You could go about a core workout in one of two ways. On one hand, you could ramp up your reps while doing a who’s who of proven abdominal burners like crunches, reverse crunches, leg lifts, rope crunches and every other manner of bringing point A (your sternum) toward point B (your hips) until your core cries for mercy.
Hey, if you’re a fan of that sort of intensity and wall-to-wall action, why not?
For those who aren’t so enamored with crunches and raises, though, there is another, less frantic road to a tighter, smaller, more dynamic core — one built on isometric and lower-impact movements coupled with something you do naturally all the time: breathe.
“This 30-minute workout will make your body believe you just worked out for an hour,” says Gretchen Zelek , an AFAA-certified group fitness instructor and functional aging specialist. “By focusing on belly breathing during each movement, you’ll engage deeper muscles within your core than typical shallow breathing.”
Zelek offers a few mental cues to help. “Make sure each breath starts ‘high’ at your collarbones, and when it reaches your belly, it expands outward like a balloon filling with air,” she suggests. “With each exhale, pull your belly in starting at your pubic bone and then all the way up toward your ribs. Think of ‘hollowing out’ your belly.”
The workout begins with a bridge that introduces this deep-breathing pattern to increase the stimulation, followed by a quietly intense wall sit. Next comes a circuit of plank variations you’ll do back-to-back-to-back with no rest in between, followed by dead bugs and a yoga favorite, the Child’s Pose, to finish things off.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Inhale deeply and lift your hips into the bridge position. Next, raise your arms and extend them overhead. Exhale fully, remembering to start at your pubic bone and pushing out the air upward from there. Once you’ve fully exhaled, lower your hips to the floor and return your arms to your sides. Repeat 15 times.
Assume a shoulder-width stance about 2 feet from a wall, facing away from it. Lean against the wall and slide your back down it until your thighs are parallel with the floor, knees bent 90 degrees and situated directly above your ankles. Keeping your head, shoulders and back flat and in full contact with the wall, hold that position for 30 seconds as you contract your core. Return under control to a standing position, rest 30 seconds, and repeat four more times.
Start in a high-plank position, balanced on your toes (hip-width apart on the floor) and your palms with your arms straight. Your body should be aligned from head to heels, your shoulders stacked directly above your wrists. Engage your core, and slowly practice deep belly breathing while holding the plank for 30 seconds. Rest 30 seconds, then repeat the sequence once more.
From the same high-plank position, raise your right hand to tap your left shoulder and then place it back on the floor. Repeat with your left hand. Continue for 15 taps on each shoulder, rest 30 seconds and repeat one more time.
From the high-plank position, lift and extend your right arm in front of you, thumb up, while simultaneously raising and extending your left leg behind you. Make sure to keep your hips square and do not rock or rotate your body as you do so. Hold that lifted position for 10 seconds, then repeat with your left arm and right leg up. Repeat 15 times total on each side.
Begin in a high-plank position, and pull your right knee under your torso to touch the outside of your left elbow. Hold it there for a one-count, then return to the start. Repeat with your left knee to the outside of your right elbow. Repeat 15 times total per side.
Assume a side-plank position, balanced on your right elbow and the side of your right foot, your left foot stacked atop the right. Your body should be facing toward the wall and aligned from head to heel. Hold the top position for a one-count, then lower your hips to the floor. Complete 15 reps on that side, then switch so you’re balanced on your left elbow and foot and complete 15 more reps.
From the side-plank position, right elbow on the floor and hips lifted so your body is straight from head to heel, slowly lift your left leg up so that it’s just above parallel with the floor. Hold that for a second, then lower it back down onto your right leg. Repeat for 15 total reps, then switch sides.
Lie on your back with your arms extended straight up and aligned with your shoulders. Lift your legs up in the air and bend your knees so your hips and knees form 90-degree angles. Keep your lower back in contact with the floor and your core engaged as you reach your right arm back beyond your head as you simultaneously extend your left leg so that your heel hovers about an inch or two from the floor. Hold that position for a one-count, then slowly return to the start and repeat with your left arm and right leg. Continue alternating for 10 reps, then rest 30 seconds. Repeat for three sets total.
Kneel with your knees spread and the tops of your feet on the floor. Reach your arms out in front of you on the floor and bow your torso forward. Rest your forehead on the floor, completely relaxing your body, and slowly take 10 deep breaths in and out.