Core strength more than abs – try this circuit to boost your strength

Core work can help with lower back conditions, but your technique needs to be spot on (Image: GETTY)

Core exercises have come a long way since classes claim you can get “Five-Minute Abs.” We now know that core strength is about much more than just having a six-pack.


A strong core is imperative for everyday life. Not only does it help with exercise and physical activity, but it’s also essential for everything from posture, balance, and stability, to helping with everyday tasks like carrying shopping bags.


Your heart is always active and active, even when you’re sneezing and laughing, plus it connects your lower and upper body to ensure everything works in harmony. Therefore, including core work in your fitness regimen is crucial. But what is the best way to do this?

“People usually think of the rectus abdominis, the six-pack muscle, as the core,” explains Jess McDonald, LES MILLS coach and instructor ( But the core is made up of many other muscles and includes the transversus abdominis, the multi muscles, the internal and external obliques, and the erectors. We can also consider the muscles of the diaphragm and pelvic floor as well as the muscles that move the hips, shoulders and gluteals, as part of the core and trunk muscles.

According to Jess, cardio is a strength center, and while most people think of crunches and oblique twists as the main exercises to focus on for core strength, these types of exercises tend to be done in isolation and aren’t the most functional way to train. “Integrated exercise is essential in training all of the core muscles,” she says.

How effective is a 10-minute stand-alone abdominal workout versus a 30 to 45-minute workout that includes core exercises and strengthens all the muscles of the core, not just the abdominals? It’s a myth that sit-ups are the best exercise for the core because this only works the six-pack, rectus abdominis muscles.

Probably the biggest myth is what core training is. It is not always about isolating the core, but understanding the function of the core and how it helps promote powerful movement, stability and control. For example, the core helps us when we squat. How do? By keeping the torso erect while stimulating the spine.

Jess McDonald and Matthew Biff

Core experts Jess McDonald and Matthew Biff (Photos: Supplied)

Core strength can also help prevent back pain, which is the single biggest cause of disability in the UK according to the NHS. And if sit-ups are done incorrectly, they can overload the spine and cause injury.

“Low back pain alone accounts for 11% of total disability for the UK population,” says Matthew Piff, Regional Head of MSK Physiotherapy at Nuffield Health ( Managing low back pain according to NICE guidelines is multifactorial, and exercise is part of that.

Current evidence indicates that decreased muscle strength and disadaptation can lead to injury and pain, and thus reduced core muscle capacity can contribute to low back or neck pain. Evidence suggests that improving your overall strength is good for musculoskeletal health. Simply put, “Movement is lotion” and good strength helps support and protect your joints, muscles, tendons, etc. from injury and pain.

Some exercises put some degree of stress on the lower back, and poor technique can exacerbate this – especially if we’re not yet strong enough to manage it.

A more modern approach to lower back pain management and core training uses exercises that work the muscular corset that surrounds our torso during movement, to improve strength and functional capacity. Physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches are moving away from the static exercises that traditionally make up core programs, and replacing them with exercises that build strength as you move.

What kind of exercises should we do in the gym? Matthew suggests reclining scissors, plank risers, mountain climbers, and Russian curls and rolls, for on-the-go cardio work. But also include simple exercises like squats and lunges because they also work the core, in addition to traditional core exercises like planks. The key is to keep it varied and in multiple planes [directions] To strengthen all elements.

A woman clutching her back in pain

Core strength can also help prevent back pain – a major problem in the UK (Image: Getty Images)

Jess agrees. “Think integrated moves combined with flyes, side flyes, or plank moves in addition to traditional crunches or oblique twists,” she says. Vary the exercises and use your body weight and resistance to really challenge your core.

People tend to do their main exercise and then tag in some core exercises at the end, which is fine – any exercise or movement is good for you. However, including a full training session with functional core exercises once a week will be very beneficial. If you are adding exercises to the end of a standard workout, be sure to do cardio while standing, as well as lying on your back and on your stomach, to ensure more functional movement and to strengthen your core and core muscles. ”

Matthew adds that a good exercise program should build strength gradually, to avoid overloading the musculoskeletal system and prevent injury. “If you are unsure if it is safe for you to exercise or if you would like more personal advice in regards to exercise, please seek the advice of a physiotherapist who can help you decide on the best next steps.”

Absolute core exercise

If you’re limited in time, Jess McDonald suggests the following circuit with moves as a quick core bomber.

“Do each exercise for 30-40 seconds, then rest 10-20 seconds before moving on to the next exercise,” McDonald says. Repeat the circuit four times. This mini circuit will target all the muscles that make up the core, shoulder stabilizers, postural muscles, hips and buttocks. Working with time means you can focus on speeding up to get a boost too and it will get our happy hormones pumping so you can feel groovy for the rest of the day.

Here you talk to us through the ring.

tablet with pointer

tablet with pointer

Jess does the pointer plank (Photo: Supplied)

Come to the floor in a plank position with your hands under your shoulders. Keep your hips low, and place your feet wide for stability. Next, gently lift one hand off the floor at a 45-degree angle while keeping both feet and one hand on the floor. To advance, hold for five seconds before changing sides. Try not to shift your weight or twist your body. Put your hand back down to switch sides, and hold for 30-40 seconds.



Woodchop (photo: supplied)

Stand with your feet wide, with your toes turned slightly outward. Holding a weight (kettlebell or dumbbell) with both hands, lower the weight down towards the left knee with straight arms. Next, in a diagonal line from left knee to right shoulder, keeping your arms straight and long, lift the weight over your right shoulder. Complete this for 30-40 seconds on one side, before switching to the other side for the same amount of time.

Lunge with a twist

Lunge with a twist

Lunge with a Twist (Photo: Supplied)

Step right foot back, keeping hip distance for balance. Bend the knee back toward the floor until the front thigh is parallel. Press the arms outward and rotate the upper body over the left thigh, alternating from the middle of the chest. Perform the exercises for 30-40 seconds, then repeat on the other side – left foot back and right thigh twist. For an added challenge, hold a dumbbell in both hands, high on your chest

Weighted squat with a deflection

Weighted side squat

Weighted squat with side lunge (photo: supplied)

Hold a dumbbell in both hands at the collarbones, feet shoulder-width apart and toes slightly open. Squat your hips back and down until you reach just above the knee, then move to the side in this position for 6-8 steps keeping feet width apart. Go back the other way for 6-8 steps. When you reach the starting position, press the weight over the head, aiming to keep the biceps close to the ears and arms. Perform these movements for 30-40 seconds.

Crunch with a leg shoot

Crunch with a leg shoot

Crunch with leg imaging (photo: attached)

Lie on your back with your knees at a 90-degree angle over your hips, shoulders slightly lifted in a crunch position. Slowly extend your straight arms and legs outward, with your arms up and your toes pointed. Return to a crunch position, lift shoulders off the floor, press your lower back down the whole time, and hold for 1-2 seconds. Repeat for 30-40 seconds. When you’re ready, hold a light weight in both hands for added resistance as your arms pass over your head.

Les Mills CORE is a scientific core exercise for athletic tone and performance. Visit

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