Although you may think of your “core” only when you’re doing specific abs moves, you actually use these muscles all day, every day—which is why core exercises are so important. Whether you’re walking, reaching, balancing, getting up from a chair, or simply just standing upright, the muscles of your midsection are firing to keep you stable and supported in nearly every movement.
“Your core muscles are mobilized in flexion, extension, rotation, abdominal bracing, pelvic tilting, and even the way your shoulder blades move,” certified personal trainer Brian Abarca, CPT, owner of Abarca Fitness in New Jersey, tells SELF. “People usually think of abs when referring to the core, but our core is actually made up of a much more complex network of muscles found in the trunk of our body.”
These include the rectus abdominis (the muscles along the front of your abdomen, likely what you think of when you think “abs”), transverse abdominis (the deepest internal core muscles that wrap around your sides and spine), erector spinae (a set of muscles in your lower back), pelvic floor muscles, and the internal and external obliques (the muscles on the sides of your abdomen). Abarca says even your rotator cuffs, lats, traps, and pectoral muscles can be involved in core work.
If you engage your abs when you’re lifting—tightening your core muscles to keep you more stable and allow you to resist movement like rotation or arching—any exercise can become an abs exercise. Plus, some moves you may not think of as “core exercises” really smoke those muscles too, especially ones in which you’re hefting weight over your head, like with overhead presses, holding weight in front of your, as with goblet squats, or challenging your balance, à la single-leg deadlifts.
But because of how much you use your abs in everyday life and during your workouts, it’s worth showing them some extra love with some specific core exercises, Abarca says. Not only can that help with injury prevention (including back pain!), but it can also improve your range of motion, boost strength, and maintain mobility.
Below, check out 26 great core moves that top trainers swear by. Sprinkle a few of these throughout your next full-body workout, or string together a few for a straightforward core sequence.
Demoing the moves below are Amanda Wheeler (GIFs 1–7, 9–10, and 12–26), a certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Formation Strength; Cookie Janee (GIF 8), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; and Saneeta Harris (GIFs 11 and 16), a blogger, SFG Level 1 certified kettlebell trainer, and the founder of @NaturalHairGirlsWhoLift.