The importance of having a “tight core” has been bandied about for decades by either a fitness professional or personal trainer. And despite it coming across as a little gimmicky, they were on to something. The core is the center of who we are, and it’s all that’s left of us if we take away our limbs. So when it comes to a highly functioning body with its posture, balance, and stability in order, following a range of dynamic core exercises is crucial for keeping it strong and healthy.
In terms of this guide, it doesn’t matter if you have beginner, intermediate, or advanced fitness levels – you will be able to take something away from it.
So if you’re fed up with having weak core muscles and want to bring them up to scratch – or you simply want to take your core training to the next level – then I’ve got your back.
Below, I’ve outlined 18 of the very best dynamic core exercises that will produce incredible results for you.
But wait – I’ve got more than that.
I’ve also given you some example core workouts to follow to start making progress immediately.
I told you I’d got your back.
Let’s get this party started then, shall we…
Are Core Muscles Another Word For Abs?
Not really, no.
But when many people hear the word “Core,” they picture a shiny set of abs and don’t realize how many muscles the core contains.
Your core contains 29 muscles!
And while the abdominals are part of that 29, the core muscles as a whole are way more important than that.
It is the very center of you.
It surrounds your hips, back, and chest. And you wouldn’t be able to maintain balance without it.
So we’d agree it’s pretty important, right?
The core contains the following muscle groups:
Hip flexors: The hip flexors allow you to bend your knee and flex your hip. They are located on the front top part of your thigh in the pelvic area.
Rectus Abdominis is known as the “abs,” and the “six-pack” many of us desire to have. It sits between the rib cage and pubic bone at the front of the pelvis. It flexes the spinal column, tenses the anterior wall of the abdomen, and helps compress the contents of the abdomen.
Quadratus Lumborum: This muscle lies in the posterior abdominal wall. It rotates and extends the spine.
External Obliques: These are on the sides of the abdomen and help pull the spine forward, move it in any direction, and stabilize the core. It also enables you to bend from side to side.
Internal Obliques: Two sets are located on each side of the body. They are just inside the hip bones and below the rectus abdominis. They control the movement on the same side of the body.
Erector Spinae: This is a major muscle group. It runs from the neck down to the lower back. It comes in use whenever you bend or twist.
Transverse Abdominis: This is located below the obliques. They wrap your spine for protection and are the deepest muscles of the abdomen.
Why Are Dynamic Core Exercises Necessary?
Throughout all the years I’ve been working out, I’ve heard the same advice over and again from the big dudes in the gym:
“You don’t need to work your core; just keep squatting and deadlifting.”
So what did I do as a young whippersnapper back in the day…?
Yep, I followed their advice (as most teenagers would) and completely neglected any dynamic exercises for my core.
Let me share something with you.
Around ten years ago, I held a 585lb raw squat and a 600lb deadlift, with a belt only.
It’s debatable whether they’re impressive numbers, but I’d say they were respectable enough for a non-competitive average Joe like myself.
And even though they were relatively respectable, my core was hideous.
Because I completely neglected specific core work, let alone any ab exercises.
I mean, sure, I did the occasional “abs workout,” but I didn’t intend to focus on my core.
It was coming from a place of the ego under the false assumption they were the cool thing to do.
My core could cope with pulling hundreds of pounds off the floor for reps – or squat with hundreds of pounds on my back – but embarrassingly, I couldn’t perform a side plank or a single hanging leg raise because my core stability was shoddy.
And the big kicker is that if I had incorporated some specific core work into my routine, I would have undoubtedly beat my squat and deadlift PRs.
The Secondary Muscle Takeover
It’s pretty easy for an injury to occur if we don’t have a solid core whenever we do specific exercises.
For example, you are using both your glutes and your core muscles when you run.
If they aren’t strong enough, your body will rely on secondary muscles like your hips so you can do what you’re asking it to do.
But, because your body is overcompensating for your lack of functionality in your core and glutes, it relies on your hips and quads to “do the work.”
