Build your Core Strength with Simple Bodyweight Exercises

Build your Core Strength with Simple Bodyweight Exercises

There’s something strangely satisfying about bodyweight workouts.

No special equipment. No trip to the gym. No frills.

Just you, your body and the will to become stronger.

It feels like the purest form of strength training – almost primal in its simplicity.

But, although simple, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of using your own bodyweight to build core strength. In fact, if you want a washboard stomach without an ounce of fat on it, all you need to do is build-in a simple bodyweight exercise routine to your weekly workout schedule and you’ll see the results in no time.

We’re talking overall core strength and general fitness here, not necessarily bringing out a ripped six pack. If a chiselled six-pack is your goal, check this guide out instead.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to improve overall core fitness, then we’ve got great news. This guide will give you all the ins and outs of strengthening your core. With a detailed breakdown of every individual exercise and a suggested workout schedule, you’ll soon be in the best shape you’ve ever been.

Why are core muscles vital for fitness?

When most people think of core muscles, they automatically think of the abs. But your core is far more than just your stomach. The core covers your entire torso, which includes the pelvic floor muscles, obliques, erector spinae, as well as the abdominals and other minor muscles.

Any full-body movement including standing, squatting, running, swimming, etc. initiates from the core muscles. They also help with posture, balance, stability and ensuring the smooth transition of forces between different limbs.

The movement initiation and force-transference functions of the core muscles are the most relevant to overall fitness. Strengthening the core leads to more effective transferring of force and stress through the muscles and improved stability, which is a big factor in reducing the risk of injury from other activities such as sport or weightlifting.

If you want to be more fit, agile, stable and less injury-prone, then make sure you include core workouts in your weekly routine.

Many people choose to include core exercises in their warm-up routines before a strength training or aerobic workout. This makes sense, as raising the core temperature by engaging your core muscles will further decrease the chance of injury and also helps to avoid or delay fatigue.

Best Bodyweight Core Exercises

This section will look at the best core exercises you can do without using any equipment other than your bodyweight. There are three main types of exercise – static exercises, crunches and combined.

Static Exercises

Man performing side plank in a gym

Also known as isometric exercises, static exercises involve holding your body in a position while remaining stationary, i.e., not moving. These exercises increase core strength by tension and contraction of your muscles to resist movement and maintain stability.

The key with static exercises is to try to improve endurance by steadily increasing the amount of time you hold your position. Also, remember to keep your breathing steady and controlled. If you start puffing and panting, it’s time to end that particular hold, catch your breath and try again.


The plank is probably the most well-known exercise, and one of the most effective as it works out just about every core muscle.

  1. Get into a face-down position on the floor, raising your body onto your forearms and toes.
  2. Keep your neck and spine relaxed and as straight as possible.
  3. Don’t hunch your shoulders, instead, try to draw them in and down. Hold this position for at least 60 to 90 seconds.

As an alternative to resting on your forearms, you can fully extend your arms like the raised part of a push-up. This makes it easier to retract your shoulders and engage your abs.

Side Plank

The side plank is the best way to target and strengthen your oblique muscles.

  1. Lay on your side with legs initially together.
  2. Prop your upper body up on your forearm with elbow positioned below your shoulder. Raise your hips away from the floor as far as they will go.
  3. Your body should be in a straight line from your lower foot to your shoulder. Hold this position for as long as possible - aim for at least 60 seconds.

Alternatively, instead of resting on your forearm, fully extend your arm, supported by your hand on the floor. This will remove some of the resistance from your core and work on shoulder stability instead.

Side Plank with Leg Raise

If you want to include hamstrings, lower back, and glutes in your core workout, then add some leg raises to the side plank.

Simply raise your upper leg while in the side plank position described above and hold it there for a minimum of 30 seconds.

A good tip is to alternate between the standard side plank and one with leg raises.

Six Inch Leg Raise

This simple-looking exercise is actually more difficult to hold than the plank. It engages all the core muscles especially the abdomens, and can also help tone your thighs and calf muscles.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Press your lower back into the floor and tighten your core muscles.
  2. Fully extend one leg until completely straight with your heel approximately six inches above the floor. Repeat with the other leg, until both feet are next to each other.
  3. Try to hold this position for at least 30 seconds, unless you experience lower back pain in which case cut it short.

Crunching Exercises

Woman performing bicycle crunches

Give your abs and obliques a good work out with a series of crunching exercises.

Standard Crunch

Perfect for strengthening and toning the upper abdomen.

