It's not just about a toned midriff or washboard abs; core workouts have increasingly become popular within the last five years as trainers
reveal the importance of strengthening
this section of your body. Now called the 'powerhouse' as it connects your lower and upper body, aids digestion and processes your deepest breaths, the core has taken centerstage in cardio, strength training and yoga routines, too.
You know what's the best part? Core workouts simultaneously work on your belly fat
(a problem area for most), is easy to incorporate in your every day routine, and in fact, can be done in the comfort of your home for free, using these five exercises:
Work The Core With Bicycle Crunches
Targeting your obliques, rectus abdominis and hip flexors, this move is great for those who need to trim the fatty sides
that spill over their jeans.
Lie flat on the mat, legs stretched out, and place your palms behind your head.
Keeping the left leg straight, raise your right knee to your left elbow as you lift your head simultaneously. Lift from the core, not the neck.
Alternate 20 times without letting your legs or hands touch the ground for rest. Stop. Start over and do another set. Here's a video tutorial that will help you through it.
After a month of practice, you can take things up a notch by strapping on ankle weights to increase resistance
; also, the slower you alternate, the more intense the workout.
Work The Core With High Knee Raises
Replicating a spot-running motion
, the move works out your quads, calves, glutes, rectus abdominis, hamstring, adductors, abductors and shin. Tighten the lower belly hang with high knee raises.
Stand with your legs together, back straight, and hands out at chest level in front of you, with your fingers in a fist.
Bend one knee to bring your leg up to your chest, and then lower it back down. Make sure to keep your back straight at all times and your leg should form a 90 degree angle to the ground.
Alternate the move in quick succession with the other leg; yes, it’s that simple. Do three reps of 20 counts each. Here's a video tutorial that will help you through it.
You can amp up the exercise move by holding on to light free-weights (dumbbells)
on either side as you do your high knees.
Work The Core With The Russian Twist
Dedicated to your lower back, this move strengthens the spine
which forms the flipside of your core and is just as important as the ab muscles. It improves your posture and sense of balance, and works as a functional workout which helps you lift things off the floor, hold heavy objects with ease, and stay firmly grounded without losing balance.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
Lean back so your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor, making sure to keep the spine straight and not rounded.
Lace your arms straight out in front of your chest with one hand on top of the other.
Raise your core and slowly rotate round to the right as far as you can, pause, then reverse this movement all the way around to the left as far as you can. That is one rep.
Start with two sets of 20 reps and then work your way up. Here's a video tutorial that will help you through it.
As you get comfortable with the move, you can add intensity by holding on to a medicine ball or a kettlebell while you execute the Russian twist.
Work The Core With The Superman
What appears to be one of the easiest moves (so simple it can be done in bed) is actually an effective way to engage those glutes, hamstring and back muscles to strengthen the core, so long as you nail the technique.
Lie face down with your hands extended straight above you, and your legs stretched out. Your palms should face the floor and your toes should be planted on the ground.
Slowly and simultaneously, lift your chest and legs off the ground using your lower back and core muscles.
Keep your limbs extended without locking your joints and your midriff stable and resting on the ground.
Hold the pose for five seconds before you release to lie flat on the ground. That's one rep.
Do two sets of 10 reps and each time, try and hold for just a little bit longer. Here's a PopSugar video tutorial that will help you through it.
To move to the next level, place your hands behind your head and twist to either side when you lift your torso. This will help target your obliques and traps (upper back) in an intense manner.
Work The Core With Mountain Climber Planks
The move is an amalgamation of two super-effective core exercises
(planks + mountain climbers). They work the mid-section, strengthen the spine, and trim the rolls of fat simulataneously while improving muscle tone in the area.
Get in push-up position where the neck, spine and legs are aligned.
Now, instead of holding form to do a plank, bring your left leg straight up to your left elbow and then switch the foot to do the other side. That's one rep.
Alternate continuously for two sets of 20 reps with a 10 second break between the sets. Here's a 1-minute challenge by PopSugar that will also serve as a great video tutorial.
You can also do the cross-body mountain climber (where you bring your right leg to your left elbow and vice versa) for a more grueling workout.
On an end note, for those who aren't big on sweating it out this summer, we recommend taking to the pool to shed those pounds. Swimming makes for a great core workout and may be just the thing you need for that bikini body this season. A routine that in particular caught our fancy was this pool workout for the abs by PopSugar that's just what the trainer ordered: