Best at-home core exercises for all fitness levels

by Evelyn Valdez

Well-defined abs are nice, but without a strong core, you're left with only aesthetic results. Everyone dreams of having solid six-pack abs, and many that do tend to rigorously follow popular ab exercises found on social media. There's nothing wrong with ab exercises, but doing them only strengthens the abdominal muscles, thus leaving surrounding muscles, specifically core muscles, falling short. There's a better way to get abs and strengthen your entire body... By focusing on exercises that target the entire core muscles, not just the abdominal muscles. And of course, following a healthy diet!

Having a strong core is an invaluable asset, and far more important than visible abs. Your entire core is made up of many muscles - pelvic floor muscles, back muscles, hip flexors, glutes, and your diaphragm. And that's on top of the abdominal muscle! These muscles work together to help you get through everyday life like pick up heavy objects, reduce back pain, promote better balance and posture, and even breathe! On top of that, having a strong core will maximize your training by helping improve your form and performance, and it even helps you to lift heavier! That is why having core strength is much more important than just having aesthetically pleasing visible abs. But who says you can't have both? 

Whether you want to build better overall strength or just want to burn fat to show those abs off, we have a list of the best at-home core exercises to help you achieve your goals even when you can't make it to the gym!

10 at-home core exercises

Now that we understand the importance of core strength, let's get to building it! On contrary belief, doing a million abs exercises like crunches and sit-ups is not the way to a stronger core. A good core workout consists of challenging as many muscles as possible in coordinated movements that engage your entire body.

Luckily, you don't need fancy equipment for core exercises, most of them require only your body! With that being said, we compiled a list of the best at-home core exercises that will engage your core (BTW here's what engaging your core means) and your entire body! These will be mostly bodyweight exercises, but there is one that requires a long resistance band. Either way, you'll have plenty of exercises to choose from to create an effective at-home core workout!

Plank

At the top of the list is the good 'ole plank, and for good reason, it's the ultimate core exercise (that's why it has so many variations)! This compound movement mainly targets the core muscles, but it also involves other muscle groups in your arms like the shoulders and back muscles, helping you build core and upper body strength.

How to do it:

  1. Start by resting your forearms on the floor, placing the elbows directly underneath your shoulders and hands facing forwards so arms are parallel (like a low push-up position).
  2. Begin to straighten your legs behind you and place your feet hip-width apart. Make sure your core is tight along with your glutes and quads.
  3. To maintain the lower back straight and keep the hips from sagging down towards the floor tuck your butt under a little.
  4. Hold that pose for about 30 seconds. The more you practice, the longer you will be able to maintain that pose.

Side plank w/ rotation

This is an advanced plank variation for those who want to really increase the intensity of their home workout. This move combines a side plank with arm movements, thus helping you to strengthen your core, arms, shoulders, and obliques!

How to do it:

  1. Begin by laying on your right side with your right forearm below your shoulder. Extend your legs placing the left foot on top of the right.
  2. Squeeze and tighten your core as you lift your hips to form a straight line with your body.
  3. Raise your left arm straight up and then start to rotate your torso toward the floor bringing your left arm under your body.
  4. Rotate your torso to straighten your left arm back to the starting position. Do 8-12 reps and repeat on the other side.

Want something slightly easier?

Try a straight arm plank with T raises! Just get into a high plank position (or push-up position) and rotate your torso facing the left side lifting your left arm into the air in line with your shoulder. Return to a plank position, and repeat on the other side.

Dead bug

This exercise is a safe, but effective way to strengthen the core. It focuses on stabilizing your core, spine, and back muscles which will help improve posture, balance, and coordination. At first it might not seem challenging enough for you since it doesn't make you work up a sweat, but it's an important exercise that helps connect your mind to your core. Creating that connection is just as important for building core strength.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on the floor facing up with your arms extended toward the ceiling so your shoulders and back are placed heavily on the floor.
  2. Lift the legs into a tabletop position, meaning knees bent 90 degrees and stacked over your hips. This is the starting position.
  3. Lower your left arm and right leg at the same time, but just before touching the ground so they are hovering above the floor.
  4. Return to the starting position and do the same with your right arm and left leg.

Supine Toe Tap

This is actually a pilates exercise that is a great alternative to crunches because it places minimal pressure on your spine. It helps engage your core muscles while also working your lower body, specifically the glutes and hips.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with arms on the floor at your sides with palms facing down. Lift the legs into a tabletop position so knees are bent at 90 degrees.
  2. Keep back pressed into the floor, brace your core, and begin to lower your right foot and gently tap the floor.
  3. Raise your right leg back to the original position and repeat with your left leg. Repeat another 8-12 times.

Bird dog

This move is simple, yet effective. It targets your upper and lower abdominals, back muscles, and the glutes... Making it an ideal-core strengthening move!

How to do it:

  1. Start on all fours, hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Make sure your spine is neutral and your core is tight.
  2. At the same time, lift and straighten your right leg to hip level and lift and extend your left arm to shoulder level (palms facing down).
  3. Pause for a moment, and then repeat with your left leg and right arm. Repeat another 8-12 times. 

If you want to make this move extra challenging try it in a high plank position!

Hip dips

This exercise helps strengthen the entire core, but places an extra focus on the abdominal muscles - transverse abdominis and obliques.

