7 Best Core Exercises You’re Not Doing

Whether you’re sitting in traffic or sprinting to the finish line, your core is quite literally front and center.

A blanket term for all the muscles that make up your midsection, your core includes not only the abdominals, but also the spinal erectors, transverse abdominis, and obliques. Even your lats and pecs are part of your core. And together, they play a critical role in everything you do.

“Think of your core as the foundation of a house,” says Los Angeles–based strength coach Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S. “It keeps everything grounded.” And, just as a weak foundation can lead to structural deficiencies, a weak core can lead to inefficient movement patterns, poor workout performances, and ultimately injury.

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A strong core, meanwhile, keeps you safe and supported, whether you’re standing, running, swinging a baseball bat, or pressing a loaded barbell overhead. “By having a strong core, you’ll be able to brace properly, more efficiently, and with more ease,” Donavanik says. Basically, with a strong, stable core, you’ll get more out of everything you do in the gym.

But if your idea of working your core is to crank out 100 crunches and call it a workout, you’re doing yourself a major disservice. (Ditto if you plank all day.)

“Life isn’t static or one-dimensional, and your core doesn’t work one-dimensionally either,” Donavanik says. Rather, your core bends forward, backward, side to side, and both rotates and resists rotational forces. As such, you need to exercise with moves that train every core muscle—and in every direction.

What’s more, you need to train your core every day. (Take nuBound daily to lock in your gains and recover faster.) Doing only one or two core exercises per week won’t be enough to build the strong foundation you want, says Donavanik. Pressed for time? Do this five-minute bodyweight circuit.

So how do you fill the void in your core routine? Here, we’ve compiled seven of the best core exercises you’re probably not doing—but should be. Perform them back-to-back for a standalone workout, or sprinkle them throughout your routine all week long.

1. Hollow Body Hold

The hollow body hold is a more dynamic version of the classic plank. “With a plank, people can get lazy with their quads, glutes, and even the primary core muscles,” Donavanik says.

To hold this hollow position, however, you need to really keep your core, upper body, and lower body braced the entire time, making it an effective exercise for building core strength and stability. Consider it a must-master move for performing pullups, pushups, and handstands with ease.

Do it: Lay on your back with your arms and legs extended. Brace your core to press your low back into floor and lift your arms and legs off the floor several inches, or just until you feel your lower back start to peel off the floor. (You may need to hold your arms and legs higher, as shown, when you first start doing the exercise.) Try to hold in this position for 30 to 60 seconds. Perform three sets.

2. Standing Pallof Press

Though the standing Pallof press appears easy, your core will get quite the challenge—it must be strongly braced to prevent your torso from rotating. And with the addition of the band, you’re forcing your core to stabilize against external resistance, Donavanik says. 

Do it: Loop a resistance band around an anchor point at chest-height. (Or attach a handle to a cable machine at chest-height.) Facing the anchor point sideways, grip the free end of the band with both hands and step away from the anchor point until you feel tension in the band.

Next, hold the band at your chest with both hands. Brace your core and press the band away from your chest until your arms are fully extended, resisting the urge to twist at the torso. Then, bring the band back to your chest. Complete 15 to 20 reps on one side before switching to the other. Repeat for a total of three sets per side.

3. Stationary Lunge with Rotation

Similar to the Pallof press, the standing lunge with rotation forces your core to brace against an external weight, Donavanik says. As an added bonus, you’ll be giving your glutes, quads, and hamstrings a good workout too.

Do it: Stand and hold a medicine ball, kettlebell, or dumbbell at your chest with both hands. Take a big step forward with one foot and drop into a lunge. As you lunge, twist your torso as far as you’re able to one side. The weight should end up on the same side as your front leg. As you drive back to starting position, rotate your torso back to center. Repeat on the opposite side. Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps per side.

4. Overhead Squat

Lacking core strength? This exercise will tell you right away, says Donavanik. Weakness in the front will cause your low back to arch, while weakness in the back will cause your upper back to round.

“To do this exercise properly,” says Donavanik, “you need to maintain a braced core and neutral spine, all while keeping your arms overhead and dropping your butt low.”

