If you've ever carted a watermelon a mile, you know that carrying a grocery bag absolutely counts as a core workout—and it's not the only everyday activity that can replace crunches, plank holds, and mountain climbers, according to SLT founder and Pilates trainer Amanda Freeman.
Whether we recognize it or not, we're basically always using our core (the apropos term for the system of muscles that helps stabilize the trunk of the body). "Core strength is an important contributor to nearly any movement your body makes," says Freeman. Whether you're moving your arms or legs or both, your core is working, and it can help to keep your body injury-free throughout any activity, she says.
It follows that when the core is weak, you're at risk of getting injured in everyday movements, like bending over to grab something or hauling your laundry up the stairs of your five-story walkup. That's why it's important to make sure you're doing these movement patterns while paying attention to your form. And when you do hit the gym, you can specifically strengthen your core so that these moves feel easy, breezy.
Ahead, Freeman breaks down five everyday activities that work your midsection. She also offers guidance on how to do each one properly, and what core exercises you can do to make these moves a cinch.
5 activities that work your core just as much as a core workout
1. Vacuuming and dusting
Cleaning your home probably doesn't instantly spring to mind when you think of core workouts, but if you're dusting and vacuuming, you're also using your abdominals, trapezius (the muscles between your shoulder blades), and obliques (the muscles of your side body), according to Freeman.
Proper vacuuming and dusting form: To make sure you don't injure yourself while you're sprucing your space, she recommends keeping a couple key cues in mind. "Engage your core throughout and keep your back flat when bending over to get to hard-to-reach places," she says.
Supplementary core work: You can strengthen the muscles you need to bend over safely by working on your deadlift, which emulates that flat back and core engagement while strengthening your hamstrings, Freeman adds.
2. Carrying groceries
Apart from working your core, carrying groceries is a great arm workout, says Freeman. "Biceps are the primary muscles involved in carrying groceries, though several upper body muscles are activated," she says.
Proper grocery-carrying form: To carry groceries in a manner that's safe for your body, she recommends distributing the weight evenly between both arms and standing up straight to engage your core. You can ask whoever's bagging your groceries to fill your bags so they're at least close to being the same weight. That way, neither arm will be taking the brunt of the load.
Supplementary core work: You can strengthen this same set of muscles by simply practicing your plank holds.
3. Climbing stairs
"Climbing stairs is such a good glute, calf, and quad workout that there is significant gym space dedicated to stair climbing machines," says Freeman. Of course, if you live in said walkup or even just have a two story house, you have plenty of access to vertical-style workouts.
Proper stair-climbing form: "To work more glutes and less quads, make sure your heels hit the stairs, and push off with your heels rather than your toes," says Freeman. (This is also a little safer than taking on your stairs with your tippy-toes.)
Supplementary core work: If you want to make this everyday activity a little easier, simply work on your cardio and endurance via power walking, running, or biking.
If any everyday activity can be considered a full-body workout, it's gardening, says Freeman. "Depending on the specifics of your gardening routine, it can be full body fitness, working your arms, shoulders, abs, back and legs. Raking, in particular, engages all the muscle groups, but even lower-intensity planting and weeding activate your upper body muscles and core," she explains.
Proper gardening form: As you spend time among your plants and flowers, Freeman recommends keeping your back straight, core engaged, and using your lower body to move up and down.
Supplementary core work: "Cherry pickers are a great core exercise that give your body good practice safely reaching for something," she says
5. Standing up and sitting down
No matter your profession, you probably spend a great deal of time each day just sitting down and standing up. Even this can count as a core workout...you just have to make sure you're doing it correctly. "When people's backs 'go out' on them, they are most commonly doing something as basic as standing up or sitting down. The act itself engages a variety of lower body muscles—quads, glutes, calves—in addition to the core," says Freeman.
Proper sitting and rising form: Rather than getting up from your desk on autopilot, Freeman recommends taking a mindful moment to make sure your core is leading the movement.
Supplementary core work: You can incorporate more squats into your workouts to make your bathroom breaks and coffee pot runs a bit easier.
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