Core Strengthening Exercises

Core strengthening or core stability is the name given to the strengthening of the corset of muscles surrounding the back and abdomen. Having a good core can help prevent injury and more importantly improve performance. Here we explain core strengthening and demonstrate beginners, intermediate, and advanced exercises.

On this page:

  • What is core strengthening?
  • How to contract the core muscles
  • Beginners core strengthening exercises
  • Intermediate core strengthening exercises
  • Advanced core strengthening exercises

What is core strengthening?

Core stability is the name given to the strengthening of the corset of muscles surrounding the back and abdomen. Here we explain core strengthening theory and provide an overview of the muscles involved and benefits of strengthening. Core exercises have become a staple of elite and amateur level athletes not just for injury prevention but to enhance performance as well.

The muscles of the core are known as the powerhouse muscles and provide a solid base upon which all other muscles can work upon to initiate movement. A comprehensive strengthening program of these core muscles can be used for injury prevention, rehabilitation and sport performance enhancement.

Read more on theory of core strengthening.

How to contract the core muscles

Correct technique is essential to benefit from core strengthening exercises. This is the first stage of core stability exercises and sets the stage for all subsequent strengthening techniques. The following techniques are methods by which you can engage your core muscles. Trying to rush exercises without correct core contraction will not give the same benefits.

Read more on what are the core muscles?

Beginners core strengthening exercises

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Here we demonstrate some beginners introductory core strengthening exercises which are suitable for all levels and promote core stability and strength.

Foot lift exercise.

Lie flat on your back with your knees and hips bent up so there is a small space between the hollow of your back and the floor.

Inhale to prepare and while exhaling engage your core. Inhale again and as you exhale raise one foot a couple of inches off the floor, keeping the knee bent.

Inhale and bring your foot back to the floor

Repeat this on alternate legs.

Hip flexion exercise

Lie flat on your back with your knees and hips bent up so that there is a small space between the hollow of your back and the floor.

Inhale to prepare and while exhaling engage your core.

Inhale again and as you exhale lift one foot off the floor, bringing the knee towards the chest.

When you reach 90 degrees of hip flexion, straighten the knee.

Return back to the start position by bending the knee and then extending the hip until the foot is on the floor again.

Repeat 5-10 times, alternating legs.

Knee extension exercise

Lie flat on your back with your knees and hips bent up so there is a small space between the hollow of your back and the floor.

Inhale to prepare and while exhaling engage your core.

Inhale again and as you exhale raise one foot just off the floor and straighten the leg out.

Inhale, bend the knee and place the foot back on the floor.

Repeat this on alternate legs.

Single leg fall out exercise

Single leg fall out exercise Lie flat on your back with your knees and hips bent up so that there is a small space between the hollow of your back and the floor.

Inhale to prepare and while exhaling engage your core.

Inhale again and as you exhale allow your left leg to fall out. Keep you heel and outer surface of your foot on the floor and your knee bent.

No other movement except that of the hip should occur. Try and minimize any hip rolling or arching of the back.

Inhale and bring your leg back to the center.

Exhale and let your right leg fall out to the side.

Repeat 5-10 times each leg.

Toe pointing exercise

While sitting on the mat stabilize yourself with your arms out behind you, hands on the floor.

Bend your knees up so that your feet are on the floor. Your body and your arms should be at 45 degrees with the floor and 90 degrees to each other. You should now be sitting on your tail bone.

Take a breath to prepare and set your core.

Raise one foot off the floor and point your toes away from you.

Make small circles with your foot. Imagine that you are drawing circles on the ceiling with your toes.

Start with very small circles at first and gradually increase their size.

Make 3-5 circles and bring your leg back to the rest position.

Repeat 5-10 times in each direction

Intermediate core strengthening exercises

Here we demonstrate some Intermediate core strengthening exercises which are suitable for most athletes who are comfortable doing the beginners ones.

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The bridge The bridge

Lie flat on your back with your knees and hips bent up so that there is a small space between the hollow of your back and the floor.


Inhale to prepare and set your core.


As you exhale gently lift your tailbone off the mat and continue to peel your back off the ground so that you come to rest with your back in line with your thighs.


Inhale and as you exhale, lower yourself down on to the mat- again try and roll so that your tailbone comes onto the mat last.

Repeat 5-10 times

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The Clam

Lie on your side. Rest your head on your arm or hand as shown.

Bend hips to approximately 45 degrees and bend your knees at 90 degrees. Make sure one hip is lying above the other. You should now be well aligned- your feet should be in line with your back.

Take a deep breath in and as you exhale set your core muscles.

Inhale and whilst exhaling float the upper leg upwards while keeping your feet in contact with one another.

Inhale and as you exhale bring the leg down to the starting position.