Do it: Stand tall with feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down by your sides or the weights racked at shoulder height. Press the weights overhead until your arms are fully extended. Push your butt back and bend at the knees to lower into a squat, keeping your arms straight and in line with your ears.

Once in the bottom position, drive through your heels to push back to standing. Keep your torso upright and knees in line with your toes throughout the movement. You can also perform this exercise with a barbell (shown) or PVC pipe. Complete three sets of six to 12 reps.

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5. Landmine Torso Rotation

This advanced move will have you lifting, twisting, and bracing all at once. “You’re moving against resistance in all three planes of motion,” Donavanik says.

Do it: Place a barbell on the floor and grip one end next to your left hip with both hands. Your knees should be slightly bent. Use the power of your hips and core to swing the barbell in an arc overhead until you’re gripping the barbell next to your right hip. Pause, then reverse the motion to return to start. Perform three sets of eight to 10 reps per side.

6. Hanging Knee Raise

This move fires up your core while teaching your body how to stabilize and control movement through your back. “Both have to work synergistically in order to prevent swaying,” Donavanik says.

Do it: Grip a pullup bar with your palms facing away from your body, hands spread just greater than shoulder-width apart. Hang from the bar with your arms and legs fully extended, shoulders down, and feet off the floor. Brace your core and raise your knees toward your midline, taking care not to round your lower back as you do so. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position. Complete three sets of 10 to 20 reps.

7. Deadlift

Though often regarded as a lower-body exercise, the deadlift is also a fantastic core-strengthening move. To pull a heavy weight off the floor, your core has to cinched tight the entire time. “The moment you lose that brace is when you risk injury,” Donavanik says. Practice the movement with kettlebells or dumbbells before you reach for a barbell.

Do it: Begin with a barbell or kettlebell on the floor in line with the balls of your feet, and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Push your hips back and hinge forward at the waist to grip the weight with both hands, palms facing in. Allow a slight bend in your knees.

Keeping your back flat and core braced, extend your hips forward to pull the weight straight up off the floor until your torso is fully extended, taking care not to arch your lower back at the top of the movement. Slowly reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Perform three to five sets of six to eight reps.

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5 Ways to Recover Faster from a Hard Workout

The sooner your body bounces back from exercise, the sooner you can get after it again—and the faster you’ll notice fitness and strength improvements.

But while many recreational athletes take the active portion of their training seriously, they don’t put the same effort into planning and executing proper recovery.

That’s a problem, because recovery is just as important as training, says Zach Scioli, a certified personal trainer and fitness coach at San Francisco’s Diakadi Fitness Performance. Hit the same muscles again too soon, and not only will you feel weak or fatigued during your workout, but you may lose some of the benefits of your prior training sessions, he says.

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Also important: differentiating a “hard” workout from a mild one. “A 30-minute run or 30 minutes on the Precor do not meet the definition of a hard workout,” says Todd Astorino, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at California State University, San Marcos.

Assuming you’re in decent shape, you could engage in those or other moderate aerobic workouts every day, and your body will bounce back without much trouble, he says.

But if you’re really busting your butt during your training sessions—engaging in high-intensity interval training, say, or serious resistance-based strength workouts—you need to give your muscles the time and tools they need to recuperate. Here’s your five-step plan:

Step #1: Refuel Within a Few Hours

“Ingestion of adequate amounts of carbohydrate and protein is critical in the hours after a workout,” Astorino says. The first few hours are especially important—that’s when your muscles are the hungriest—but they’ll continue to refuel for roughly 24 hours.

You could fill a university library with all the books written about post-exercise nutrition, so it’s worth doing some research to find a plan that’s right for you. But here are a couple of general guidelines:

After serious aerobic training, your muscles are likely to be low in a form of stored energy called glycogen, which your body derives from carbohydrates, Astorino explains. Over the next 24 hours, consume at least 3 grams of carbs, and 1 gram of protein, for every pound of bodyweight.

Following hard resistance-based training, your greatest need is protein, which fuels muscle recovery and growth, Astorino adds. Add a bit more protein into the mix to give your body the building blocks for new muscle.

Taking NuBound can help accelerate this process as well: A 2016 Journal of Strength and Conditioning study found that the nucleotide-based supplement reduces exercise-related inflammation by 27 percent in the 2 hours after a hard workout.