This may seem all well and good, but eventually, your hips and glutes will get fed up with acting as the primary muscles when in fact, they should be secondary.
And don’t even talk about the lower back…
So what happens next then?
Well, everything gets sore and tight, which can lead to eventual injury.
In the past, I’ve suffered torn hip flexors because my hips were overcompensating that much, and this is all down to not having a stable core.
The Knock-On Effect
No matter what exercise(s) you enjoy doing, I’d hedge a bet that improving your core strength and functionality will enable you to perform at a higher level.
So whether you run, hit the gym, do kettlebell workouts, or horse ride, a better core will improve your performance.
The two sports activities I enjoy doing are kettlebell workouts and running.
I can state that tagging on some dynamic core exercises for 15-minutes at the end of a kettlebell workout three times a week has wholeheartedly improved my performance in both kettlebells and running overall.
Benefits of Core Strengthening
Here are some of the benefits of core strengthening:
- It increases power. A balanced, functional core means greater power when it comes to exercises. So whether you’re squatting, deadlifting, or bench pressing – your core will allow for more power to be generated, which means you will be stronger.
- It promotes better posture. The core covers a pretty vast area, including your sides and back. One of the benefits of having stronger inner core muscles that attach to your spine means it helps keep you more upright with improved posture.
- Reduces injury and pain. Core training helps the joints in the body because having a weak core equals imbalance and weakness in certain areas, producing excess pressure on the hips, knees, and ankles.
- Improves balance. A knock-on effect of a good core is better balance. Think of the core as the trunk of the tree. It’s the thing that you count on to keep you upright. You’re less likely to stumble and fall with improved balance.
- Gives you a healthier back. 8% of all adults experience persistent or chronic back pain. According to an article written by Georgetown University, it is the sixth most costly condition in the United States, attributing to over $12 billion per year in health care costs. Doing dynamic core exercises is often the cure for most people’s back pain, which means medications may not be necessary anymore.
- Perform and enjoy sporting activities. Running, golfing, tennis, swimming, baseball, rowing, etc., all require a strong core. Your performance will no doubt improve in these areas.
A considerable benefit of dynamic core exercises is that they can be done anywhere, and you don’t need any equipment whatsoever.
If you have access to equipment, then great – but it’s unnecessary to see a massive improvement in core strength.
All that is required of you is dedication and consistency.
And an abs workout is pretty different from a core workout, just for those who aren’t aware of this.
You don’t have to like doing the exercises (although I’m positive you will before long), but I assure you, consistency breeds results, and you will feel ten years younger if you keep at it.
Testing Your Core Strength
Some of us think we know what level we’re at when it comes to our core strength, but most are quite shocked once they perform a core strength test.
So, with that in mind, it’s good to find your starting point and to know if you should take your core work more seriously.
Let’s do a core strength test, shall we?
But before we dive into it, I want to stress the following:
1. Having visible abs or a “six-pack” does not mean you have a robust core.
2. Not having visible abs or a “six-pack” does not mean you have a weak core.
Signs you need to improve your core strength:
- You sway more when you walk.
- You have an arched lower back when standing or walking.
- You use your arms to get out of a chair or bed.
- If you feel tired standing in line.
- You have poor posture.
- You have lower back pain.
- You have ankle or knee pain (could be due to a weak core).
- Weak body.
Core Strength Test
Okay, you’re going to start in the plank position for this test.
Set a timer in front of you where you can see it and do the following:
- Start in the plank position with both elbows and feet touching the ground. Maintain this position for 60 seconds.
- Lift your right arm off the ground and hold for 15 seconds.
- Put your right arm back down to the ground and lift your left arm. Hold for 15 seconds.
- Put your left arm to the ground and lift your right leg off the ground. Hold for 15 seconds.
- Put your right leg to the ground and lift your left leg off the ground. Hold for 15 seconds.
- Lift your left leg and your right arm off the ground. Hold that for 15 seconds too.
- Return your left leg and right arm to the ground, then lift your right leg and left arm off the ground. Hold for 15 seconds.
