A 7-Minute Core Workout for Absolute Beginners

Core strength goes deeper than aesthetics — it’s essential for preventing back pain and injury and improving sports performance. This beginner ab workout will get you started.

beginner abs workout
Beginner-friendly ab exercises like the Bird Dog strengthen several core muscles, helping to stabilize the spine for everyday movement.Getty Images

Nearly every movement you make calls on the muscles of your midsection, from walking your dog to squatting with a heavy load to simply reaching for a glass of water. And while it’s wise to strengthen all the muscles in your body, focusing first on your core makes good sense.

“The core is where all movement begins,” says Maricris Lapaix, a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer in Los Angeles who leads workouts on the app Centr.

The core, which comprises several abdominal muscles and the muscles in your pelvic floor, spine, and hips, stabilizes and controls the pelvis and spine and, by extension, affects upper- and lower-body movements.

For example, bracing your core muscles can prevent your lower back from bearing the brunt of the load when you squat to pick up a heavy box, which may stave off lower back pain and injury.

Because the muscles in your torso support your spine, strengthening the core is one of the best ways to prevent back pain and injury as you age, per the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

In addition to making everyday activity possible (and easier), strong core muscles make fitness pursuits safer and more efficient by improving balance, stability, and posture.

In sports like running, strong abdominal muscles can keep your torso upright even when fatigue sets in, preventing your back from rounding forward.

Research suggests this may translate into performance benefits. A small study of male college athletes found that those who participated in an eight-week core training program saw significant improvements in running economy (the energy required to maintain a constant speed), a key indicator of running performance.

Meanwhile, athletes who didn’t participate in the core training program saw no improvements in running economy.

RELATED: How to Get 6-Pack Abs — and Why It’s So Challenging

Bodyweight Core Workout for Beginners

Are you ready to start strengthening your abdominal muscles? This workout includes five exercises that are designed (by Lapaix) for absolute beginners.

The five exercises are simple but effective. “They require you to be in specific positions that allow maximum opportunity to feel your core activate,” Lapaix says, adding that the positions don’t leave much room for error or sloppy form.

All you need to perform this routine is a yoga or exercise mat. Do each exercise for 30 to 45 seconds and rest for 15 seconds before moving on to the next one. Start with one set (it should take about 7 minutes) and gradually progress to four sets as you get stronger.

Perform the routine three to four times per week on nonconsecutive days.

While this workout is a great way for beginners to build core strength, your fitness routine should also include cardio and strength exercises that target every major muscle group.

It’s a good idea to get clearance for exercise from your doctor if you have any ongoing or underlying health issues. You should also check with your doctor about starting this workout if you have back pain or injury, are recovering from abdominal surgery, are pregnant, or recently gave birth.

1. Dead Bug

Lie faceup on the floor with your arms extended, reaching straight from your shoulders to the ceiling. Bend and raise your knees so they form a 90-degree angle, shins parallel to the floor. Brace your abdominals and press your lower back into the floor. Then, extend your left leg straight in front of you and your right arm behind you, so that the extended limbs hover a few inches off the ground. Return to the starting position. Repeat with your right leg and left arm, and then continue alternating sides.

2. Glute Bridge

Lie on your back with your arms down by your sides. Bend your knees and place both feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Your heels should be about six to eight inches away from your glutes and toes pointed forward. Engage your abdominals and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips toward the ceiling. Only lift your hips as high as you can without arching your back; your body should form a straight line from your knees to your hips to your shoulders. Squeeze your glutes in the top position for two seconds before slowly lowering the hips to the floor. Repeat.

3. Bird Dog

Start with hands and knees on the floor; stack your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Gaze toward the floor so that your neck aligns with your spine, forming a straight line from the crown of your head to your hips. While keeping your core engaged and stable, raise your left arm straight in front of you and extend your right leg straight out behind you, reaching both away from the body and parallel to the floor. Hold briefly; then return your hand and knee to the floor. Repeat with your right arm and left leg, and continue alternating sides.?

4. Bear Plank With Knee Taps

Start with hands and knees on the floor; stack your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Press your palms into the floor and engage your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button in toward your spine. Keep your abdominals tight as you lift your knees about an inch off the floor. Hold this position as you alternate tapping the floor with one knee. Keep your head in line with your spine the entire time.

If this exercise causes wrist discomfort or pain, modify it by forming fists with your hands instead of placing your palms on the floor.

5. Modified Side Plank

Lie on the floor on your right side and bend your knees so your feet are behind you. Place your right forearm on the ground with your elbow underneath your shoulder. Brace your core and push off the ground so your upper body is supported by your right arm and knee. Then, lift your hips; your body should form a straight line from head to knee. Hold this position for 30 to 45 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

RELATED: The Best Exercises for Stronger Abs and a Stronger Core

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

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  1. Elson L. Understanding and Improving Core Strength. Harvard Health. September 6, 2018.
  2. Preventing Back Pain at Work and at Home. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. April 2022.
  3. Hung KC et al. Effects of 8-Week Core Training on Core Endurance and Running Economy. PLoS One. 2019.
  4. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2018.
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