Fruit and whole grains are healthy carb-rich foods, while lean meats are complete protein sources. And remember: You can never go wrong with a Greek yogurt immediately following any workout.

Step #2: Belly Down from the Bar

One post-exercise activity that won’t help your recovery: boozing.

Research has shown alcohol, when consumed heavily following a workout, can lower rates of muscle protein synthesis by 24 percent. In a study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers found that heavy post-exercise drinking led to lower strength and size gains after resistance training, and reduced fitness improvements following a cycling workout.

The good news: A single drink probably won’t mess with your recovery—at least according to this study. But if you’re planning a big night out, understand that your workout recovery will suffer for it.

Step #3: Roll Your Muscles

There’s a growing body of evidence that post-exercise foam rolling—also known as self-myofascial release—can help reduce soreness and improve recovery times.

A Journal of Athletic Training study found that rolling after a workout improved sprint performance, muscle power, and strength endurance. In one of that study’s experiments, foam rolling allowed weightlifters to repeat the same number of reps 48 hours after a hard training session—compared to 72 hours for men who didn’t roll.

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Meantime, a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found rolling could shorten the amount of time required for muscles to bounce back after training.

While it’s not clear just how foam rolling provides these benefits, the authors of those studies say that—like a massage—foam rolling may increase blood flow to a muscle, which could accelerate recovery.

Just 45 seconds spent rolling a tired muscle should provide benefits, the studies concluded.

Step #4: Sleep at Least 7 Hours

Adequate sleep—at least seven hours, preferably eight—is one of the best things you can do to aid rapid and full physical recovery, Astorino says.

Why? Researchers in Brazil found that the cell repair and regeneration processes that help your weary body bounce back go into overdrive while you sleep.

In addition, stress hormones like cortisol—which spike when you’re sleep deprived—can interfere with muscle recovery, studies have shown.

One reason NuBound is effective at shortening post-workout recovery time: The Journal of Strength and Conditioning study found that it reduces cortisol levels by 32 percent in the hour after a hard workout.

Step #5: Know When to Give Yourself a Break

Rest and recovery go hand in hand. Without one, you won’t achieve the other, Scioli says.

For this reason, he recommends training the same muscle group no more than two to three times a week. Astorino agrees, and says 48 hours is the minimum amount of time a muscle group needs to rest after a hard bout of training.

Finally, listen to your body, Scioli says. If you’re feeling wiped out early in your workout, or you find you can’t perform at your usual level, that’s a good sign you need more rest between sessions.

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How Often Should You Lift Weights?

If you love to lift weights—or you’re vying for a new one-rep max—you may be tempted to hit the weight room every day. After all, if a little bit is good, more must be better, right?

Not so fast. When it comes to lifting, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. Get carried away and you’ll actually delay your strength and hypertrophic progress. Worse, you could put yourself at risk for injury and illness.

So what’s your Goldilocks lifting schedule? Read on to find out.

How Muscle Growth Happens

Let’s start with a quick refresher: Every time you lift, you create microscopic damage to every muscle cell that you work, says Lauren Loberg, P.T., D.P.T., O.C.S., doctor of physical therapy and board-certified clinical orthopedic specialist with TRIA Orthopaedic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Then, when you set the weights down for a day, your body gets to work on repairing the damage: forming new contractile units, fusing protein strands, and even creating additional mitochondria—the microscopic power plants within your muscles.

This process is what ultimately leads to increases in muscle strength, size, and endurance—and it only happens with rest, Loberg explains. Without downtime, your results will plateau, and all of your time pumping iron will be in vain.

A too-regular lifting schedule also puts you at risk for a host of other unpleasant problems, such as overuse injuries like muscle strains and tendonitis.

And since the immune system drives post-workout recovery, if you keep it constantly overloaded, you could wind up feeling like crap, Loberg says. A weakened immune system can lead to lethargy, increased frequency of illness, weight gain, and fun digestive issues like diarrhea and constipation.

So, What’s a Healthy Frequency?

Short answer: It depends. Long answer: It depends on both your training history as well as how you organize your workouts.