- Return to the start position (the plank) and hold for 30 seconds.
How do you assess your results from the core test?
If you can complete the test fully without issue, you have excellent core strength.
If you can’t, then you need to step your game up.
It’s as simple as that!
18 Dynamic Core Exercises
I’ve made life easy by doing separate categories for beginner, intermediate, and advanced core exercises so you can go straight to your starting point.
I assure you that if you stick to doing these exercises, you will develop a functional, robust core.
You will also notice reduced pain in your low back and hips, and I’d even hedge a bet that some existing injuries disappear too.
However, I always recommend starting at the beginners level because it’s easy to get a bit too far ahead of yourself.
Make it a challenge to work your way up to the advanced level over time.
If you have done core work previously, assess your level and start at any level you see fit.
Please perform the exercises in proper form to avoid injury.
All the exercises can be performed anywhere you like.
Beginners Dynamic Core Exercises
- Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor, ensuring the back of your heels is in line with the front of your knee.
- Arms at the side, palms down.
- Raise your hips off the floor, so your knees, hips, and shoulders make a straight line.
- Hold the position for 3 seconds, then return to starting position and repeat.
Aim for 25 seconds, for three sets.
2. Supine Toe Tap
- Lie down on your back and lift both legs with a bend at 90 degrees. Keep your hands to your side, palms down.
- Lower your left foot down and make a gentle tap on the floor while engaging your core and keeping your back flat throughout.
- Bring your left foot back up to the starting position and repeat with your right leg.
3. High Plank
- Put your hands on the floor with elbows below your shoulders and arms in line with your body at shoulder-width.
- Keep feet hip-width apart.
- Hold and keep your hips up, neutral spine, and don’t let them come down to the floor. This is a high plank.
- Squeeze your legs and glutes throughout and maintain an engaged core.
Hold for thirty seconds, for three sets.
4. Side Plank
- Begin on one side, feet together, and on the one hand (use your forearm if one hand is too challenging). Your hand should be directly below your shoulder.
- Engage and contract your core as you lift your hips off the floor.
- Now hold the position, ensuring your body is in a straight line from head to feet, and don’t let your hips drop to the floor.
Hold for 30 seconds, for three sets.
5. Flutter Kicks
- Lie on your back face up with your legs straight and arms at your side, palms facing down.
- Keep your legs a few inches apart while extended. Now alternate them up and down – still keeping your legs straight – for the allocated number of seconds or reps.
- Never let your legs touch the ground at any time, and keep your toes pointing forwards. Only raise them about 8 inches off the floor when they’re up and a couple of inches when they’re down.
Aim for 45 seconds, for three sets.
Intermediate Dynamic Core Exercises
6. Lying Leg Raises
- Lie down on your back with your hands to the side, palms facing down.
- Keep your legs together and straight, then raise them to point straight in the air.
- Slowly lower your legs to about an inch short off the ground, without allowing them to touch the ground.
- Continue this process for the desired amount of reps.
Aim for 10-15 reps for two sets.
7. Long Arm Crunch
- Lie on the floor and extend your arms straight over your head. Keep your elbows as straight as possible and place your palms together without clasping or gripping your fingers.
- Breathe out and tense your core while lifting your shoulder blades off the floor. Keep your arms extended overhead. If you find it too challenging, place one of your hands behind your head.
Do 12-15 reps for two sets.
8. Plank Jacks
- Get yourself into the plank position (see above in the “Beginners” exercises for instructions).
- Hop both feet out, then back to the starting position while keeping your core tight. Do this repeatedly without stopping. Imagine a jumping jack but in the plank position.
Do 45 seconds per set—3 total sets.
9. Scissor Kicks
- Sit on the floor and lean back with both hands tucked underneath your buttocks (or you can put them palms down at the side).
- Raise your legs off the ground, so they are above your waistline, then do it alternating sides by bringing them down and up. The straighter the legs, the more challenging it will be.
- Keep your core tight and repeat the alternating pattern. Your legs are the only thing that should move.
