat muscles of the lateral anterior abdomen.
- Internal Obliques – Internal Obliques are the intermediate muscle of the abdomen, lying just underneath the external oblique and just above the transverse abdominal muscle.
- Rectus Abdominis – The rectus abdominis muscle is a paired muscle running vertically on each side of the anterior wall of the abdomen. The rectus abdominis muscle is the most well-known abdominal muscle and is often referred to as the “six-pack” due to its appearance.
- Erector Spinae – The Erector spinæ is not just one muscle, but a bundle of muscles and tendons that runs along your neck down to your lower back.
- Transverse Abdominis – Transverse Abdominis is a muscle layer of the anterior and lateral abdominal wall which is layered deep below the internal oblique muscle and wraps around your spine for protection and stability.
- Multifidus – The multifidus is a very thin muscle deep in the spine, it spans three joint segments, and works to stabilize the joints and rotate the spine.
- Hip Flexors – The hip flexors are a group of muscles that act to flex the thigh bone in order to pull the knee upward.
- Gluteus medius and minimus – Gluteus medius and minimus are located at the side of the hip.
- Gluteus maximus, hamstring group, piriformis – Gluteus maximus, hamstring group, and piriformis are located in the back of the hip and butt area and down the back of the upper leg.
- Hip adductors – The hip adductor muscles are a group of muscles of the thigh.
Why Core Muscle are Important
Core muscle stabilizes the spine, pelvis, shoulder and provides a solid foundation for movement in the extremities. Core muscles make it possible to move on two feet and stand upright. Core muscles help control movements, transfer energy, shift body weight and move in any direction. Strong core distributes the stresses of weight-bearing and protects the back. Unbalanced and weak core muscles are linked to low back pain.
Top Most Effective Non Weighted Core Exercises
Core exercises using only your body weight are the type of exercises many athletes and coaches today rely on for regular core training. The following are core exercises many believe are the top core exercises for strengthening the body’s core.
The Core Exercise: Stability Ball Stiff-Legged V Bends
Stiff Legged V Bends is perform exactly the same as the Stability Ball Roll-Ins (described below), but with keeping your legs straight and moving your hips towards the ceiling. Stiff-Legged V Bends targets the central and lower abdominals. Perform exercise as follows:
- From a pushup position, place your feet on the stability ball. Keep your arms straight and abs pulled in.
- With your legs straight, move your hips toward the ceiling while keeping your abs engaged.
- Hold for 1 second, then slowly return to starting position with keeping your abs pulled in as you extend your legs, so your back doesn’t arch.
Tips: The focus of this exercise is completely on the abs and you should feel a strong medial contraction. The further you roll out the more challenging the exercise becomes. If you cannot hold yourself in a pushup position and place your feet on the Swiss Ball, start by lying with your stomach on the ball and walk your hands forward until your legs are on the ball.
The Core Exercise: Stability Ball Roll-Ins
Stability Ball Roll-Ins is a very popular stability ball abdominal exercise which targets the central and lower abdominals. The Stability Ball Roll-Ins requires good to above average body strength. Perform as follows:
- Place your hands on the ground and the top of your feet on the ball like you would at the top of a push up position.
- Keep your hands in place, bend at the knees with using your abdominal and bring the ball toward your chest.
- Hold this position for a second, and then roll back out to starting position and repeat.
Tips: Focus on squeezing your abs throughout the movement. Keep your abs pulled in as you extend your legs so your back does not arch. The further you roll out the more challenging the exercise becomes, with the most challenging position when toes on the ball.
The Core Exercise: Supermans with a Twist
Supermans with a Twist is a great core exercise for the lower back using only your limbs as resistance. Perform exercise as follows:
- Perform the standard Supermans by lying down on your stomach and raise your arms, chest and legs off the floor extending your arms front of you.
- At the top of the raise, twist to one side, return to center and twist to the other side, then back to center position.
- Lower torso back to the floor to complete one rep.
Tips: Hold each position for equal amount of time before returning to start position. It would be good idea to alternate twisting with opposite side at the beginning of each set to work both equally. You can hold a light weight in your hand for a more advance movement.
