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Building a Strong Core

Written collaboratively by Kylie Serie and Nikki Prosch, former SDSU Extension Health & Physical Activity Field Specialist.

The midsection is a part of the body that many individuals strive to sculpt, strengthen and increase lean muscle tissue. While it may be easy to think of the core as just the abdominals, it involves many more muscles. Your core also includes your back muscles and the muscles around your pelvis. Your core is also the link between your upper and lower body. It’s important to strengthen your core for more than just aesthetic reasons, having a strong core will benefit you in many real world ways.

A strong core correlates with how well your upper and lower limbs work for you. Improving core strength will also improve your balance and stability which may help in the prevention of falls and injuries. Many daily activities require core work, for example putting on your shoes, sitting on a chair, lifting, twisting, and standing. Your core will also play a major role in maintaining a healthy back. Weak core muscles put extra strain on your back causing pain and irritation. If your core is weak, chances are you could also be also suffering from back pain. Strengthening your midsection is doable following a few easy tips. Proper posture, challenging core muscle workouts, and wholebody cardiovascular workouts are all great ways to get started.

Posture, although often overlooked, can play an important role in strengthening your midsection. Without breaking a sweat, sit up straight. Align your ears over your shoulders, shoulders over your hips and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Proper posture can give your abdominals and back a chance to strengthen, without breaking a sweat.

Core-Strengthening Exercises

Think beyond the well-known “crunch” abdominal exercise when focusing on strengthening your midsection. Core muscles can get a workout in many forms; including exercises performed while sitting, standing, bending and laying. Core muscle exercises can be done with the use of resistance equipment (i.e. free weights, resistance bands, medicine balls) or without any equipment at all. Below are some great midsection-toning exercises to incorporate into your workout:

Young woman demonstrating the Hollow Holds core exercise.

Hollow Holds

  • Lay flat on your back.
  • Squeeze your ankles together to activate your glutes while bringing your arms next to your ears.
  • Focus on keeping your lower back to the floor.
  • Breathe.
  • Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.
Young woman demonstrating the Forearm Plank core exercise.

Forearm Plank

  • Come onto your forearms and make sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders. Palms will be facing down.
  • Tuck your toes under and straighten your legs.
  • Be sure your body is parallel to the ground and your glutes are not too high or too low.
  • Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.
Young woman demonstrating the Bridge core exercise.


  • Lay on your back and bend your knees with your feet planted on the ground.
  • Have your feet close enough to you that you could touch them with the tips of your fingers.
  • Exhale and lift your glutes, engaging your core.
  • Don’t let your inner thighs fall outward.
  • Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.
Young woman demonstrating the Superman Pull core exercise.

Superman Pull

  • Begin laying on your stomach with your arms out long in front of you.
  • Keep your ankles together.
  • Inhale, and exhale lift your legs and arms up.
  • Keep your gaze towards the ground.
Young woman demonstrating the Superman Pull core exercise.
  • From here, pull your arms back in a “cactus” position.
  • Return arms back to your ears and release to the ground.
  • Complete 20-30 repetitions.
Young woman demonstrating the Superman Pull core exercise.


  • Begin seated with your spine long.
  • Straighten legs and arms while balancing on your bottom.
  • On an exhale, bend your knees closer to your chest and keep your shins parallel to the ground.
  • Inhale to straighten, exhale to bend.
  • Complete 20 repititions.

Along with core muscle exercises, whole-body cardiovascular workouts are important for fat-burning and muscle strengthening of your midsection. Whole-body cardiovascular workouts are movements that incorporate major muscle groups (legs, arms, back) in one activity. For example, running, walking, biking, swimming, dancing and multiple competitive sports fall under whole-body cardiovascular movements.

It is important to remember the importance of both nutrition and physical activity for muscle. If you are new to exercise, start slow and gradually progress forward.

Related Topics

Physical Activity, Health