Core strength does more than tighten your tummy. It enhances your ability to move with comfort and perform without injury. It keeps you stable at rest and while moving, reducing the risk of injury to the low back and extremities. These things matter, whether your biggest workout is lifting laundry baskets weekly or you're training to run a 5K.
Even better: Toning your core isn't tricky. The following five exercises focus on the abs, back and glutes, which are the primary components of your core. This routine can be done without any equipment and modified to increase the intensity once you've mastered the basic moves.
The move: Begin at the top of a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders and feet about shoulder width apart. Position your body in a straight line from the crown of your head down to your heels. Pay particular attention to your hips; avoid sagging down or pushing up in the middle. Once you're in a straight line (check with a mirror or ask someone else to check your form), bring your belly button in toward your spine, engaging the muscles of your abdomen. Hold for as long as possible or until you lose proper form. Work up to two sets of one minute.
Step it up: Increase the difficulty of this move by bringing your feet closer together and increasing time spent in position.
The side plank
What it targets: Side belly (obliques)
The move: Begin on your side with legs stacked and elbow directly under your shoulder. Position your body in a straight line as you raise your bottom hip off the ground. Once you are in a straight line, bring your belly button in towards your spine and engage the muscles of your abdomen. Hold this for as long as possible or until you lose proper form. Bend bottom leg and rest on knee, if necessary, being sure to reposition into straight line. Switch to other side. Work up to two sets of one minute on each side.
Step it up: Make this move more difficult by lifting the top leg to parallel with the ground while core is engaged.
What it targets: Butt (glutes)
The move: Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep arms straight with palms resting on the floor. Raise hips off of the ground by engaging your glutes until hips are in line with the knees and shoulders. Hold this position for 5 seconds then lower back to the ground. Repeat this move 5 times gradually increasing the number and length of repetitions.
Step it up: To make this exercise harder, try lifting one knee off the floor while relying on the opposite glute to keep the body in position. Repeat on opposite side.
What it targets: Back
The move: Start by laying on your stomach with hands stretched out overhead. With both feet and hands about shoulder width apart, engage your back muscles to lift both extremities off the floor. Hold in lifted for position for about 5 seconds then return to the floor. Complete 5 repetitions.
Step it up: Gradually increase the number of repetitions slowly over time, working up to 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
What it targets: Back and stomach
The move: Begin on hands and knees with hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under hips. Simultaneously reach your right arm out in front of you while reaching back with your left leg. Keep a straight spin and feel the muscles of your back and stomach engage while holding this for 5 seconds. Release and perform movement on the other side. Complete 5 repetitions on each side.
Step it up: Gradually increase the length and number of repetitions over time, working up to 10 repetitions of 10 seconds on each side.
Laurie Lethert Kocanda is an ACE-certified fitness professional and co-author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom.