Rarely do we think about ab exercises outside of when we’re doing plank exercises or a set of crunches, but your abs are a large and important muscle group that helps us perform many movements throughout the day, whether we’re bending over to pick something up, climbing into our cars, or walking down the street.

“The core is one of those muscles that is always working in some capacity,” says exercise specialist Kym Nolden. “If you are breathing, then you are technically working your core.” The core is made up of the pelvic floor, the diaphragm, the psoas, the transverse abdominis, the rectus abdominis, and the internal and external obliques. It’s involved in a number of functions to help us move, such as bending over, arching backwards, and rotating or twisting. “Most importantly, it stabilises our spine to allow us to move our limbs independently,” Nolden says.

Over time, your core can weaken with inactivity or age, but the good news is you can strengthen your abs with a number of easy, at-home workouts.

The benefits of working your core

Adding in core work will not only help you perform activities of daily living with ease, but it will also protect your from further injury, Nolden says. “Core work for young folks that are still developing can decrease the risk of sports-related injury,” she says. “A strong core can also lower the risk of delivery complications for expectant mothers.” Sculpted abs may additionally help improve recovery and decrease the need for a walker or wheel chair with age by strengthening posture.

To get a strong core, it’s important to perform well-rounded exercises that target each of the various muscle groups within the umbrella of the core. “If you want a strong and functional core, you need to work all the various movements of the spine,” Nolden says. “So, exercises that flex the spine such as an Ab Curl or Roll Up, extend the spine like Birddog or Superman, resist rotation like a Deadbug, or stabilise the spine like a Plank, should all be included in some capacity.”

To help you strengthen your core for healthy spine mobility, read on for Nolden’s 17 best exercises for a sculpted core. All you’ll need is a yoga mat, a set of light dumbbells, and a resistance band. Repeat each exercise for 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off, alternating between each side where necessary, for up to three reps.

Reverse Plank With Knee Drive

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start in a seated position with your legs extended out in front of you. Flip your hands behind you so that your fingers are facing your feet and palms are pressed into the ground. Press up through your palms to get into a reverse plank. While holding the reverse plank, bend your right leg and bring it to about hip level. Alternate both sides.

Passe Developpe Plank

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off each side for up to three reps

How to: Start in a plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your feet a little wider than hip’s width. Bend your right leg and tap it to your opposite elbow, then swing it to the outside of your left arm and kick it straight out. Repeat on the other side.

Corkscrew Plank

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start in a plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists. Cross your right foot over the left and press into your palms to hike your hips up to the sky. Return back down to a plank with your feet in the same position for one rep. Alternate both sides.

Hallow Hold

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start in a supine position with your legs out straight and your hands by your sides. Flip your thumbs up towards the sky so that your palms are facing inward. On an exhale, lift your shoulders up off your mat as you simultaneously lift your legs, and hold for one breath. Release back down and repeat.

Side Plank With Elbow to Knee Crunch

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off each side for up to three reps

How to: Start in a side plank (either on your forearm or hand for extra intensity). Crunch your right knee upwards as you simultaneously lower your right elbow. Your right knee and right elbow should tap and meet at the centre. Repeat on both sides.

Ispilateral Deadbug

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start in a supine position with your knees bent at about 90 degrees and knees stacked over hips. Extend your right arm straight back while you simultaneously straighten your left leg. Return to starting position and switch sides. Alternate for 30 seconds.

Lateral V-Ups

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off each side for up to three reps

How to: Start laying on your right side with your hips stacked. Glue your feet together. Exhale and send your legs upwards as you tap your left hand to your left leg. Option to bend your knees if needed, or come up on your right forearm.

Roll Ups

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start in a seated posture with your legs extended straight out. Raise your arms to about shoulder level with your thumbs pointing up towards the sky. Lean back so that your back touches the mat while your hands stay exactly as is. Squeeze your core to come back into a seat.

Bear Crawl

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start on all fours with your hips stacked over your knees and your shoulders stacked over your wrists. Press into your toes to lift your knees about an inch or so off of the mat. Crawl forward to the top of your mat while using opposite legs and hands. (If your right arm is sliding forward, your left knee is coming with it.) Crawl backwards to the back of your mat and repeat.

Birddog

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start on all fours with your hips stacked over your knees and your shoulders stacked over your wrists. Tuck your toes and engage your core as you extend your right arm out front while your left leg presses backwards. Keep your left pinky toe facing downwards and your right thumb pointed up towards the sky. Engage your core by sending your belly button in towards your spine.

Half Kneeling Windmill

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off each side for up to three reps

How to: Start in a 90 degree lunge with your left leg bent and a light dumbbell in your left hand. Open up your left shoulder and gaze upwards towards your hand as you come down onto your right forearm. Press up from your right arm and rotate your left arm to return back to starting position. Do for 30 seconds, then switch sides for one rep.

Palloff Press

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Tie a resistance band to a stable surface such as a chair or a railing. Place your mat a few feet from the surface and pull on the strap to ensure you feel enough resistance. Then, starting in a kneeling position, interlace your fingers around the band and extend your hands forward as you engage your core. Try not to rock when you extend. Return back to starting position and repeat for 30 seconds.

Bicycle Hold With Leg Lifts

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start in a supine position and bring your palms to your ears so that your elbows are facing outwards. Bend your right knee and twist your torso that your left shoulder blade taps your right knee. Hold it there as you then lift your left leg up and down for 30 seconds. Repeat other side.

Elbow Leg Lifts

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off each side for up to three reps

How to: Start in a seated position with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor. Lay down on your sacrum as you press your forearms down into your mat with your fingers facing forwards. Lift your knees to be hip level, and straighten your right leg towards the ground (without letting it touch). Raise it back to starting position and repeat for 30 seconds. Keep your core engaged and try not to round out your spine.

Inverted Plie

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start in a supine position and place your palms behind your ears. Bend your knees to about 90 degrees. Keep your knees stacked over your hips as you extend your legs out straight while flexing your toes. Keep your back glued to the floor as you engage your abs.

Front Plank

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start in a plank position with your shoulders stacked over wrists. Spread through all 10 of your fingers and press the mat away. Keep your feet about hip’s width. Pull your belly button in towards your spine and engage your glutes. Hold for 30 seconds or longer.

Bicycles

Reps: 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to three reps

How to: Start in a supine posture with legs extended and place your hands at the nape of your neck with your elbows out wide. Bend your right knee and tap your left elbow to your right knee. Be sure to lift your left shoulder off of the mat as you twist, then switch sides and tap your right elbow to your left knee. Alternate each side for 30 seconds.

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