We all want a flat belly that can rock a bikini without blinking twice. But it turns out, there’s a lot more to your core than meets the eye. Your core muscles enhance balance and stability, and they are responsible for every move you make, whether you’re sitting, standing, taking a step, bending over, turning or lifting a heavy object. A strong core strengthens and protects your spine during all these activities and movements, but it also helps to maintain a proper lumbar curve and good posture. When core muscles are weakened, they can cause changes to the lumbar curve and lead to lower-back pain.
But if you think that traditional sit-ups will keep you in motion and give you the core of your dreams, think again. Not only are they ineffective, but they also put undo strain on your lower back. The best core exercises work the entire torso — from your chest to your pelvis and 360 degrees around your midsection. The following core four will boost your balance, improve your posture, protect your back — and give you beachworthy abs. So send those sit-ups back to the ’80s and try these core-specific moves instead:
Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, external obliques, rectus femoris
Lie faceup on an exercise mat with your hips and knees bent 90 degrees so that your lower legs are parallel to the floor. Place your fingers on the sides of your forehead and lift your shoulders off the floor. Twist your upper body to the right as you pull your right knee toward your left elbow. Simultaneously straighten your left leg. Return to the starting position and repeat to the right. Make sure your rib cage is moving and not just your elbows. Do three sets of 20 reps.
Side Plank With Rotation
Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, obliques
Lie on your left side with your legs straight. Prop your upper body up on your left elbow and forearm. Engage your abs and raise your hips until your body forms a straight line. Lift your right arm straight above you so that it’s perpendicular to the floor. Reach your right hand under and behind your torso, then return your right arm to the starting position. Complete as many reps as possible before switching to your right side.
Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis
Lie flat on your back on an exercise mat, hands at the base of your spine for added support, if needed. Keeping them straight, raise your legs to a 90-degree angle. Slowly lower your legs until they are an inch or two from the ground. Repeat until your stomach burns and you can no longer raise your legs (exercise to failure).
Roman Chair Leg Raise
Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, hip flexors
Position yourself in an upright roman chair. Be sure your back is flat and against the back of the chair. Place your elbows directly under your shoulders on the arm pads. Begin the exercise by slowly drawing your knees up toward your chest. Pause, then slowly lower your legs so they are straight and pointing toward the floor. Let your feet hang straight down — do not place them back on the foot rests. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.