How to do it:

  1. Start by getting into a plank position with your forearms on the floor.
  2. Keep your elbows beneath your shoulders and palms pressed together, tuck your tailbone and engage your core, glutes, and quads.
  3. Begin to tilt your right hip toward the ground, twisting from the waist.
  4. Repeat on the left side and continue alternating sides.

Go through the move slowly and focus on staying balanced and twisting from the waist.

Panther shoulder tap

All shoulder tap exercises are great because they target various muscle groups, including the transverse abdominals (deep muscles in the core) and the obliques. But they also help build arm strength since you're holding your bodyweight up with one arm at a time. This variation is fun and helps challenge and fire up your entire midsection!

How to do it:

  1. Start on all fours, hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Engage your core and begin to lift your knees off the floor about 1-3 inches, maintaining your back flat and your butt down.
  2. Tap your left hand to your right shoulder, then your right hand to your left shoulder, continue alternating sides for the desired amount of reps.
  3. Use your core strength to keep your hips as still as you can!

If this is too advanced for you, try doing a plank with shoulder taps! This move is equally challenging, but is in a more stable high plank position.

Leg raises

This exercise, aside from being great for hitting the lower ab area, is also ideal for strengthening and lengthening the hip flexors. So not only will you strengthen your core, you'll be improving core and hip mobility.

How to do it: 

  1. Lie with your back flat on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place your hands under your glutes with your palms down for extra support.
  2. Begin to slowly raise your legs, keeping them as straight as possible, until they're making a 90-degree angle with the floor. Exhale as you perform this portion of the movement and hold the contraction at the top for a second.
  3. Now, as you inhale, slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position.

As you do the move, make sure that your lower back maintains flat on the floor. If this is too challenging don't lower your legs too far down or have a workout buddy stand behind your head and grab their ankles to help make the move slightly easier.

Jackknife sit-ups

This is a complete core move because it forces you to utilize all of your core muscle groups to do it while staying stabilized throughout the move!

How to do it:

  1. Lie facing up with your legs and arms extended overhead on the floor, keep your arms close to your ears.
  2. Brace your core so it presses your lower back into the ground and hover your arms and legs a few inches off the mat - this is the starting position.
  3. Take a deep breath and as you exhale lift your head and pull your arms and legs up into a V-shape (roughly 30-45 degrees away from the mat). As you lift, keep your legs straight and your arms parallel to your thighs.
  4. With your core still engaged, begin to slowly lower down to the starting position.

This is a more advanced core exercise, so if you have trouble with it work through it with slightly bent elbows and knees. Or try doing single-leg jackknife sit-ups, alternating one leg at a time.

Woodchoppers

This exercise is one you should definitely implement in any workout routine - home or gym. It requires you to work in the transverse plane which allows you to hit smaller muscles that you might've missed. It works your obliques, transverse abdominals, lats, shoulders, and upper back. So unlike the other exercises that require no equipment, you will need either a long resistance band or dumbbell for this.

How to do it:

  1. Attach one side of a long resistance band in a secure high position, like on a door or on the top bar of a squat rack. Just make sure it's attached securely to avoid any issues.
  2. Stand with your right side to the door and hold the free end of the resistance band in both hands and stretch your arms overhead. Keeping your core engaged, pull the resistance band across your body and down towards your left knee. Make sure to twist at the waist using your core muscles to go through the movement.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position, do the desired amount of reps, and switch to the other side.

If you don't have a long resistance band, but have a light dumbbell you can try a half-kneeling woodchopper! To do this move, start on your knees and then step one leg in front of the other with your foot flat on the floor and knee bent at 90 degrees. Hold the dumbbell by the knee on the floor and grab onto both ends of it. Bring the weight diagonally up toward the ceiling on the opposite side of your body. The movement is the same as using a long resistance band, just different equipment, and body position. 

If you're at the gym, then take advantage of the cable machines to do this move using a high pulley! 

How often should you do core workouts?

Don't make the mistake of training your core everyday, it's not going to build rock-hard abs or full body strength any faster! In fact to get results and prevent overtraining, just like all other muscle groups, your core muscles need time to recover! The best approach is to slip in a core workout before or after your usual workout routine 2-3 times a week. We recommend doing it before, that way your core is activated and ready for your training! 

Aside from the above core exercises, the best exercises to build core strength are compound exercises - specifically heavy compound movements like deadlifts, squats, overhead press, etc. These exercises really engage your core because they need those muscles to help lift or push the heavy weight. So if you really want to challenge your core at the gym, or at home (if you have the equipment), do the above exercises 2-3 times a week along with your usual workout routine, and if your usual routine doesn't involve compound exercises then add them! These exercises are the best for building full-body strength! And of course, don't forget your nutrition. A healthy diet is key to getting better results and to bettering overall wellness and health!

The bottomline is, upgrade your usual ab workouts with core exercises that will not only workout your abdominal muscles, but also your entire body! These exercises can be done in combination with strength training exercises to create a full-body workout at home or at the gym!

Need some portable, effective, and inexpensive fitness gear for your home workouts?

Check out our UPPPER Resistance Bands! They are available in long and short bands, various resistance levels, and various colors and cute designs. Perfect for home workouts, warm ups, and supersets at the gym!

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