Using these 5 bodyweight core exercises for beginners is the perfect way to start strengthening and tightening your midsection.
With so many core exercises available I’ve chosen the 5 bodyweight exercises that underpin all the rest.
Master these 5 core bodyweight exercises and then you can proceed with all the other exercises safe in the knowledge that you have a solid foundation that can safely deal with them.
Let’s get started…
How do I strengthen a weak core?
Your core muscles are at the centre of all movement and not only support your spine but also promote stronger and more efficient movement.
The benefits of strong core muscles include:
- Reduction in lower back pain as the core muscles support the lumbar spine
- Protection from mid back injuries as the core muscles fix and stabilise the spine
- Better sports and activity performance as the core activates more effectively
- Greater muscle and definition throughout the mid section of the body
You can build your core strength fast by focusing on only a small handful of bodyweight exercises that you can do anywhere.
Old fashioned exercises like sit ups and crunches may be popular in gyms around the world but they are NOT the most effective way of tightening your core muscles.
How do I know if I have a weak core?
Do you suffer from repeated lower back pain?
Does you body feel weak and your back feel unsupported when you move or play sports?
Does your midsection feel soft and lack any tension?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes then there is a good chance that you have a weak core.
Using the following 5 bodyweight exercises will help to strengthen your lower back, improve your movement and add tonicity to your midsection.
Inner core muscles and outer core muscles
The core muscles function is to stabilise the spine and produce movement.
You can think of the core muscles as being divided into 2 categories: inner deep core and outer core.
What are the deep inner core muscles?
The inner core muscles create stability and protect the spine while at the same time producing a solid platform for the arms and legs to operate from.
Whenever you brace or bear down (imagine trying to stop your flow of urine or preparing to be punched in the stomach) you create a compression chamber around your spine using the following muscles:
- Diaphragm (top)
- Pelvic floor (bottom)
- Multifidus (back)
- Transversus abdominis (front and sides)
The compression chamber created from the above muscles working together helps to reinforce the spine and protect it from injury.
What are the outer core muscles?
The outer core muscles are also used in stabilisation roles for the spine and pelvis but also provide the major movements of the upper body.
All forward, side, back and rotational movements are produced by the outer core muscles:
- Internal and external obliques
- Rectus abdominis (Abs)
- Erector spinae
- Latissimus dorsi (Lats)
The above list of outer core muscles has been simplified and there are many other auxiliary muscles that help with stabilisation and movement of the upper body.
Training core stabilisation vs core movement
When training the core muscles it is necessary to understand that preventing movement of the spine is just as important as generating movement.
Old fashioned core training neglects the stabilisation element of core training and therefore exposures the spine to injury.
All core training should begin from the inside out, first learning to stabilise and protect the spine before advancing to larger core movements.
Core muscle training using multiple directions
Human movement can be divided into 3 distinct categories:
- Frontal Plane (side to side movement)
- Sagittal Plane (forwards and backwards movement)
- Transverse Plane (rotational movement)
Most of us exercise in a world of sagittal plane movement: walking, running, squatting, lunging, cycling are all sagittal plane examples.
But life is 3 dimensional, when you get into your car you step sideways, bend and twist.
If you want to fully condition, strengthen and protect your body from injuries then you need to exercise through all 3 planes of movement.
The following 5 body weight core exercises include movements from all 3 planes to make sure your core muscles are trained from all directions.
5 Bodyweight core exercises for beginners
Below I have listed 5 core bodyweight exercises that all beginners should master in order to protect their spine and improve their core strength.
The exercises begin with an inner core exercise that helps to educate the body and mind before adding exercises that build off this strong foundation.
Here are 5 beginners body weight core exercises:
1 Belly Breaths
Belly breaths are an inner core exercise that will help to tighten your inner core muscles, promote correct breathing and develop a strong core foundation.
The exercise starts on all fours with the hands below the shoulders and knees below the hips.
Everything will remain in this position throughout the entire exercise, only your belly will move up and down.
Take a deep breath in and push your belly out and towards the floor.
Next breathe out as you draw your belly button in and towards your spine. Keeping pulling your belly in as you breathe out.
Be careful not to arch your back as you pull your belly in, your back should stay flat and not move during the entire exercise.
Repeat this inner core exercise pulling and pushing your belly in and out.
The secret to this exercise is to slow down your breaths so that each breath lasts for 10 secs or longer.
Don’t forget to continually draw your belly in or push your belly out for the entire 10 seconds. Work hard!
How many reps? 10 slow reps with each breath lasting 10 seconds is all that is needed.
What’s next? Integrate this breathing into other exercises like the bird dog below.
2 Shoulder Taps
The shoulder taps exercise works on your frontal stabilisation (sagittal plane) while integrating some anti-rotational movement (transverse plane) into the exercise.