The Core Exercise: Plank on a Swiss Ball
With the Plank on the Swiss Ball you have two possible executions: You can place your forearms on the Swiss Ball with your feet on the ground (instructions below) or you can place your feet on the Swiss Ball with forearms on the ground. Plank on a Swiss Ball is one of the best core exercises because of its advance movement variations that you can add as your strength increases. Perform the core strengthening exercise as follows:
- Kneel on the floor with the ball in front of you and place forearms on top of ball.
- Lift your knees and extend your legs until only your toes are touching the floor.
- With keeping your abs and glutes tight (do not arch your back) hold this position as long as possible.
- Relax, and then repeat for desired reps.
Tips: To increase the difficulty you can move the Swiss Ball from side to side slightly or resting one foot on top of the other with only having one foot on the floor. You can also do the exercises with your hand on the Swiss Ball instead of forearms to increase difficulty. If you find Plank on the Swiss Ball to difficult, go back and practice the standard Plank.
The Core Exercise: Bicycle Abdominal Crunch
Bicycle Abdominal Crunch is among the top of the best exercises for the Rectus Abdominus. Bicycle Crunch is not only a great exercise for the Rectus Abdominus but also targets the External and Internal Oliques. Perform the core strengthening exercise as follows:
- Lie flat with your back on the floor with hips bent about 90 degrees and hands behind the head.
- Curl your body forward, like in a crunch, bring your left knee towards your right elbow and extend your right leg out.
- Keep your shoulders lifted off the floor and switch your crunch to right knee to left elbow and extend left leg out.
- Continue alternating from left to right bringing opposite knees and elbows together while breathing evenly throughout the exercise.
Tips: Remember to slowly but deliberately lift your shoulders off the floor and focus on the abdominals doing the work. Do not try to get your shoulders off the floor as much as possible but to feel the abdominal contraction. You should not focus on bringing your shoulder up with any other muscle group such as the neck and shoulder. The tempo and reps can vary for this exercise. Slow tempo with fewer reps helps more with firming. Fast tempo with more reps helps more with fat burning.
The Core Exercise: V-Sit
V-Sit is a great abdominal and core exercise that works the Rectus Abdominis, the External Obliques and Internal Obliques. The V-Sit will also engage the hip flexors. Perform the core strengthening exercise as follows:
- Starting in a seated position leaning back on your arms, contract the abdominal muscles and lift your legs up to a 45 degree angle.
- Reach your arms straight forward towards your shins as far as you are able.
- Hold this V position while maintaining good core posture and a strong spine for several seconds. Hold this position longer as you grow stronger.
- Return to starting position slowly.
- Just before you reach the floor, stop and hold the position for as long possible.
- Repeat the V-Sit movement several more times.
Tip: Make sure that you maintain a good core posture and a strong spine by contracting your abdominals throughout the exercise.
The Core Exercise: Lying Glute Bridge
Lying Glute Bridge is a great exercise that can be perform anywhere because only the use of your body weight is required. Lying GluteBridge targets the Rectus Abdominus and Gluteus Maximus. The Secondary Muscles (Synergist/Stabilizers) use while performing the Lying GluteBridge are Erector Spinae, Trasverse Abdominus, Gluteus Medius/Minimus, Hamstrings and Adductors. The Lying Glute Pushup can also be performed with your feet resting on top of a Swiss Ball. The technique use is the same for both, feet on the floor or with using the Swiss Ball. Perform the core strengthening exercise as follows:
- Lie flat on your back on a mat with your knees bent pointing up to the ceiling and your arms at your sides. The feet should be hip-width apart flat on floor (or Swiss Ball).
- Contract your abdominals, raise your pelvis up toward the ceiling to a point where your body will be at a about a 45 degree angle relative to the floor.
- At the top of the movement, be sure to really flex your butt for a one-count.
- Lower yourself to starting position and repeat.
Tip: Avoid arching your lower back as you press your hips upward which normally occurs if you attempt to push your hips as high as possible. This can be achieved by contracting your abdominal muscles prior to lifting, and keeping them engaged throughout the lift.
