Your core is a complex series of muscles, starting just under your pecs and extending down to the pelvis. The core also refers to some back muscles and other muscle groups throughout the torso. A tight core means an all-around strong physique and a healthy body. If you want to learn to tighten your core, you can learn what exercises to do at home or at the gym. Once you've built that strength, you can also learn how to maintain it.
Strengthening Your Core at Home
1Keep your core muscles engaged during all workouts. Just doing the exercise isn't enough. Engage your core muscles during each exercise to get fully erect.
- To find your core muscles, hold yourself in push-up position for about a minute or two and pay attention to what feels tired. It's usually not your arms.
- When you drop into a push-up position, or do any core-tightening exercise, tighten your ab muscles during each rep. Those are the muscles we're talking about.
- To do these exercise properly, breathe in when you're contracting the muscles and breathe out when you're releasing them.
2Do planks. Planks are simple and engage all your core abdominal muscles, making them an excellent exercise for tightening your core. To do one, get in push-up position. Raise your feet to about shoulder height by balancing them on an exercise ball, or a stool. Keep your arms flexed just slightly, not locked, and hold that position with your core muscles engaged for one minute.
- When you're first starting out, aim for 2-3 sets of these, holding each for about a minute if you can. If that's too hard, hold it for at least 30 seconds, or go as long as you can.
- If you want more of a challenge, tell a spotter to balance a manageable amount of weight from a weight machine on the backs of your legs.
3Do side planks. Lie on one side and brace yourself on your elbow. Put your legs on top of each other, and pull your other arm out of the way. Tighten your abs, lifting your hips off the floor. Keep your back straight, forming a triangle with the floor. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Try to do 3-5 sets of these, on both sides.
4Do burpees. Start in push-up position, your core muscles engaged and your back straight. In one swift motion, jump forward into a squatting position with your feet and stand up. Then drop back into a squat and kick your legs back out into push-up position. You should do this as quickly as you can, comfortably.
- When you're first starting out, try to do three sets of 15 burpees. If you want more of a challenge, do jumping burpees, or do them while you're holding hand weights.
5Do mountain-climbers. Start in push-up position, your core muscles engaged and you back very straight. With one leg, take a big step, bringing your foot up toward your waist, then alternating, kicking your other foot forward as you bring the first foot back. Do these as quickly as feels comfortable.
- Try to hold this position and do these mountain-climbers for about 30 seconds. Try to do three sets if you can.
6Do leg lifts. A variety of leg-lifting exercises can be done to strengthen all your core muscles. To start, lay flat on your back with your hands under your butt. Keep your feet together and raise them about six inches off the ground. Raise them to about a 45 degree angle, then lower them to six inches above the ground again. Try to do as many reps as you can in 30 seconds, and repeat this three times.
- You can also do bicycles by putting your hands behind your head, as if you were going to do a crunch, and sitting up with your back straight, a few inches off the ground. Raise one leg at a time, bringing your knee up and twisting that side of your body toward it. Keep your back straight.
7Do push-up walkouts. Get on the floor in a push-up position and place your hands a little wider than your shoulders. Keep your feet in place, then walk slowly with your hands. Go as far out as you can. Try for 10 times, if you can.
8Do rope climbs. Sit down with your legs extended out in front of you and your feet turned out in a V position. Point your toes. Contract your core muscles and roll your spine into a C-curve. Lift your arms up and move them as if you were climbing a rope twisting slightly with each reach. Do 20 reaches with each arm.
9Do fewer crunches, but do them properly. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Put your hands behind your head, or across your chest. Keeping your back and neck very straight, sit up by engaging your abdominal muscles. Raise yourself to about 45 degrees, then lower yourself, but not all the way back to the ground. Repeat.
- When you're first starting out, aim for a couple sets of 30 crunches. Do them slowly, keeping your muscles engaged the whole time. Crunches should be difficult, not something to blow through as quickly as possible.
- Many people make the mistake of thinking that doing a couple hundred crunches every night will yield rock-hard abs in a couple of weeks. If that's all you're doing, it's unlikely you'll notice results. Crunches strengthen muscle, but don't burn much fat.
Working Out at the Gym
1Do deadlifts. At the gym, go to the free weights. Squat down in front of the bar and grip it firmly in your hands, shoulder-width apart. Stand up, engaging your core muscles and keeping your back very straight. Squat back down slowly, putting the bar back on the ground. Don't bend your back, keep it straight.
- Most people can manage a fair amount of weight with this exercise, but don't push it. Use an amount of weight that will be challenging for 10-15 reps.
- Because this strengthens your lower back, it's usually a good idea to wear a weight belt for this. Make sure to use proper form and keep your back very straight. Use a spotter to help you hold your form properly.
2Do hammer swings. Many gyms have sledge hammers, often near a big tire or other surface for you to swing them into. Grab the hammer firmly with both hands, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees flexed, and your back straight. From one side, swing the hammer up and over your shoulder, swinging it down toward your other side, striking the tire or pad. Control the hammer as it bounces, and then strike from the other side back toward your first side. Repeat sides, doing 10-15 reps on each. Try for three sets.
- One of the important parts of the exercise is keeping the hammer from bouncing back and hitting you in the face. It's not just swinging, but controlling the hammer after you hit it. Be very careful while doing hammer swings.
- If your gym doesn't have a big hammer and tire for you to swing, you can still do this exercise with basic hand weights. Grip it like you would a hammer, with both hands.
3Do rope raises. Lots of gyms nowadays have a hefty rope that you can grab onto for core exercises. It's usually attached to the wall on one end, with a few different heavy braided strands to grab on the other.
