The 10 Exercises That Worked Every Inch of Our Core in 2021 So We’re Keeping Them in Rotation This Year

Photo: Getty Images/jacoblund
When it comes to key muscle groups that help you live an all-around happier, fuller life, abs muscles can't be beat. Your core is your body's main stabilizer. Meaning, it helps you move from place to place and perform everyday actions like walking, picking things up, and—yes—crushing through your favorite workout moves. Over the last year, the Well+Good team tried dozens of drills that made our abs quake and burn in that hurts-so-good way. And now, we've compiled the ultimate list of core exercises to throw into the mix of your fitness regimen.

Before we move forward, a quick primer on what the core muscles actually are. What is colloquially referred to as your "abs" are actually a series of muscles bands that wrap around and support the trunk of your body. This mega-muscle family is sub-divided into your external oblique and internal obliques (the muscles that run up the sides of your abdomen), pyramidalis (a triangular muscle near the front of the abdominal wall), rectus abdominus (the muscles at the front of the abdomen generally referred to as the "six pack"), and transversus abdominus (deep abdominal muscles located between the ribs and the pelvis that wrap around your midsection like a corset). But your core also includes the muscles in your low back, as well as the ones that surround your hips and pelvis, including you glutes.

Below, we've rounded up the best moves to work your core 360. (No abs left behind.) Ready?

The ultimate list of core exercises to sprinkle into your workouts

1. Half-kneeling tea pot

Start in a high-kneeling position, then extend left leg straight out to the side, foot flat on the floor, toes facing forward. Your hips should point straight ahead. Place your hands gently behind your head and use your abs to side bend over to the right without changing anything about the shape of your lower body. Continue lifting and lowering for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

2. Half-rollup with twist

Start sitting with your legs straight out in front of you and your shoulders over your hips. Tuck your tailbone and round your spine to roll down about halfway to the floor so your upper body looks like a capital C. Keep your hips squared forward and rotate just your torso to the left. Return back to center and repeat, this time rotating to the right. Continue alternating sides for 60 seconds.

3. Feet up side crunch (aka bicycle)

Start lying on your back with the legs in the air, bent at 90 degrees so your knees are over your hips and shins are parallel to the floor. Interlace your fingers behind your head and use your core to twist to the left, tuck your chin and curl your head and shoulders off the floor, rotating to bring your right elbow toward your left hip as you extend your right leg to straight at a 45-degree angle. Return to your start position, and repeat on the opposite side.Continue alternating sides for 60 seconds.

4. The grasshopper push-up

The grasshopper is definitely an advanced push-up variation, so make sure you're feeling really comfortable in your normal push-up before trying this baby. Once you're feeling ready, come to plank position with your feet together and your hands a little more than shoulder-width apart. As you lower your body to the floor, twist to the right to bring your left leg beneath the right side of your body, gently tapping your left hip to the floor. Come back to plank position and repeat on the right side. Aim to do five (or as many as you can) per side.

5. Bear planks

Work your core and upper body in equal measure with the tough (but rewarding) plank variation. Come to your hands and knees, making sure that your wrists are directly below your shoulders and your knees are directly below your hips. Tuck your toes and lift your knees off the ground (just barely), then hold for 10 seconds. Keep your torso in one straight line from hips to shoulders, drawing your belly button toward your spine to protect your back. Lower down than repeat twice more.

6. Dolphin push-up

Target your shoulders, back, and core with the dolphin push-up. Come to your hands and knees and place your forearms on the floor, interlacing your fingers in front of you. Tuck your toes and lift your hips up to the sky, heels high. Gaze should be back at toes. To complete the push-up, bring your gaze to the floor in front of your fists, move your shoulders forward of your elbows, and let your nose dip down toward the floor. Come back to your start position and repeat. Aim for 10 reps.

7. Kick throughs

Feel like you’re dancing and working out at the same time with kick throughs. Start in a bear plank. Pour your weight onto your left hand as you drive your left knee toward your chest, rotate your body to the right and extend your left leg to the right side, while lifting your right arm up off the floor. Come back into your bear crawl and repeat on the opposite side, alternating for 30 to 60 seconds.

8. Deadbug variation


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Earlier this year, Jennifer Aniston's trainer taught us a killer variation on a deadbug that works the rectus abdominis, the obliques, and the transverse abdominis. All you'll need is a mobility stick (mop handle or yoga block work too) and your body—ready? Start by lying on your back with your legs bent at 90 degrees, knees over hips, and shins parallel to the floor, feet flexed. Grab the pole or block with your left hand and press it against your right knee holding tension between the two limbs, then extend your right arm straight up toward the ceiling in line with your shoulder. At the same time, lower your left leg and right arm down to hover above the floor. Reverse the motion to return to start, and repeat for 30 seconds then switch sides.

9. Bent-arm pullover

Grab a set of light dumbbells and lie down on your back for this quick move. Bend your knees, place your feet flat on the floor, and hold your dumbbells straight over your chest. Draw your belly button toward your spine your core as you lower the dumbbells (arms straight, elbows slightly bent) back overhead, bringing biceps by ears. Keep your lower back glued to the floor the entire time. Return to start and repeat for 30 seconds. You should feel this one all up the front plane of your abs. Enjoy!

10. Plank

Alright, alright: Plank is nothing new—but it's still the crown jewel of abs exercises. When you do it correctly, it works your whole body from head to toe. To try it, go ahead and come to your hands and knees. Step your feet back one at a time, keeping your hands  under your shoulders as you do. Try and create as much tension as possible by stretching your head and heels away from one another. Make sure your booty's not too high in the air. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds (or as long as possible).

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