The Back-to-Basics Core Workout

Are your workouts too cluttered? Wipe the slate clean with a simple, no-frills, straightforward abdominal routine designed for results that are anything but basic.

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“Too much of a good thing” is an old trope for a reason — it happens all the time in life. A slice of birthday cake? Good. Blowing through a whole sheet cake by yourself while fretting over . . . well, everything going off the rails in the world today? Bad. Very bad.

So it goes with abdominal training, too — more is not always better.

“The most common error I see is people focusing on an extremely high number of reps of classic crunches instead of looking at their core as a whole,” says Aimee Nicotera, MS, health coach and virtual fitness studio owner. “Instead of only focusing on movements that result in ‘feeling the burn,’ I’d suggest a more basic and functional approach to developing and shaping your entire core.”

What does she mean?

“When people think about working their ‘core,’ they often focus only on the abdominals,” Nicotera explains. “But the core also includes the shoulder girdle, the trunk and the pelvic girdle, so movements that require stabilization from all these areas are fantastic for core strengthening.”

The following five moves are a great “clean slate” start to accomplish that feat. This basic core workout, designed by Nicotera for Oxygen, should be done in place of your current routine once or twice per week on nonconsecutive days. You’ll just need a clear open space, a small selection of dumbbells and kettlebells, and a mat, if desired. You’ll run through each movement three times, 10 reps per set.

“Improving your core strength is so important, and not just for aesthetics,” Nicotera adds. “It provides stability for the spine. It connects our upper and lower body and allows for the transfer of force between the two. It really is our power center and is involved in everything we do.”

The Back-to-Basics Core Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Windmill 3 10 (per side)
Dead Hang 3 10
Halo Chop 3 10
High Plank With Dumbbell and Rotation 3 10
Dumbbell Dead Bug Variation 3 10

Exercise How-Tos

Dumbbell Windmill

Aimee’s How-To: “Imagine the face of a compass — set your feet with heels touching and the toes of your left foot facing north, the toes of your right foot facing east (or northeast, depending on comfort), and move the right foot east approximately 12 to 24 inches away from the left foot. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and, with that elbow straight, extend it overhead. Keeping your spine long, shift your left hip leftward and reach with your right hand down toward your right ankle.

For best execution, be sure to move in a slow and controlled manner and also bend the right knee slightly. Next, slowly return to the upright starting position, keeping the left arm up. Your chest should remain facing forward throughout the movement, and if possible, your eyes should gaze toward the raised hand. After you do 10 reps, switch to your right hand and complete 10 more reps on that side. Ten reps per side equals one full set.”

Dead Hang

Aimee’s How-To: “Holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand, hinge forward at your hips while also maintaining a long spine, allowing for only a small bend in your knees as the weights lower toward the floor. Focus on bracing your trunk and return to the upright position in a slow and controlled manner. Only hinge as far forward as you can while keeping your spine flat — don’t let it round at the bottom.”

Halo Chop

Aimee’s How-To: “Hold a kettlebell bell up and horns down, holding each side of the handle. While maintaining full control of the weight, you’ll bring the kettlebell around your head in a halo pattern, making sure to ‘explore’ the space behind your head and not cutting the reps short. As the kettlebell comes forward, bring it down toward the opposite hip in a chopping motion, then reverse the pattern to bring the weight back around your head. Once around one way and then the other equals one complete rep — you’ll do 10 of those total per set. Be sure to maintain a ‘long spine’ throughout the movement and pivot your feet as you do each halo-chop motion.”

High Plank With Dumbbell and Rotation

Aimee’s How-To: “Assume a high-plank position on the floor, balanced on your straight arms and toes, feet spaced shoulder-width apart, with a dumbbell placed on the floor between your hands. Pause for a one-count in the plank, then grab the dumbbell with your right hand and lift it straight up in an arc to the sky while simultaneously rotating your entire body in the same direction. With the dumbbell in its uppermost position, aligned directly with your shoulder, your legs will be straight and form a scissored position. Pause in that side plank with the dumbbell up for a one-count, then bring it under control back to the floor and repeat on the other side with the left hand. Once to each side equals one full rep.”

Dumbbell Dead-Bug Variation

Aimee’s How-To: “Lie faceup on the floor holding one dumbbell with both hands, arms straight and the dumbbell positioned over your chest horizontally. Next, extend your legs up to the sky, keeping your knees as straight as possible. To start, lower both arms from overhead down toward the floor while simultaneously lowering one leg, keeping the other in the ‘up’ position. At the bottom, you’ll hover with the dumbbell and lowered leg as close to the floor as you can without touching down. Hold that position — abdominals flexed, spine in a neutral position — for five to 10 seconds, then return to the start, repeating the sequence with the opposite leg coming down. Lowering each leg once equals one full rep.”