8 Bodyweight Exercises to Improve Core Strength and Stability

As always, check with your physician before beginning an exercise program.

Intended Audience:

Individuals, athletes in particular, with previous experience in strength training, who have a good mastery of posture and form and who are looking for a non-equipment based core workout for either travel or program diversity.

Goal of this program:

To improve core strength and stability using bodyweight exercises only, in order to train muscles in the way they are most commonly used in sports or every day life, without equipment or machines. As each person has individual needs, not all of the exercises may work for you. Consult your physician prior to beginning any exercise program. Additionally, if you have any unusual pain or soreness during exercise, or for prolonged periods after exercise, stop the exercise immediately and contact your trainer and, if necessary, your physician. Expect “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness”, fatigue and general soreness of the muscles, for one to three days after exercise. Soreness in the joints themselves however, may be a sign of injury, so please contact your trainer should this occur.

Frequency:

Depending on your weekly workout schedule and the time you have per exercise session, this program can be added to your current workout or used as a stand alone program for core work.

Duration:

Follow for 6 – 8 weeks. If the program becomes easy, or if you need a change prior to 8 weeks, you may increase reps or sets, or increase intensity using dumbbells or other bodyweight and lever variations.

Tools:

Just your body.

Instructions:

  1. Plank Hold – Kneel on floor in near push up position. Place forearms on floor with elbows directly under shoulders. Curl toes under, and lift knees off floor so that you are in a straight, push-up position. Keep abdominals very tight, back straight, upper back still as you hold this position for 20 seconds or more. Breathe! Exercise strengthens all core muscles, especially shoulders, abs and back. Repeat 3-5 times.
  2. Supine Bridges – Lie on floor on your back with knees bent and feet on floor, hip width apart, toes pointed straight ahead. Place arms next to your body with palms down. Lift buttocks up as body straightens completely by pressing through heels. Lifted position can be held or exercise can be repeated as you lift and lower 15 times. This exercise can also be done with one leg crossed over the other, ankle resting on opposite knee, so that only one leg at a time is performing exercise. Or, the single leg version can be done with one leg straight out in front of you, other leg performing lift. If you feel any back strain with this, instead of holding the leg out straight, bend the knee in towards the hip and bridge with just the other leg. Repeat 10-15 times. This is a crucial exercise for buttocks strength and back and leg injury prevention.
  3. Forward Lunges – Stand with your feet hip width apart, chest up and abdominals engaged. Step forward with your right leg, toes pointed straight ahead, about 2/3 of body length, striking the heel first, rolling to the toe. As you lunge forward, right knee will bend to 90 degrees, and right knee will stay over right foot. Left leg remains straighter, and left heel is up throughout lunge, toes pointed straight ahead. After you have absorbed foot strike, push back to start position and repeat with left leg. Make sure that your spine remains straight and that you do not bend over towards the leading leg, as this can put too much weight into the front knee. This exercise can be done with dumbbells or a barbell once this becomes easy. A variation of the forward lunge is a traveling lunge, where each lunge is a step forward alternating legs as you lunge. Lateral lunges, where one lunges to the side, is also excellent for lateral thighs and inner thighs. Repeat 10-15 times each leg. Strengthens all leg muscles and improves balance.
  4. Push-up – A push-up is a demanding exercise that requires excellent core strength. If you have any shoulder or neck problems you may want to start with an elevated push-up variation, where the hands are elevated on a bench.  Whether on the floor or elevated, hands  are shoulder width,  fingers face forward. Straighten legs behind you, back straight, abdominals very tight. Keep your head in neutral alignment and your upper back as flat as possible. Slowly lower chest towards floor without arching back or dropping head. Exhale as you press your body back up to start position.  Elbows should not jut out too far from body- but should angle back as you squeeze together the shoulder blades on the lowering. If even the elevated exercise seems too much, try just the lowering portion of the exercise to begin with. Work up to 15 repetitions.
  5. Quadraped-Arm and Leg Extensions – Kneel on floor on all fours with hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Slowly and carefully, lift opposite arm and leg keeping back and torso very still. Low back should remian neutral with no arching or extraneous movement.  Lift arm out on front of you and  level with ears, leg out behind you straight, level with back or slightly lower, not above it. Do at least 10 reps -10 per side. This is a very important yet subtle exercise to help back stability, and especially for those with a history of back problems.
  6. Dead Bug – Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Lift the legs up in the air, keeping the knees bent and also lift the arms up and point the fingers toward the ceiling. Keeping your abdomen contracted, and low back into the floor, slowly lower opposite arm and leg towards the floor, only as low as you can while maintaining core stability with the low back pressed to the floor. Exhale and bring arm and leg back to start position and repeat with other arm and leg. Work up to 10 sets – 20 total reps. Great for core/abdominal strength.
  7. Side Plank (side bridge) – Lie on one side with elbow propped up, head and neck relaxed. Knees should be bent, hips stacked. Push body upward, keeping sideways and press up through elbow and lower leg. Hold this sustained position for 5 seconds or more and carefully lower back down. If you are unable to lift entire body up, you can lift body from knees up, keeping lower leg on the floor. Hold each rep for 10 seconds or more, or lift and lower 5-8 times without holding. Exercise works back and lateral abdominal muscles- great for creating and maintaining a healthy back!
  8. Bicycle Crossovers – Lie on back with knees bent and arms behind head. Lift knees towards belly, feet off floor, and hold position. Straighten one leg out in front of you, and reach elbow towards opposite knee that remains bent inward. Switch sides, crossing elbow towards opposite knee. Only straighten leg to the point where you can keep core stability- do not allow back to arch up nor body to roll side to side. Exhale each time knee pulls in towards chest. Work up to 20 sets!