5 Signs You May Have a Weak Core—and What to Do About It

Photo: Stocksy / Alina Hvostikova
If someone asked you to point to your core—where would you point? Probably your belly where your abs are. But it turns out, core muscles actually run from the tip-top of your ribs to the top of your hips and all the way around all the way around. Yep, core got back.

Not only does your core protect your body and stabilize your spine and pelvis, but it powers your movement, and is the cornerstone of nailing all your workouts. So yeah, your core has to show up for you at all times. And if it doesn't...or if it's too weak?

"The rest of your body and muscles have to compensate for it, which can cause a giant (and bad!) chain reaction," explains Bethany Lyons, founder and CEO at Lyons Den Power Yoga.

Experts In This Article

It can be hard to know if your core is weak, because even visible six-pack-abs are not a sign that your core is strong. Lyons suggests two quick at-home tests to determine whether or not you have core stability and strength issues.

"You should be able to hold a hollow hold—your low back is pressed into floor, legs and arms hovering in the air, and core ignited—for at least 10 seconds. And you should be able to hold a plank for at least 50 seconds," she says.

Beyond a decreased ability to do these OG ab-sculpting moves, having weak core muscles can result in a host of not-so-pleasant everyday symptoms. Keeping reading for five more signs your body is compensating for a weak core, how to deal, and much more.

A quick refresher on your core muscles

"Your core technically includes your pelvic floor muscles, your internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis—and all the other superficial layers you think of when someone says six-pack—the erector spinae and multifidus, which are in the back, and all the deeper, smaller muscles in your trunk," says Alena Luciani, MS, CSCS and founder of Training2xl. 

Signs of a weak core

1. Your posture is sub-par

You know that the best way to sit at your desk isn't all crunched or crouched over. But what if you can't help it? Hunching over your desk can put strain and pressure on parts of your body that weren't meant to support that position for long, which physical therapist Grayson Wickham, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault says includes your hip flexors, low back, pelvis, glutes, and shoulder girdle.  

"Over time, sitting with poor posture can make your entire body to shift out of alignment, and eventually lead to overuse injury of the muscles that have to work even harder to compensate," explains Katie Dunlop, CPT, certified personal trainer and founder of Love Sweat Fitness.. 

The fix: Practice sitting with your core engaged—belly button drawn back towards your spine—and shoulders pulled back,  Lyons suggests. If you have a job that forces you to sit more days, you can try setting an "engaged core" timer, which'll remind you of your goal.

2. Your lower back arches when you walk (aka you have a pelvic tilt)

Have you ever noticed someone (or maybe you do it yourself) walking pelvis-first or with a super-arched lower back? Yep, a weak core could be the culprit here, too. Because carrying and delivering a baby can weaken the pelvic and abdominal muscles, this particular symptom is common in new moms.

"When your core is weak, sometimes the hip flexors or glutes may have to takeover, which long term could result in an anterior tilt of the pelvis—basically when the pelvis itself is pulled off balance," Lyons says.

This pelvic tilt can also result in back, knee and hip pain or injury. "If you're not bracing your core when walking, gravity can also pull our shoulders forward, which puts a ton of strain on your neck and upper back," Luciani says. Instead, you want to walk with your chin in a more neutral position. 

The fix: When you're walking, Luciani suggests asking yourself: "Are my hips stacked beneath my shoulders?" To strengthen your core and make this stacked position possible, add pelvic tilts, leg extensions, single-leg extensions, and glute bridges into your morning routine, Wickham suggests.

3. You have frequent lower back pain

If you've ever felt a tweak, pinch, or twinge when performing a day-to-day movement like transferring the laundry, tossing a ball to the dog, or taking something out of the oven, weak core muscles could be to blame.

When your core isn't as strong as it needs to be, your lumbar spine can get all wonky, Wickham explains, which can put undue pressure on your vertebrae, discs, and the rest of the muscles that encase your spine.

The fix: Work specifically on strengthening your spine. "Strengthening the erector spinae— which runs from your neck to your lower back— can help reduce back pain by helping to encourage proper posture and form when performing exercises," Dunlop says. 

4. You feel weak when throwing or jumping

Ever feel weak when performing exercises like tossing a ball, throwing a punch, jumping up and down, or even doing something like a biceps curl?

"Difficulty doing these things could mean your core isn’t trained properly," Dunlop says. That's because our core muscles stabilize and send power and strength to other muscles. "If we aren't strong throughout the midline, we throw out the chance that we're going to be strong in arms, legs, shoulders, or ankles—called our distal parts," Wickham says. 

The fix: Add compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, push-up, and lunge, which will strengthen your extremities and core at the same time, according to Luciani. "Even unweighted, these movements teach you how to brace your core, while using and strengthening your extremities," she says.

5. You use objects and people around you as a "crutch"

If you frequently rely on the furniture or friends around you to get (and keep) you standing, it's time to add some core bracing moves to your routine.

"It surprises people how much core strength simply getting out of bed, a chair, or standing in line takes," Wickham says.

The fix: Trying to sit down, get up, or stand without reaching for poles, pillars, tables, or your pals for help, will eventually help you strengthen the weak muscles, Lyons says. As with any other exercise, it's get easier the more you do it.

The best exercises for strengthening your core

Add the following exercises, recommended by the Mayo Clinic, into your workout routine to strengthen your core.

1. Glute bridge

  1. Lie down on your back.
  2. Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground. Your feet should be hip-distance apart, and your arms should be slightly diagonal away from your body with your palms on the floor.
  3. Lift your hips until you have a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
  4. Release as you lower your hips back down to the ground.
  5. Lift your hips again to start another rep.

2. Abdominal crunch

  1. Lie down on your back.
  2. Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground. Your feet should be hip-distance apart, and your hands should be behind your head, elbows flaring out to the sides.
  3. Contract your abs and lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground.
  4. Lower back down so your head is hovering just off the ground and repeat.

3. Bird dog

  1. Start in a tabletop position on all fours with your knees directly under your hips, and your wrists under your shoulders.
  2. Reach your right arm forward and your left leg behind you at the same time.
  3. Return to the starting position, then repeat with the left arm and the right leg.
  4. Continue to alternate your arms and legs for all reps.

4. Plank

  1. Lie face down on a mat.
  2. Push upon your elbows and extend your legs, making sure your back is straight and your hips are level.
  3. Look directly at the ground in front of you so your neck stays in line with your spine.
  4. Drive your elbows forward and your feet back, and engage your core and glutes.
  5. Hold this position for the allotted amount of time.

5. Side plank

  1. Lie on your right side with your feet stacked and your right elbow under your right shoulder, forearm along the floor.
  2. Press through your right forearm and lift your body up so that you're balancing on your right hand and foot.
  3. Put your left hand on your hip or extend it toward the ceiling.
  4. Hold for the allotted amount of time before lowering yourself to the floor.
  5. Repeat on the other side.


1. What are the signs of a weak core?

Core weakness symptoms include poor posture, an arched back when you walk, lower back pain, weakness when throwing or jumping, and using objects as a crutch. Read more about each sign and how to fix them above!

2. How do you test for a weak core?

You can use the following guidelines as a weak core test: You should be able to do a hollow hold for at least 10 seconds and you should be able to do a plank for at least 50 seconds.

3. How do you fix a weak core?

You can fix a weak core by making core exercises a part of your regular workout routine. Glute bridges, crunches, bird dogs, planks, and side planks are all great moves for building core strength. You can learn how to do them above! (For more strengthening moves, check out these cardio core exercises,  core exercises for seniors, and back-friendly core exercises.)

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