May 21, 2020

Planning to Start Exercising? Start with Your Core First

Everything starts with your core

woman doing the bridge exercise to strengthen her core

If you’re planning to start an exercise program and wondering where to begin, start with your core first, says physical therapist Brittany Smith, DPT. People often think of the core muscles as being the abdominal muscles, but the core includes the muscles in the abdomen, back and hips, all working together as a group.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“The core muscles provide stability for the entire body as it moves,” says Smith. “These muscles are activated when you stand up, turn, bend, reach, twist, stoop and move in most other ways. Everything starts with your core.”

Strong core muscles help you maintain good posture, while weak ones can lead to slouching and slumping. Poor posture can be a cause of aches and pain, especially in the back.

Getting started with your core

To get your core muscles in shape, you need to exercise.

“Our bodies were made to move, so any physical activity is really important,” says Smith.

She recommends these specific core-strengthening exercises below.

The first one engages the deep muscles in the abdomen, called the transverse abdominis. “These muscles help hold us in a better position to stabilize our core, thereby stabilizing our arms and legs,” says Smith.

Advertisement

“The more you work on these muscles, the more it will become second nature to hold these muscles tight when you’re lifting grocery bags, doing yard work or any other kind of physical activity,” says Smith. This will help support your body.

Other muscles that tend to be weak are the gluteus maximus in the buttocks, and the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus on the side of the hip. The bridge and clamshell exercises can help strengthen these muscles.

Smith emphasizes that getting the proper position of these exercises correct is more important than the number of repetitions you do. “It’s better to take your time, maybe do fewer reps, but with better quality,” she says. For that reason, it can be helpful to have the guidance of a physical therapist to get started.

Move on from the core

Core exercises are the starting point of overall fitness because you need to hold those muscles engaged while you strengthen other muscles, such as the biceps in the arms or the quadriceps in the legs.

Smith suggests setting short-term goals (for about a month) and then more long-term goals. Once you have achieved short-term goals, such as getting around more easily, add other types of weight-training or resistance exercises to build muscle elsewhere.

With any exercise you do, always listen to your body, warns Smith. If you have pain other than muscle burn, take it easy. Reduce the number of repetitions, the weight or the duration of the exercises. Then build up gradually. “You don’t have to be in pain to make gains,” she says.

Advertisement

Beginner exercises for core strength

For each of the following, work up to one to two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions once a day.

Abdominal bracing

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Contract your abdominal muscles, and press the arch of your back down toward the floor, pulling your belly button toward your spine. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Make sure your lower back stays flat on the floor. Relax and repeat.

person doing abdominal bracing exercise

Bridge

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor with your arms at your sides. Squeeze your abdominal and buttocks muscles, push your heels into the floor and slowly lift your buttocks and hips off the floor. Keep your back straight. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds.

 person in bridge pose

Clamshell

Lie on your side with knees bent in line with your hips and back, draw up the top knee while keeping contact of your feet together as shown. Don’t let your pelvis roll back during the lifting movement. Hold for 5 seconds.

person doing clamshell exercise

Related Articles

female doing a push up while looking at laptop
February 20, 2024
Here’s How To Do a Good, Basic Push-up

The exercise — which you’ve probably been doing since grade school — can be intimidating, but proper form can help

two people doing jumping jacks on pavement outside
February 19, 2024
How Exercise Can Help Boost Your Memory

Cardio is great for improving cognition, but strength and balance training are just as important

Adult male using rowing machine at gym
February 16, 2024
Why Exercise Matters for Your Heart Health

Exercise lowers risk for heart conditions, improves mental health and reduces visceral fat that can compromise your organs

Parent and two children preforming downward dog in yoga
February 13, 2024
Yoga for Kids: Benefits and 17 Poses and Exercises To Get Started

Kids’ yoga can help kiddos become more aware of their physical, mental and emotional selves

Close up of hands holding heart rate wearable watch monitor and their phone
February 12, 2024
Next Time You Exercise, Consider Wearing a Heart Rate Monitor

This technology can benefit your workouts by helping you hit your target heart rate, resulting in better overall health and wellness

personal trainer working with person on treadmill at gym
February 9, 2024
How To Find a Personal Trainer — What To Look For

Ask questions, get referrals and consider if someone is a good fit for you and your fitness goals

person doing stair lunges at home
January 25, 2024
Workout Motivation: Do’s and Don’ts To Help You Actually Stick to Your New Exercise Routine

Expect a few bumps in the road, work out for the right reasons and give yourself some credit

Person jumping rope on a bridge
January 16, 2024
Hop to It: 6 Benefits of Jumping Rope

Jump into the swing of things to improve your coordination, burn calories and get your heart rate going

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad