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Workouts for Women

8 Out-of-the-Box Exercises for a Strong Core

These eight unorthodox exercises are just the thing to reactivate your midsection and solidify your six-pack.

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If you’ve been feeding your core nothing but plain old planks and common crunches, chances are you’re bored witless — and all progress in the ab department has come to a standstill. As with all body parts, variety is imperative when it comes to core training, whether it be with the programming or the exercises themselves. This article gives you both.

These eight exercises might tread a less-traveled path, but it still arrives at some real results. Add one or more of these moves to your regular core regimen, or try one of the four quickie workouts provided to make fast work of your waistline.

1. Standing Resistance-Band Twist

Standing Resistance Band Twist
Photo: Sean Michel

Stand on one end of a resistance band with your feet wider than hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, core braced. Hold the far end of the band in your right hand and grasp the center of the band with your left hand about shoulder-width apart from your right.

Extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height and actively pull the band apart as you twist your torso to the right as far as you can. Slowly return to the start. Complete all reps on one side, then switch.

Core Cues: To increase the tension, choke up on the band to make it shorter/more challenging.

“You could also add [an element of] balance by lifting the heels off the floor,” Tracey Mallett, creator of Pilates Barre on Demand and BootyBarre, says.

2. Oblique Crunch and Twist

OBLIQUE CRUNCH AND TWIST
Photo: Sean Michel

Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart with your toes pointing outward slightly, and bend your knees into a shallow squat. Place your left hand behind your head, elbow flared, and extend your right arm to the side at shoulder height. Keeping your hips and shoulders square, bend to the side as far as you can as if trying to touch your right ankle. Rise back to the start, then twist your torso to the right and reach your arm behind you as far as you can. Return to the center. Complete all reps on one side, then switch.

Core Cue: Make this move harder by holding a light dumbbell in your extended arm, Mallett suggests. 

3. Clam Side-Plank Hold

Clam side-plank hold
Photo: Sean Michel

Lie on your left side with your left elbow underneath your shoulder and your right hand on your hip. Bend your knees 90 degrees and stack your legs and hips, then press down into your elbow and bottom knee to lift your hips into a modified side plank. Simultaneously lift and open your right knee into clam while keeping your feet together. Hold 10 seconds, then lower back to the floor. Complete all reps on one side, then switch. 

Core Cue: Push your hips forward as you rise into side plank so they’re in the same plane as your torso. 

4. Head, Shoulders, Kneed and Toes (HSKT) Plank

Photo: Sean Michel

Get into a high plank with your hands underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Hold plank as you tap your head once with each hand. Then tap your opposite shoulder once with each hand. Next, pull your left knee underneath you and tap it with your right hand; repeat with your right knee and left hand. Then pull your left knee underneath you and tap your toes with your right hand; repeat with your right knee and left hand to complete one rep. 

Core Cue: When reaching underneath yourself, keep your hips square and low. Don’t let your glutes rise toward the sky, which disengages your core and puts strain on your wrists and shoulders. 

Changing your foot position will change the difficulty of this move, according to Summer Montabone: The wider your feet, the more stable you’ll feel; the closer your feet, the more challenging it becomes. 

5. Banded Reverse-Plank March

Banded Reverse-Plank March
Photo: Sean Michel

Sit with your legs straight and secure a resistance-band loop around both feet. Place your hands behind you with your fingers forward, then drive down into your heels and hands and press your hips up so they align with your feet and head (reverse plank). Hold here as you alternately draw one knee up and in toward your chest, keeping your feet flexed to ensure the band stays in place. 

Core Cue: To prevent your hips from sagging, squeeze your glutes and drive down your heels throughout the move. 

6. Plank Step-Through and Kick

Plank Step-Through Kick
Photo: Sean Michel

Get into a high plank with your hands underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Step your right foot up and to the outside of your right hand, foot flat and knee bent. Then lift your right hand and pivot on your left hand and right foot as you pull your left leg underneath you, kicking through to the front. Finish with your left leg completely extended in front of you, hovering an inch or two off the floor. Reverse the steps to return to the start and continue, alternating sides. 

Core Cue: Do the move slowly to begin, and as you learn the pattern, increase your speed to boost the metabolic demand. 

7. X-Up

X-Up
Photo: Sean Michel

Lie faceup with your arms and legs extended into a large X. Press your lower back into the floor, brace your core, then lift all your limbs off the ground a few inches. Hold here as you alternately reach your opposite hand to your opposite foot, touching them together above your midline. 

Core Cue: A common mistake is allowing your lower back to come off the floor, which could cause back strain. If your form is failing, take a brief rest, reset your position and start again. 

8. Kettlebell Figure-8

Kettlebell Figure-8
Photo: Sean Michel

Stand above a kettlebell with your feet outside shoulder-width apart. Push your glutes back, then bend your knees into a half-squat and pick up the kettlebell in your right hand. Keep your back straight and your chest lifted as you pass the kettlebell underneath you and to the left, grabbing it with your left hand behind your leg. Bring the kettlebell around your leg to the front, then back through and underneath you and pass it to your right hand. Continue this figure-8 pattern for reps. Then reverse direction and repeat. 

Core Cue: Use just enough momentum to keep the kettlebell moving but not so much that the weight of the ‘bell pulls you out of position. 

4 Quick Core Workouts

1. Xtreme Tabata

Complete 8 rounds of the following workout.

Exercise Seconds
X-Up 20
Rest 10

2. Plenty ‘o Planks

Complete two rounds of the following workout.

Exercise Seconds
HSKT Plank 30
Rest 15
Plant Step-Through and Kick 30
Rest 15
Banded Reverse-Plank March 30
Rest 15
Clam Side-Plank Hold (right) 30
Rest 15
Clam Side-Plank Hold (left) 30
Rest 15

3. Twist and Shout

Perform the moves in each superset back-to-back with no rest in between. Rest 30 seconds between rounds, and complete two to three rounds of each superset.

 

Exercises Sets Reps
Standing Resistance-Band Twist (right)
— superset with —
Oblique Crunch and Twist (right)
2-3 12

12
Standing Resistance-Band Twist (left)
— superset with —
Oblique Crunch and Twist (left)
2-3 12

12

4. Finishing ‘Bell

Complete two rounds of the following workout as a finisher.

Exercise Time
Kettlebell Figure-8 1 minute (each direction)
Rest 30 seconds

MIND MELD

Connecting your mind and your muscles has been shown to improve muscular activation and contraction. “Just going through the motions won’t deliver results,” says Summer Montabone, CSCS, owner of Summer’s Fitness Inc. in North Canton, Ohio. “Focusing and connecting mentally with the muscles in your core turns 30 minutes and 500 ineffective crunches into a five-minute abdominal-crushing workout. Over time, you’ll develop a truly strong core, alleviate or reduce back pain, and create a smaller waistline.” 

Tracey Mallett, creator of Pilates Barre on Demand and BootyBarre, recommends this preworkout core primer to establish that mind-muscle connection: 

Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet together. Raise your arms straight up over your shoulders and draw your abs in toward your spine to stabilize your pelvis. Exhale and lift your legs over your hips, knees bent 90 degrees. Hold here as you breathe deeply, focusing on feeling the engagement of your core 360 degrees around. This is how you should feel during your workout. 

 

Quickie Core Workouts

Xtreme Tabata

Complete eight rounds of the following workout.