- To work out your core, grab the end of the rope in about a half-squat position, your core engaged and your back straight. Swing your pelvis forward, driving your arms up to swing your end of the rope high (it should ripple toward the wall), then bring it back down.
- Stay in your half-squat position, your core engaged through the exercise. Repeat the exercise for 30 seconds, and try for three sets.
- Some are a lot heavier than others, so try to get a feel for it before you grab on and start swinging away.
4Do kettle-bell swings. Similar to rope swings are kettle-bell swings. The action is pretty much exactly the same, but you'll grip a kettle bell firmly with both hands, and swing it up from between your legs to chest-height, rather than up over your head. Do 15-20 reps, three sets.
5Do Russian swings. Lay back on the ground in a basic crunch position and hold a moderately heavy barbell with both hands. Extend your arms straight out in front of you and sit up, keeping your back very straight at a 45 degree angle to the ground. With your core muscles engaged, twist 90 degrees to one side, keeping your arms straight. Then twist to the other side. Try to do as many as you can in 30 seconds, going slowly. Try for three sets of these.
6Do hanging leg raises. Over at the high bar, you can hold yourself up in the air as if you were going to do a pull-up, but lift your legs instead. Make a right angle with your legs, bringing your knees up to your waist and keeping them straight. Try three sets of 15 of these.
Keeping Your Core Strong
1Find a regular workout you enjoy. Keeping your core strong isn't something that's going to happen in a workout or two. If you want strong, tight abdominal muscles and a flat stomach, it requires consistent exercise and healthy eating to maintain. To make it easier on yourself, find an exercise routine that you enjoy.
- YouTube, Muscle & Fitness, and a variety of other sources all feature free workout guides and different circuit training routines that you can follow. Find one you like and try doing it 3 times a week. Plug in some tunes and follow along. It's way easier than trying to do it yourself.
- If you prefer, some people like to switch it up regularly and try out different things. Do a workout for a week or two, then find a new one. Keep changing it up to avoid getting bored.
2Focus on calorie-burning exercises to emphasize your core strength. If you're working hard, you don't just want to feel results, you want to see them. As you work out your core, focus on burning calories and shredding fat around your midsection, to make sure your hard work shows.
- Even if you're working hard to tone your core, that layer of fat around your midsection can be hard to get rid of with strength training alone. Cardio exercise is the best and quickest way to get rid of that layer of fat, to put your toned core muscles on display.
- Add three 30-40 minute cardio workouts to your exercise routine per week to help you trim fat, or do your core exercises in rapid succession, with 15-30 second breaks in between them for a rapid circuit-training workout.
3Focus on all-around fitness. Tightening your core requires total health, not just strong abs and back muscles. If you want to see results, you need to focus on building muscle and dropping fat, which requires a fair amount of cardiovascular exercise in addition to your core-training exercises.
- Circuit training refers to doing a combination of the kind of exercises described in this article, but at a quick pace with short, timed rests in between. Find a group of 10 exercises you like doing, then block them out into 60 second chunks and 30 second rests. Go through your routine 3 times and you'll be done in an hour or less.
- Consider supplementing your core exercises with other full-body aerobic workout routines. Look up a yoga, pilates, or a spin class in your area that you might check out, and alternate those workouts with your core training.
4Eat more whole grains, lean protein, and vitamin-rich vegetables. You can't out-train a bad diet. If you're doing core-tightening workouts, focus on slow-digesting carbs, like oatmeal and sweet potato. When you eat protein, think legumes, nuts, and lean chicken instead of fatty burgers and fried foods.
- Secret tip: Have a snack about 15 minutes after you finish a workout to help repair glycogen stores and build muscle. Make it something healthy, like a handful of roasted almonds, yoghurt and fresh fruit, or a peanut-butter or protein shake.
- Alcohol, especially beer, has a tendency to go straight to the gut. If you like the occasional drink, try to cut back a little if you want a tighter core. When you do drink, focus on clear, low-calorie drinks, and avoid sugary mixers.
5Stay hydrated. As you work out, it's important to restore the fluids you lose from sweating. Drink at least two liters of water each day when you're working out, making sure that you're well-hydrated before you begin a core workout.
6Avoid stress as much as possible. Lots of recent research has been conducted regarding the effect that cortisol, which is sometimes called the "stress chemical," has on belly fat. Cortisol naturally fluctuates in most people throughout the day, but tends to be higher during periods of stress.
7Let your body recover after workouts. You can over-train your core, resulting in injury. You need to allow your muscles to recover, to give them a chance to grow. If you don't, you'll notice results more slowly than if you take periodic breaks.
- Try working out every other day during the week, then taking the weekends to do some other fun activity that gets you moving. If you do core-strengthening on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, get together with some friends to play basketball on Saturday, or go for a hike on Sunday to keep yourself moving, you'll stay healthy in a variety of ways.
What should I eat to help strengthen my core?In general, the combination of a healthy diet and regular exercice will strengthen your entire body, including your core. Eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, berries, and nuts. Try cottage or Parmesan cheese, whole wheat bread, and lots of water. Your body heals and grows stronger during rest days, so don't work out every day. Ask a doctor, dietitian, or personal trainer for more detailed advice that's custom made to fit your needs.
In method 1, part 6 (leg lifts), the details provided are limited to lower leg lifts (5-45). My question is: Aren't upper leg lifts (45-90) equally helpful?User ContributorIt depends on which muscles you want and what you are training for. Every sport requires different muscles and different types of exercises.
I have a well-built physique, but my core is taking forever to tighten. I track my macros and am carb cycling currently. My lower abdomen is loose and appears bulky.Sit-ups and crunches are your best bet.