The best core workout is one that targets your entire midsection — not just one or two muscles. It's also made of foundational moves that improve strength and stability and are easy to scale up or down. This 20-minute core workout does all of that and more.
"You can't be strong — in life or in the gym — without a strong core," K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "The core is the center of everything you do. And if you have any interest in aging well or having a better-feeling back, investing in your core stability is a must."
The moves in this 20-minute core workout hit all of the foundational movements and muscles of your core, including strength, stability, rotation and anti-rotation.
"They are moves that, whether you're new to working out or have been crushing core workouts for years, will serve you well," Fetters says. Stringing them together into one ultimate abs and core workout gives you all the benefits in one brief exercise session.
Ready to pump up your core strength, stability and definition, while reducing lower back pain and improving posture? Make this core workout a staple in your routine. Fetters recommends doing it four days per week for the best results.
"You could also do one move per day during your regular workouts if that's more doable," she says. "Consistency is the most important thing."
Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here – we've got something for everyone.
Try This 20-Minute Core Workout
This 20-minute core workout is made up of one circuit of five exercises. Do 8 to 12 reps of each move per side, then repeat for a total of 3 rounds. Rest for 30 seconds at the end of each set.
For the exercises, you'll need a cable machine or a resistance band secured around an anchor, and a pair of heavy dumbbells.
1. Bird Dog
- Start on all fours with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
- Engaging your core, lift your left leg off the ground and extend it behind you. At the same time, extend your right arm in front of you.
- Squeeze your left glutes and right upper-back muscles to prevent overarching your lower back.
- Bring your left leg and right arm back to the starting position.
- Next, lift your right leg off the ground and extend it behind you while extending your left arm in front of you. Squeeze your right glutes and left upper-back muscles.
- Return to the starting position and continue to alternate sides.
"If this exercise feels easy to you, you're probably doing it wrong!" Fetters says. The most common mistake people people make is sitting back toward their hips, which reduces the core work required to keep you steady, she explains.
To fix it: "Shift your weight forward so that your shoulders are stacked directly above your wrists, and keep them there the entire time." If you still want to level up a notch, add a pause at the top or add wrist and/or ankle weights. To make the move easier, do an arms- or legs-only version. "For most people, the arms-only version is still quite difficult," Fetters says.
2. Dead Bug
- Lie on your back with both of your arms extending toward the ceiling and lift your legs off the ground to form 90-degree angles. Your shins should be parallel to the ground and your knees stacked directly over your hips.
- Pressing your lower back into the floor, extend your left arm behind you and your right leg in front of you. Keep your limbs as low to the ground as possible while keeping your lower back anchored to the ground.
- Return to the starting position and repeat with your right arm and left leg. Continue to alternate sides.
Focus on keeping your lower back pressed into the floor throughout the movement.
"This move is easiest if you keep your knees bent at all times, and the farther you lower your arms and legs toward the floor with each rep, the harder it will be," Fetters says. You can also add a pause at the bottom to give yourself a little more time to hold the contraction.
3. Pallof Press
- Loop a medium to heavy resistance band around an anchor at chest height and hold it with both hands. Stand with your right side facing the anchor and walk far away from the band so that you feel some tension. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees.
- Keeping your shoulders and hips square, extend your arms out in front of you until your elbows are straight. Tighten your core to keep your torso from rotating.
- Return your hands to the starting position. Complete all reps and then repeat on the other side facing the anchor.
To make this more challenging, stand farther away from the anchor point, use a "heavier" band or hold each press for longer, Fetters recommends. You can also add a rotational aspect.
"Press the band out, rotate to the side, rotate back then bring your arms in and repeat." To make the move easier, do it on one or both knees.
4. Banded Woodchop
- Loop a medium to heavy resistance band around an anchor at chest height and hold it with both hands, arms extended in front of you. Stand with your right side facing the anchor and walk far away from the band so that you feel some tension. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees.
- Twist your torso to the left, pivoting on the ball of your right foot and keeping your arms in the same position so that they simply rotate with your midsection.
- With control, return to the starting position. Do all reps and then repeat on the other side facing the anchor.
The easiest way to make it harder/easier? Adjusting the resistance level, Fetters says.
5. Farmer's Carry
- Hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand. Choose a weight that's challenging enough yet light enough so that you can maintain proper form and posture while walking.
- Pack your shoulders back and down and stand tall. Engage your core as you step forward and begin walking. Keep the weights from touching your outer thighs and avoid leaning to one side.
- Continue walking for 30 seconds while maintaining this posture.
To make this harder, simply carry more weight or walk farther. "You can also play with holding the weight in one or both arms, or even overhead," Fetters says.