You might be used to hitting the floor to train your abs. But don’t think the floor is your only option. In fact, adding standing core exercises could be the ticket to a stronger, more efficient midsection.
While traditional exercises like sit-ups or crunches work your core muscles, they don’t teach your core to brace. “The purpose of the core is to help stabilize your thorax to the pelvis during movement,” says Jason Shaw, metabolic specialist and certified personal trainer at Life Time Burr Ridge in Illinois. Plus, traditional ab exercises like these can stress your hips and lower back.
So what should you do instead? Because those abdominals function primarily as stabilizers, some of the best core exercises are stability-focused fundamental movements, says strength and conditioning specialist Finley Funsten, owner of MADabolic Charlotte in North Carolina. Think moves like squats and lunges.
Below, Funsten and Shaw detail standing exercises that train the core the way it’s designed to work in daily life — all but one of which are done from a standing position. (The outlier is included because Shaw says it’s one of the best exercises for building core strength.) Do all from start to finish or mix and match as you desire, using set and rep recommendations as guidelines.
- Goblet dumbbell squat. Stand with your feet under your shoulders, toes angled out slightly, and hold a dumbbell vertically (like a chalice) between your legs. Lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Aim to keep your chest as upright as possible and your midsection braced so the weight doesn’t pull you forward. Drive back to standing position with power. Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions for three sets.
- Kettlebell suitcase deadlift. Stand with your feet under your hips with your toes pointed straight ahead, and place the kettlebells on the floor next to your ankles (outside your stance). Hinging from your hips and keeping your back flat, move your chest toward the floor. Grip the kettlebells, brace your midsection and press the floor away from you to come to a standing position. (Your hips and shoulders should rise together.) From a tall standing position with your shoulders pinned back, push your hips back into a hinge and slowly lower the kettlebells so you touch the floor with control. Release to the start position, and repeat 10 to 12 times for three sets.
- Dumbbell push press. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Holding a weight in each hand, lift the dumbbells to your shoulders, palms forward, keeping your elbows down toward your rib cage. Do a shallow dip with your knees and hips, and driving through your heels, use momentum to drive the weights overhead. Finish with a braced midsection, elbows locked out and biceps in line with your ears. Use control to lower the weights to your shoulders. Repeat 10 to 12 times for a total of three sets.
- Farmer’s carry. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold a weight in each hand by your side. Use a strong grip on the weights, and pinning your shoulders back and down while bracing your midsection, walk in a straight line 20 to 30 yards with control. Turn around and walk back. Repeat for one to two minutes three times.
- Inchworm push-up. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, fold forward from your hips and walk your hands forward until your wrists are under your shoulders and your body forms one long line from head to toes. Keeping your midsection as tight as possible and your elbows back toward your heels, lower your chest and thighs to the floor. Press back to plank and walk your hands back to your feet. Stand tall and repeat 10 to 12 times. Do three sets.
- Turkish get-up. Lie faceup on the floor, and place your right arm next your body on the floor with your right leg extended and your left foot on the floor. Hold a dumbbell (or kettlebell) in your left hand, arm extended straight up, and gaze at the dumbbell. Lift your hips up, pressing first onto your right elbow and then extending your right arm all the way. Keep the dumbbell lifted straight overhead, eyes on the weight the whole time. Go onto the knee of your right leg, center your body and stand all the way up, arm still overhead. Carefully return to the start position, using your right arm to guide you down. Repeat two to five times each side.
- Single-arm farmer’s carry. Stand with your feet under your shoulders with a kettlebell or dumbbell in your right hand. Pretending that you have a weight in each hand so your posture stays tall, walk forward 35 to 75 seconds. Switch sides and repeat to complete one set. Do two to three sets.
- Pallof press. Tie a resistance band (with a handle is ideal) around something sturdy so that the band is about chest level. Take the ends of the band in your hands and step away from the mount until you feel tension in the band, turning your body so one side is facing the band. Press your arms straight forward. Pull the band to your chest and repeat 12 to 20 times. Switch sides and repeat to complete one set. Do two to three sets.
- McGill roll-up. Lie faceup on the floor with one leg straight and the other foot flat on the floor so your leg is bent. Place your hands under your lower back. Lift your head and shoulders slightly off floor, holding for 15 to 25 seconds. Release and switch sides to complete one set. Do two to three sets.
- Woodchopper. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding one dumbbell with both hands. Lower so your thighs are parallel to the floor, your back is straight and the dumbbell is next to the outside of your right thigh. Keeping arms straight, lift the weight up and across your body as you stand and turn to the left so you end up facing the dumbbell, which is now above your left shoulder. Return to the start position, reversing the twist and bringing the weight down as if chopping wood. Repeat 12 to 20 times before switching sides to complete one set. Do two to three sets.