Do 30-45 seconds, two sets.
10. High Boat to Low Boat
- Sit straight with your legs bent and both feet flat on the floor.
- Keep your legs together and slowly lift them off the floor to a 45-degree angle to your torso. Tense your core and keep your back flat while balancing your tailbone.
- Stretch your arms out in front of you, parallel to the floor.
- You’re in the High Boat position now, so hold it for three deep breaths.
- Then slowly lower your legs while straightening them out and lowering your body simultaneously. Your shoulder blades and legs should hover about 2-3 inches off the floor. If you find this too challenging, bring them slightly higher.
- You’re now in the Low Boat. Hold for one breath, then lift your legs and torso back to the High Boat.
Perform ten reps for three sets.
11. Mountain Climbers
- Start in the standard plank position with both hands on the ground, making sure your weight is evenly distributed between your hands and toes. Make sure hands are shoulder-width apart and below your shoulders. Engage your core, keep your back flat, your spine neutral, and your neck/head aligned with your back.
- Bring your left knee towards your chest as far as you can. Then when you bring it back, bring your right knee towards your chest.
- Keep alternating.
Do for 30 seconds, for three sets.
12. Standing Knee Tucks
- Stand straight with feet slightly more than hip-width apart and put the resistance band around the middle of your feet.
- Lift your right knee, pull it in toward your chest, and crunch your left elbow towards your right knee. Try to touch knee to elbow with the avoidance of rounding your shoulders.
- Return to the start position, repeat on the other side, and then keep alternating.
Do for 30 seconds, for three sets.
Advanced Dynamic Core Exercises
13. Superman Exercise
- Lie face down on the floor with both arms stretched out in front of you.
- Lift your legs and hands off the floor. Your quad (upper thigh), hips, and lower abs will be the only things touching the ground. Don’t intentionally lift your neck and head to perform the exercise.
- Hold this position for 3-5 seconds, then return to the start and repeat.
Do ten reps, with 3-5 second holds per rep.
14. V-Sit Hold
- Sit on the ground.
- Stretch your legs out and off the ground, lean back, and get your body into the “V” shape.
- Hold both hands straight and to the sides of your legs without touching them.
- Hold this position for an allotted time.
Aim for 45-60 second holds, three sets.
15. Up And Down Plank
- Put your forearms on the floor with elbows in line below your shoulders. Make sure your arms are parallel with your body at about shoulder width. Your feet should be hip-width apart.
- Hold and keep your hips up, neutral spine, and don’t let them fall to the floor.
- Lift your right forearm off the floor, put your palm to the floor, lift your left forearm off the floor, and put your palm to the floor. This is the standard plank position (like the start of a push-up).
- Lower back down to your forearms, one at a time.
- Keep going up and down.
Aim for 20 total reps for three sets.
16. Side Plank Toe Touch
- Start in the side plank position with your hand to the floor. Reach your top hand straight above your head.
- Now bring your top leg straight forward until it is in line with your hips as you simultaneously move your top hand down to touch your toe.
- When you touch your toe, bring your leg back, arm overhead, and repeat.
Aim for 15 reps, three sets.
- Lie on the floor in the standard push-up position.
- Perform a strong push-up, and at the top, lift one arm from the floor and raise it toward the ceiling simultaneously as twisting your torso to the side. Make sure you roll onto the sides of your feet while keeping your body straight.
- Return to starting position.
- Repeat the exercise, but use the opposite arm and alternate arms to complete the set.
Do 15-20 reps for three sets.
18. Windshield Wipers
- Lie on your back with arms straight out to the sides.
- Bring your legs up straight, so your body forms a 90-degree angle.
- Rotate your hips to the right without letting them touch the floor, then rotate to the left. Perform this action slowly, keeping your core engaged throughout and ensuring you’re in complete control.
Aim for 20 reps for three sets.
Note: To make this exercise more challenging, you can hold a medicine ball to create more pressure on your core.
How Fast Will You Notice an Improvement in Your Core?
