Try these on and off-Tonal core exercises to improve posture, stability, and balance.
Tonal Associate Director of Fitness Programming Michelle Grabau gave birth to her daughter Mia in June 2021. One year later, she says her core is stronger than ever, though she hasn’t done a single sit-up since finding out she was pregnant.
Why? Because traditional sit-ups only target the rectus abdominus, or the bulging muscles that create your “six pack.” Grabau says a truly solid midsection requires core exercises to target the muscles that surround those six-pack muscles: the transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, the diaphragm, and pelvic floor.
“Having a six-pack is great, but it’s essential to build a strong and stable base to allow you to perform powerful, complex movements and support your body, especially when it’s under load,” she says.
While these core exercises may give you more visible abdominal muscles, the real benefit will be felt when you lift your kids up to the top bunk, swing your suitcase into the trunk, or head outside to chop some firewood. Here are 9 core exercises you can do at home for a rock-solid midsection.
How to use this list: Do each exercise two to three times per week.
Bodyweight Core Exercises You Can Do at Home
1. Superhero Iso Hold
The Benefit: So many of us spend hours each day bent over phones and laptops. This exercise counters that position, restoring balance to the body by strengthening the erector spinae and glute muscles of the posterior chain.
The How: Lie face down. Extend the arms upward and out, at about a 45-degree angle from your head. Extend your legs hip-distance apart. Imagine strings from the ceiling pulling all four limbs off the floor. As you lift up, engage your back and glutes and balance on your pelvis and low belly. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.
2. Bear Hold
The Benefit: Like all planks, the bear hold builds strength to prevent you from extending your back. “This variation is more active than a traditional plank, engaging the hips, quads, and transverse abdominus, which wraps around the lower trunk like a corset,” says Grabau. To make it more dynamic, try a bear crawl, moving forward and backward while holding the trunk in the same stable position.
The How: Start on all fours on a mat, with your knees under your hips, wrists under your shoulders, and your toes tucked. While keeping your torso and limbs stationary, lift your knees an inch off the floor and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.
3. Bird Dog
The Benefit: “The bird dog is a classic anti-rotation exercise,” says Grabau. It strengthens the core, hips and back muscles, increases range of motion, encourages stability and a neutral spine, and can help to alleviate lower back pain.
The How: Start on your hands and knees, with your wrists under your shoulders, knees under your hips and your toes tucked. Lift one arm out in front of you, with the thumb toward the ceiling, while simultaneously extending the opposite leg behind you. Engage the core to keep the hips level. Lower your arm and leg and switch to the other side. Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps on each side.
4. Lateral Bridge With Rotation
The Benefit: This is a great beginner exercise that teaches you to hold a position under tension and rotation. To modify, Grabau suggests dropping the bottom knee to the ground or elevating the supporting arm on a bench.
The How: Begin on your left with your elbow on the mat directly under your shoulder and your feet stacked on top of one another. Engage your core to lift your hips away from the floor, creating a straight line from your hips to your feet. Reach your right arm underneath your torso and rotate your body as if you’re trying to grab something on the floor behind you. Unwind and repeat. Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps on each side.
Tonal Core Exercises You Can Do at Home
5. Goblet Squat
The Benefit: While this move works the quads and glutes, it is also a sneaky core exercise. “Goblet squats are great because you have to really engage your core and upper back and work hard to resist the weight pulling you forward into spinal flexion,” Grabau says.
The How: Hold the handles at your chest with your thumbs wrapped around the top and position it in front of your chest. With your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes slightly turned out, send your hips back and down like you’re sitting into a chair. Push through your heels to stand tall, powering the hips toward Tonal and repeat. Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.
6. Suitcase Deadlift
The Benefit: Because the weight is unbalanced in this unilateral move, your core works overtime to keep you from tipping to one side. “This exercise especially targets the obliques, and is very transferable to everyday activities, because we all carry heavy things in one hand,” says Grabau.
The How: Grab just one handle and begin in a partial squat with core engaged, the chest up, and the back tight. While resisting a side bend, press the floor away from you, pushing through your heels to stand tall and keeping the arms straight at your sides. Once at the top, keep the chest proud and pull the hips back to return to the bottom position. Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.
7. Barbell Straight Arm March
The Benefit: This exercise promotes better hip flexion and mobility while also targeting the deep muscles of the core. “You have to fight to maintain your posture while holding the weight down,” says Grabau. “You can also do longer sets to build in endurance and sneak in a cardiovascular element.”
The How: Hold the barbell out in front of you with your hands shoulder-width apart. Step back about 12 inches. While pressing down on the barbell to isometrically hold it in front of or just below your shoulders, drive your right knee toward the ceiling while the left remains firmly planted on the floor. Lower the leg with control, then repeat with the opposite leg. Do 2-3 sets of 16 total reps.
8. Pallof Press With Rotation
The Benefit: The Pallof Press targets the obliques and anterior core muscles, and builds anti-rotational strength. This translates to many everyday movements, and to the quick changes in direction necessary for sport.
The How: With your back toward Tonal and both hands around one handle, push the handle away from your chest. Keeping your arms centered and the hips as stable as possible, rotate your torso toward Tonal’s arm, then back to center. Pull the handle back in toward your chest, bending at the elbows, while maintaining posture and keeping the shoulders back and down. Press the handle back out and repeat, then switch sides. Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps on each side.
9. Rotational Lift
The Benefit: Grabau says this more complex movement is applicable to everyday activities like putting a heavy box on a high shelf. “Training rotational movements improves core stability for explosive movements and improves the transfer of power between the lower and upper body to keep your spine safe through your daily activities,” she says.
The How: Attach the rope to one Tonal arm at the bottom height and stand perpendicular to the trainer, with your left leg on the inside. Push through your left leg to press the floor away from you and rotate the pelvis to shift your weight onto your right leg. Rotate at the torso and bring the rope across your body and toward the ceiling, like you’re trying to throw something over your outside shoulder. Bring the rope back to the starting position, sit your weight into your inside hip, and repeat. Do 2-3 reps of 8-10 reps on each side.