Few people would turn down six-pack abs, but there are many other (and more attainable) benefits to working out your core muscles, which include not just your abdominals but also the muscles of your hips, pelvis, and lower back. A strong core can help you stand up straighter, hit a tennis ball harder, keep you from falling, and even help prevent you from hurting your back when lifting your children or grandchildren.
We curated this trio of core-strengthening exercises with the help of Anthony Wall, director of professional education at the nonprofit American Council on Exercise. You’ll need an exercise mat and a 2 to 3 pound medicine ball or dumbbell (a water bottle also works). As you get stronger, you can switch to a 5 pound or even 10 pound weight if desired.
Unless otherwise noted, start with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions, eventually working up to two sets.
Seated medicine ball trunk rotations
Sit on the mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, holding the medicine ball, dumbbell, or water bottle (about 2-3 lbs) in your hands at chest level. Exhale as you slowly turn your upper body to the right, maintaining a straight back and keeping the ball steady throughout the entire rotation. Pause on the right, inhale, then turn through center and toward the left as you exhale again. Keep rotating to the right and left.
Lie flat on the mat, resting on your forearms with your elbows directly below your shoulders and palms flat on the floor. Exhale as you slowly curl your toes under, engage your core, and lift your body off the ground so your weight is resting on your elbows and toes (like the top of a push-up, but with your forearms on the floor). Keep your abdominal, back, and leg muscles engaged. Your body should be in a straight line from head to heels. Inhale and exhale as you hold the position for at least 5 seconds. Then gently lower your body to the mat, keeping your torso and legs engaged until you are back on the floor. Eventually work up to 30 seconds, then try adding a second plank. (Rest for a few seconds in between.)
Learn more about the benefits of the plank, plus how to make it easier or harder.
Side plank with bent knee
Lie on your right side on the exercise mat, with knees bent, your left leg stacked on top of your right, and your upper body propped up on your right forearm. Exhale as you raise your hips and torso up until your body forms a straight line from your ankle to your shoulders. See if you can stay in the position for a few seconds. Then inhale and slowly lower yourself back to starting position. Do one plank on each side; once you can hold each 30 seconds (and can maintain good form throughout), add a second plank on each side.
All images are from the American Council on Exercise.