The Core Exercise: Twisting Crunch
Twisting Crunch is a great variation of the basic abdominal strengthening Crunch exercise. When performing the Twisting Crunch the obliques will also be targeted because of their involvement with this exercise. Twisting Crunch is one of the most effective exercises as it hits all of your stomach muscle fibers at once when performed as follows:
- Lie face up on the floor, legs bent and one leg cross over the other so ankle is on leg.
- With hands behind head, without pulling your head, exhale while bringing shoulder towards opposite knee i.e., left shoulder to right knee, while contracting abdominals.
- Return, while inhaling, to starting position without allowing abdominals to relax or shoulder to touch the floor.
- Repeat, then switch sides after target number of repetitions have been reached.
Tips: Keep your head and spine straightly aligned. Use your abdominals and obliques to pull you up as high as possible, not your hands and arms. Don’t let your shoulders touch the floor throughout the set, keep the tension on your abdominals. Focus on really twisting your torso and feeling the contraction when you are in the top crunch position.
The Core Exercise: Side Plank
Side Plank is a great isometric exercise for building core strength, and more specifically oblique strength. It is also a good balance exercise. The primary muscles use while performing the Side Plank exercise are Transverse Abdominus, Gluteus Maximus/Minimus, Adductors and Obliques. Synergists/Stabilizers (secondary muscles) are Gluteus Maximus, Quadriceps and Hamstrings. Remember when performing the Side Plank exercise always keep yourself completely straight and hold the position as long as possible. Perform the core strengthening exercise as follows:
- Start by lying on your side resting on your forearm and on the side of your foot with feet on top of one another.
- Place your elbow directly under your shoulder, align your head with your spine and keep your hips and knee in contact with the floor.
- Lift your hips and knees off the floor, keeping contact with the side of your foot and head aligned with your spine.
- Hold for as long as possible then slowly return to starting position.
- Alternate sides and repeat.
Tip: Do not sag in the middle, always stay perfectly straight. Complete this exercise in front of a mirror to make sure you are not letting your technique slip. You can increase the Side Plank intensity by raising the upper leg off the lower leg or raising the lower leg off the floor and maintaining contact with your elbow and foot of the upper leg only.
The Core Exercise: Plank
Plank is a great stationary exercise that helps strengthen the entire core of the body. Primary muscles use while performing the Plank exercise Erector Spinae, Rectus Abdominus and Transverse Abdominus.
There are a number of Synergist/Stabilizers (Secondary Muscles) use while performing the Plank exercise Trapezius, Rhomboids, Rotator Cuff, Anterior and Medial Deltoids, Posterior Deltoids, Pectorals, Serratus Anterior, Gluteus Maximus, Quadriceps and Gastrocnemius. Remember when performing the Plank exercise always keep completely straight and hold the position as long as possible. Typically, The Plank is done for 3 x 1 minute sets. As your strength increases you should be able to do 3 sets for 1 to 3 minutes. Perform the core strengthening exercise as follows:
- Lie on the floor on your stomach with your elbows close to your sides and directly under the shoulders, palms down and hands facing forward.
- With your legs straight lift your entire torso off the floor onto your toes and forearms. Head should be relaxed and looking at the floor.
- Hold this position while maintaining a stiff torso and legs, with no sagging or bending, for as long as possible.
- Maintain a stiff torso and lower your body towards the floor before relaxing.
- Relax and repeat.
Note: an advanced technique would be to do the plank using a stability ball. This makes the standard plank movement harder.
Tips: Complete this exercise in front of a mirror to make sure you are not letting your technique slip. There are several advance variations you can use to increase the Plank’s difficulty. Two examples: Plank with leg lift and Plank with arm lift. An easier version of the Plank would be to perform the movement on your hands rather than forearms.
Honorable Mention Core Exercises:
- Lying Windmills
- Pushup Plank
- Supermans/Alternating Supermans
- Butt Raises
- Hanging Leg Raise
- Reverse Crunches
- Scissor Kicks/Over-Under
- Sledge Hammer
Bottom Line onTop Non-Weighted Core Exercises
Core exercises are just one part of a complete fitness program. Proper diet, aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching are equally important. Whether you’re an exercise novice taking the first steps towards fitness or a seasoned fitness fanatic hoping to optimize your results, a well-rounded fitness training program can help to reach your exercise goals