This all depends, but it comes down to consistency.
Like anything, the more consistent you are at something, the more significant (and faster) the results, in most cases.
If you commit to training your core 2-3 times per week, you should see a change in your core strength and functionality in 4-8 weeks.
For example, when I first started training my core, I couldn’t perform a single plank.
I was falling everywhere.
After six weeks of consistent workouts, I was able to do a variety of dynamic core exercises. Not only did my core strength improve, but my posture also was better, and I was in much less pain throughout my body.
But it’s worth touching on something critical…
Having visible abs does not mean your core strength has improved.
This is down to how much body fat you have, which is (generally) linked to your diet (and genetics).
You may not see your abs at all, yet your core strength may have improved significantly.
How Often Should You Perform Dynamic Core Exercises?
I would recommend training your core no more or no less than you would any other muscle.
Your core needs time to recover, just like every muscle.
Sure, you can probably get away with training it a little more often than the bigger muscles (like legs or back, for example), but I would treat it with respect it deserves.
I like to add 15 minutes of core training at the end of a workout three times per week.
You only really need 3-4 exercises to hit the core properly.
Too much of anything is a bad thing – and the same goes for your core.
Dynamic Core Workouts
Below are some workouts that are taken from the exercises above.
Beginner Dynamic Workouts
- Four exercises
- 2-3 rounds
- Thirty seconds work per exercise, no rest between exercises – go immediately to the next, so you follow a circuit.
- 60 seconds rest after each round (circuit)
- Two exercises
- Three sets (carry on to next exercise once completed three sets)
- 30 seconds working set per exercise
- 20 seconds rest between sets
Use the exercise choice above in the “Beginners” section.
Intermediate Dynamic Workouts
- 3-4 intermediate exercises performed in a circuit style (one exercise to the next without resting)
- 45 seconds work
- Three rounds (rest 60 seconds between rounds)
- Choose four intermediate exercises performed in a circuit style (one exercise to the next without resting)
- 60 seconds work
- Four rounds (rest 45 seconds between rounds)
Advanced Dynamic Workouts
- Choose four advanced exercises
- Four sets x 1 minute of work (do all three sets of one exercise before doing the next)
- 25 seconds rest between sets
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
1. Will dynamic core exercises help me get a six-pack?
In short, no. Core exercises do not influence whether you have a six-pack or not. This is down to the level of bodyfat you carry, which of course, is determined by your diet. But, it’s worth noting that if your bodyfat is low enough and your abdominal muscles are visible, regular core exercises will help you get strong abs that are thicker, which may be more aesthetically pleasing to you. They are, of course, muscles like any other body part, so they grow, which is worth bearing in mind.
2. Will a functional core help me with other ab exercises and sports hobbies?
Absolutely! There is a definite carryover in other sports/exercises when you have strong abs. For example, since training my core three times per week, I have noticed I am much tighter, firmer, balanced, and functional during kettlebell workouts. I have also noticed that my form and posture during long runs have vastly improved.
3. Do ab exercises burn belly fat?
Not directly, but they will assist in fat burning alongside a healthy diet and calorie deficit. It’s a case of calories in versus calories out – it’s just that. That said, following a circuit-style core workout like the examples above will get the heart racing, which is exactly what you need to help get burning calories!
4. Do core exercises help with back and hip pain?
They, without a doubt, can do, and I speak from experience. My hips were tight for many years due to consistently exercising but neglecting my core. Since training my core, my low back and hip pain has gone. Many people with back and hip pain are suffering because they have weak, imbalanced core and glutes. So instead, they take medications to find a remedy, whereas I believe a vast percentage of people could focus on strengthening their core and glutes and live a pain-free life.
Before starting any exercise routine, please get clearance from a health professional should you have any concerns.
About the author
I'm Chris. I have a vast interest in all things relating to health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition. I also love to improve my mindset and learn how to increase my productivity. If you'd like to say hello or ask me a question, please visit my contact page, and I'd be glad to hear from you. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter (@liveliftlife).