  1. Lie down with your back flat to the floor, knees bent, and feet firmly planted. Gently place your hands to the side of your head, near your temple or behind your ears.
  2. Make sure your neck is relaxed with enough space between your chest and your chin to fit a tennis ball.
  3. Push your lower back into the floor, tighten your abs, and exhale as you crunch up from your middle. Go as far as possible, maintaining the gap between chest and chin. Make sure you don’t pull your head up with your arms.
  4. Inhale as you steadily lower your upper body back to the floor.
  5. Repeat for the required number of reps.
Reverse Crunch

Reverse crunches target the lower abdomen.

  1. Lie with your back to the floor and arms placed at either side.
  2. Raise your knees until they’re above your hips, bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Push your back into the floor, and as you exhale, crunch your hips diagonally upwards, keeping the 90-degree bend in your knees (imagine pushing your thighs up towards the ceiling and your chest at the same time).
  4. Lower your hips back to the floor as you inhale.
  5. Repeat for the required number of reps.
Double Crunch

Give your abdomen a full-on workout with a few sets of double crunches.

  1. Lie with your back to the floor and raise your knees until they’re above your hips, bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Place your hands behind your ears with your elbows back. Maintain a gap between your chin and chest.
  3. Push the middle section of your back into the floor, exhale and crunch your hips and shoulders up and towards one another. Go as far as you comfortably can, while keeping your core muscles tight.
  4. Inhale and steadily lower your shoulders and hips back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the required number of reps.
Bicycle Crunch

Similar to the double crunch, but with more focus on the obliques as well as the abs.

  1. Start in the same position as the double crunch, but with your legs pointing straight up in the air.
  2. Exhale, tighten your abs and pull one elbow and the opposite knee towards each other. Ensure you keep a gap between chin and chest.
  3. Pause for a moment as knee and elbow touch, then lower yourself back to the start while inhaling.
  4. Repeat for the required number of reps.
Side Oblique Crunch

Focus in on strengthening the oblique muscles.

  1. Lie on one side with your knees slightly bent and feet behind you.
  2. Put your lower arm out straight out in front of you on the floor for support, and your upper arm bent with your hand behind your neck. Don’t pull on your head and keep your neck relaxed and still throughout the exercise.
  3. Exhale and crunch your oblique muscles, raising your shoulder upwards and towards your hip.
  4. Go as far as you can, then lower yourself steadily as you breathe in.
  5. Repeat for the required number of reps.

Combined Exercises

Woman performing bird dog plank in a park

This series of exercises combines the benefits of both static and moving core exercises.

Plank Jack

Add the cardio benefits of jumping jacks to a good core workout.

  1. Begin in a standard plank position with arms extended or resting on your forearms.
  2. While keeping your core tight, jump your legs out to either side in one ‘jumping jack’ motion, landing on your toes.
  3. Spring back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the required number of reps or time.

Variation: If this is too challenging, try stepping out each foot one at a time instead.

Bird Dog Plank

Sometimes known as the plank reach, this adds instability which changes the way your core muscles are challenged.

  1. Begin in a full standard plank position with arms extended.
  2. Lift one arm and the opposite leg until they are both parallel with the floor.
  3. Hold this position for a moment, then lower back to the start.
  4. Repeat for the required number of reps, alternating between sides.
Side Iso Ab Crunch

A combination of a side plank and an oblique crunch.

  1. Start in the side plank position, with your upper hand on your top hip.
  2. Breathe in and lower your hips by a few inches, but in the same vertical line as your heels and elbow.
  3. Exhale and push your hips up towards the ceiling and tighten your obliques.
  4. Pause at the top of the motion, then inhale while returning the start position.
  5. Repeat as required.
Thread the Needle

Similar to the side iso ab crunch, this adds further motion to the exercise to work out the abs too.

  1. Start in the side plank position. Raise your arm up towards the ceiling.
  2. Exhale and twist your torso, stretching your free arm underneath and behind your body. Lift and twist your hips as your torso rotates.
  3. Go as far as you can comfortably stretch, then return to the start position as you inhale.
  4. Repeat as required.

Suggested Workout Routines

Core Warm-up
Core Strengthening Workout
Before any strength training
2 - 3 times per week
Static Exercises
Plank & Side Plank | 3 reps of at least 30 seconds each
Perform all exercises | 8 reps of at least 60 seconds each
Crunch Exercises
Standard & Reverse Crunch | 2 sets of 15 reps
Perform all exercises | 3 sets of 10 reps each. Build up to 20 reps
Combined Exercises
Thread the Needle | 2 sets of 15 reps
Perform all exercises | 3 sets of 8 reps each. Build up to 16 reps
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