You should really feel your core muscles working hard as you prevent your hips from dropping and your lower back from arching.
Pull your belly button in towards your spine as you slowly tap alternate shoulders.
Try to keep your hips as stationary as possible during each shoulder tap.
If you find that supporting yourself on one arm is too much then just hold the plank position on your hands without adding the taps.
How many reps? Work up to 60 seconds of slow shoulder taps.
What’s next? Slow and cross body mountain climbers, plank to push ups, regular push ups
3 Side Plank
The side plank works your core side stabilisation (frontal plane) and also strengthens the shoulder stabilisers too.
Line your body up with your elbow underneath your shoulder and feet stacked one on top of the other.
Be sure to keep your hips up and prevent them from rotating forwards or backwards.
Beginners can perform the exercise against a wall, buttocks touching the wall, to assist keeping the correct alignment.
Relax the head and neck during the entire exercise.
How many reps? Hold the side plank position for up to 60 seconds on each side.
What’s next? Side plank with rotation, side plank with extension, farmers walks
4 Bird Dogs
The bird dog exercise strengthens the back of the body from buttocks to upper back.
While the exercise may appear easy it takes good core control and strength in order to perform it correctly.
Begin as you did with the belly breaths exercise and as you take your long breath in extend your rear leg backwards and arm up and out at 45 degrees.
Hold the top position for as long as possible and feel the tension in the buttock of the raised leg.
Be careful not to over arch the lower back.
How many reps? Practice until you can perform 10 slow controlled reps on each side.
What’s next? Cross body extensions, single leg deadlifts
5 Dead Bugs
The dead bug core exercise helps to improve your pelvic stability so you can move correctly without risking injury to the lower back.
As the core muscles attach and help control the pelvis it is very important that you have the ability to stabilise the pelvis as you use your legs.
Begin by lying on your back with your feet and hands in the air.
Rotate your pelvis so your lower back flattens onto the floor. You must now maintain this back position throughout the entire exercise, failure to do so removes the efficacy of the exercise.
Keeping your belly button pulled in and core muscles tight lower one leg and the opposite arm towards the floor.
Constantly be mindful of keeping your lower back pressed against the floor. If your back raises up off the floor then stop and return to the top position.
If you train with a partner then you can have them place their hand underneath the small of your back and monitor whether your lower back starts to lift and arch. If it does lift then stop!
If you find this exercise too difficult due to all the moving parts then start with just the legs keeping the arms just by your sides.
How many reps? Alternate arms and legs for a total goal of 20 reps.
What’s next? Cross overs, scissors
How to use these beginners core bodyweight exercises
Use these 5 body weight core exercises either by themselves or at the end of your current workout.
You should never perform demanding core exercise at the beginning of a workout because it will fatigue the muscles that are required to protect your spine during your workout.
I’d suggest performing all 5 of these exercises one after the other 3 – 5 times per week. You can build up to a total of 3 complete circuits for each workout.
Here’s your ultimate core workout goal:
- Belly breaths x 10 reps
- Shoulder taps x 60 secs
- Side plank x 60 secs each side
- Bird dogs x 10 each side
- Dead bugs x 20 reps
- Rest and repeat 3 times
The above core workout is your goal, at first you may only perform a few repetitions of each exercise. Perform what you can with good form and work on adding 1-2 reps each session.
Start with just 1 circuit and add an extra circuit when you can complete all the reps for one full circuit.
Conclusion to bodyweight core exercises for beginners
The core muscles are at the CORE of all movement.
Failure to develop a strong core leaves your spine vulnerable and exposed.
The core muscles can be divided into 2 categories: inner core and outer core.
You should train your core muscles in all 3 planes of movement so you are ready for all eventualities both in and out of the gym.
Above I have listed the 5 foundational core exercises that every beginner should master before moving on to more advanced exercises.
Becoming proficient and strong through these exercises will reduce back pain, increase movement strength and help prevent injuries.
Get started today by performing these exercises 3 – 5 times per week either on their own or after your current workout.
Want a progressive core training program? See my 37 core workouts here
This is perfect for me–I’m in decent shape but I’m 64. I’ve found that an injury can really set me back from my workouts. Core is the key to back health, etc.
willie espiritu says
thank you greg, these are helpful with my lumbar stenosis, i have realized that I have it and these are very helpful for me , willie e!
Love that core exercise suggestions. Thank you Greg
Love the varied kb exercises you offer, thank you.
David Russo says
Terrific workouts. Traced my leg, knee, and hip pain to a spinal issue. Strengthening my core has eased all of those aches. Thank you, Greg.
JoAnna Kaye says
I cannot put weight on my kneecaps. What can I do to strengthen my core?
Greg Brookes says
Have you tried the above exercises JoAnna? I’m sure a few of them should be OK. How about placing a cushion or pad under your knees?