Repeat 5- 10 times each leg. If done correctly you should feel the muscles around the back of the hip bone (gluteus medius and minimus) working hard.

Focus on not allowing the alignment of the body to be disrupted with leg movement.

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Hip Flexion

Lie flat on your back with your knees and hips bent up so that there is a small space between the hollow of your back and the floor.

Inhale to prepare and while exhaling engage your core.

Inhale again and as you exhale raise one leg up, keeping the knee bent, so your knee moves towards your chest.

Inhale and while you exhale lower your leg down to the resting position again.

Take care not to allow your pelvis to rock or your back to arch. Your midsection should be solid and not move with leg. movements.

Alternate legs.

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Prone straight leg raise

Prone straight leg raise This is another exercise that is carried out on your front and is aimed to stress the posterior (back) muscles, in particular the gluteals, while engaging the core. There is a large tendency with this exercise to arch the back. Keep the back as straight as possible allowing only movement of the leg to occur.

Lie on your front with your forehead resting on a pillow or your hands. Place a pillow under your stomach if this is uncomfortable.

Your legs should be straight out on the floor.

Inhale to prepare and as you exhale set your core.

While keeping your back straight float one leg up off the ground and hold for a breath.

Bring the leg down to the mat and repeat with the opposite leg.

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Single leg stretch

This exercise tests you hand foot coordination while testing your core with movements in opposite directions. Try not to allow any arching of the back when you bring your hands over your head. Maintain a fluid movements with your breathing so that your feet and arms move in unison. Steady and rhythmic breathing in time is the key to this exercise.

Lie flat on your back with one knee and hip bent up whilst the other is straight and flat on the floor. Start with both arms stretched out above the head, on the floor.

Inhale to prepare and while exhaling engage your core.

Inhale again and as you exhale, raise the straight leg up, bending the knee towards the chest whilst at the same time bringing both arms forward over your head to meet your knee.

Inhale again return the arms to the start position whilst straightening the leg

Repeat 5-10 times and then change legs.

Advanced core strengthening exercises

These exercises are more advanced and require a higher level of strength in order to perform them with correct technique.

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Front Crawl

This exercise specifically works the posterior muscles such as the Latissimus dorsi and gluteals to help align the body correctly. Try and keep your back as straight as possible- watch out for over-arching as you lift your leg above the ground.

Lie on your front with your forehead resting on a pillow. Place a pillow under your stomach if this is uncomfortable.

Your arms should be directly pointing away from your feet on either side of your head.

Inhale and set your core muscles.

Contract the buttocks (gluteal) muscles.

As you exhale, lift one leg off the ground a few inches, making sure that your knee is straight and your toes are pointing away from your body.

At the same time lift the opposite arm so that it hovers about 3 inches off the ground.

Hold for a breath and as you exhale float the leg and arm down and repeat with the opposite side

Repeat 5-10 times

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The Plank

Start in a push up position and raise yourself so that your elbows are completely straight. Your hands should be facing directly forwards and you should be up on your toes. Your back should not be arched in any way.

Inhale and engage your core.

As you exhale, float one leg upwards so that it is in line with your back. Your toes on the raised leg should be pointing away from you and you should be in a position so that the back of your body represents a plank. Do not arch your back. You should feel your gluteal muscles kick in rather than putting strain on your back

Return the leg to the start position after one breath and repeat with the opposite leg.

Repeat 5-10 times each leg.

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The Plank Progression

This is a highly challenging exercise that should only be attempted after achieving the initial plank exercise

Start in a push up position and raise yourself so that your elbows are completely straight. Your hands should be facing directly forwards and you should be up on your toes.

Inhale and engage your core.

As you exhale float one leg upwards so that it is in line with your back. Your toes on the raised leg should be pointing away from you and you should be in a position so that the back of your body represents a plank.

Now raise your opposite arm up and point your fingers away from the body.

Hold for a breath and return to the start position. Repeat with the opposite leg and arm

Repeat 5-10 times each side

Focus on your core muscles to maintain a static posture

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Side Kicks Advanced

This is a superb exercise for challenging your balance and core whilst on your side.

Lie on your side resting your head on your arm/hand. Stabilize yourself with your upper hand on the mat in front of you.

Position your legs at about 45 degrees to the rest of your body. You can bend the lower one to help support you.

Inhale and as you exhale engage your core muscles

Now float your upper leg upwards and while keeping your leg straight, kick it out in front of you slowly.

You can gradually increase the speed as your control improves.

Take the leg out as far as is comfortable. You should feel this extremely challenging on your balance.

Pointers:

Make sure you keep your back aligned throughout the exercise

Avoid rocking back and forth. If it is too difficult only take the upper leg out a small distance.

To make this exercise more difficult place your upper hand on your waist.