For example, if you’ve got some experience under your lifting belt and are regularly training to failure or a high level of fatigue, Loberg suggests hitting the weights no more than four days per week. On the other days, rest or stay active by performing light, steady-state cardio or even restorative exercises like yoga.

However, if you’ve been consistently lifting four days per week for at least six months and are willing to make some of your lifting days “easy,” you can bump things up to five, six, or even seven days per week, says strength coach Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S. Still, that’s contingent on you not training to failure every day or working the same muscle groups on back-to-back days, he says. Generally, a given muscle group needs two full days of recovery before you hit it hard again.

Easy days could include functional bodyweight movements like squats, pushups, and pullups, Donavanik says. You could also mix in some steady-state cardio or yoga.

If you’re a beginner or intermediate exerciser, you may need to stick to just three or four strength workouts per week, with at least a full day of rest between them. You may even find bodyweight and recovery exercises challenging, and need to recover for one or two days before you attempt them again, he says.

Signs that you need more recovery time: poor workout performance, fatigue, and a lack of excitement for workouts that used to get you psyched.

Remember: You can take nuBound daily to reduce your recovery time. The nucleotide-based all-natural supplement is scientifically proven to speed recovery by reducing levels of cortisol and inflammation in your body after exercise.

The bottom line: Exactly how hard and how often you hit the weights is highly individual, Loberg says. So pay attention to how you feel after all your workouts (tough and recovery), and try to align your exercise routine with your energy and soreness levels. The right lifting schedule will leave you feeling better, stronger, and excited for your next workout.

That Said, Do These Exercises Every Day

Most of us spend much of our days seated, whether we’re at our desks, in our cars, or on our couches—so we aren’t getting much of a core workout outside of our dedicated sweat time.

That means no abs for you. Worse, it means weaknesses in the deep-lying core muscles, such as the spinal erectors, which run along your spine and work to straighten and rotate your back, Donavanik says. Weakness can lead to poor posture, back pain, and shoddy stability.

The only antidote: Work your core a little bit every day. You’ll not only build strength that will help you in the weight room, but you’ll become more aware of how you’re sitting, standing, and walking. After a couple of weeks of regular training, you’ll automatically start bracing your core both inside and outside of the gym.

Here’s a simple five-minute core circuit that you can do anywhere, anytime. Do it as a standalone or incorporate the moves into your regular workouts.

Exercise 1: Plank

Get down on all fours and place your forearms on the floor so that your elbows are in line with your shoulders. Extend your legs out behind you so that your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and together, away from your ears, and brace your core. To create tension throughout your entire body, pretend you’re digging your forearms into the floor and pulling them toward your feet. Hold for as long as you can while maintaining proper form, maxing out at one minute.

Exercise 2: Hollow Body Hold

Lie face-up on the floor, with your arms and legs extended in a straight line from hands to feet. Squeeze your core to press your low back into the floor, then slowly raise your shoulders and legs about 8 to 12 inches off of the floor. (You may need to hold them higher when you start, but as you progress, keep your arms and legs closer to the floor.) Hold for as long as you can while maintaining proper form, maxing out at one minute.

Exercise 3: V-Up

Lie face-up on the floor, with your arms and legs extended in a straight line from hands to feet. Squeeze your core to lift both your torso and legs off of the floor. Reach your hands toward your toes, keeping your legs as straight as possible and not letting your shoulders round forward. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Perform as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form, maxing out at 20.

Exercise 4: Hanging Leg Raise

Grab a pullup bar with your hands just greater than shoulder-width apart, and hang with both arms extended. Keeping your glutes and back braced, squeeze your core to raise your legs until they are parallel with the floor. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Perform as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form, maxing out at 20.

Exercise 5: Bicycle Crunch

Lie face-up on the floor with your hands behind your head, knees bent, and feet off of the floor. Squeeze your core to lift your shoulder blades off the floor. Straighten your right leg while simultaneously rotating your upper body to the left, bringing your right elbow to the left knee. Repeat on the opposite side. Perform as many reps as you can while maintaining proper form, maxing out at 20.

That’s one circuit. Stop there or do a few more, for an awesome 20-minute total-body workout.

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