Whether you want to nix lower back pain or are dead set on losing belly fat, strengthening your core is a great place to start. As a major muscle group, your core is command central for strength, helps you move your lower and upper body more effectively, and lowers your risk of injury. Many people don’t realize that the core is more than just the abdominal muscles, too. It also includes your lower back and hips.
What are the muscles that make up your core?
“When your core is strong, you can focus on improving range of motion in your hips and the upper part of your back,” says Betina Gozo, Nike master trainer and creator of STRONG with Betina Gozo: Total-Body Fitness In Under 20 Minutes. “When your low back overcompensates for movement, your hips and upper part of your spine lock up and get tight, then you are more prone to injury.”
That’s why we teamed up with Gozo to create this 30-day ab challenge. From your rectus abdominis—the front ab muscles that give you that “flat belly” six-pack look—to the transverse abdominis, which are the deep “corseting” muscles that support your spine, and your obliques, aka your love handles, these core exercises will fire up your middle to help you move better and more safely.
“A lot of these movements require a certain breath, which will help you work your transverse abdominis, the deepest layer of your abs,” Gozo says. “This will help you with your strength training and everyday movements.” Crunches, sit-ups, and planks often come to mind when people think of ab exercises, and while we have plenty of variations of these classic core moves in this 30-day ab challenge, many of the exercises also incorporate functional fitness.
“We incorporated a lot of exercises that add movement while keeping your spine stable, which is most applicable to life and protecting your spine,” Gozo says. “Anti-rotation exercises, like a shoulder tap, are usually what I prescribe to my clients to give them the strongest core,” she says. FYI, it’s totally safe to work your core every day. In fact, Gozo encourages it: “Before I start most of my clients with their strength training, I usually have them do one to three core exercises to warm them up before beginning their workout.”
How to start the 30-day ab challenge
Every day for the next four weeks, you’ll challenge your core with a new ab exercise. As the 30-day ab challenge goes on, the exercises will become harder. Hint: Planks turn into pikes and crunches turn into flutter kicks. Complete 8-12 reps of each exercise or perform them for 30 seconds each for three rounds. Check in with us on social media via Instagram and Facebook to share your progress and find motivation! Be sure to use the hashtag #30dayabchallenge so we can keep track of your posts!
Day 1: Bird Dog
This ab exercise not only activates your core but challenges your balance. As you lift one arm and the opposite leg up, envision pressing the wall behind you with your foot and reaching for the wall in front of you with your hands.
How to do a bird dog: Get into a tabletop position with your shoulders directly over your wirsts and your hips in line with your knees. Keeping your right foot flexed, straighten your leg behind you as you extend your left hand out in front of you. Continue for eight to 12 reps, alternating hands and legs.
Day 2: Bear Plank
If you’re working your way up to a high plank, a bear plank is a great progression. The key here is to lift your knees an inch or two, just so they’re hovering over the ground, and to keep your body stable throughout the isometric hold. Your core should be tight so your body doesn’t sway and your hips don’t start to sag.
How to do a bear plank: Get into a tabletop position with your shoulders directly over your hands and your hips in line with your knees. Tightening your core and glutes, lift your knees an inch or two off the ground and hold for 30 seconds while maintaining a flat back. Once you’re able to hold this position for 30 seconds, add another 15 seconds.
Day 3: Bear Plank With Shoulder Taps
We challenge your balance with this bear plank variation by incorporating some movement in the arms and shoulders. You’ll want to keep your core and butt rock-solid here to avoid swaying as much as possible.
How to do a bear plank with shoulder taps: From a tabletop position with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your hips in line with your hips, lift your knees an inch or or two off the ground. Now, lift your right hand off the ground to tap your left shoulder. Bring your hand back down and lift your left hand to tap your right shoulder. This is one rep. Repeat for another eight to 12 reps.
Day 4: Plank
The plank is one of the most popular core exercises for a good reason. The isometric hold tightens and tones all the abdominal muscles and lays the groundwork for other challenging exercises, like push-ups and kettlebell swings.
How to do a proper plank: From a tabletop position, tighten your core, glutes, shoulders, and back and extend your legs to straighten into a plank. Be sure to keep your shoulders directly over your wrists. Remember to breath and use your hands to grip the floor when fatigue starts to set in. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds, working your way up to a full minute.
Day 5: Plank Walk
This plank variation is anything but a walk. Firing up your forearms and shoulders, it will also challenge ability to keep your core, butt and legs stable.
How to do a plank walk: Get into a forearm plank with your shoulders in line with your elbows and forearms parallel to each other on the ground. Pushing the ground with your right hand, straighten your right arm into a high plank, followed by your left arm. Then, bring your right forearm back to the ground and then your left forearm. This is one rep. Repeat for another eight to 12 reps. Try to keep your back flat and hips square throughout the entire movement to avoid them from sagging. Limit movement from them as much as possible.
Day 6: Plank Arm Raises
Step up your balance game with this ab exercise, which forces you to find stability in a three-leg plank. You’ll work your shoulders as much as your core and glutes.
How to do plank arm raises: Get into a high plank position with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your core and glutes tight. Lift your right hand off the ground and reach for the wall in front of you, then bring it back down. Lift your left hand off the ground and reach for the wall in front of you. This is one rep. Continue this exercise for eight to 12 reps.
Day 7: Plank Taps
You’ll strengthen and tone your body from head to toe and get your heart rate up with this core exercise. Once you’ve mastered this move, you can turn up the intensity by turning this exercise into a plank jack.
How to do plank taps: Get into a high plank position with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your core and glutes tight. Step your right foot to the side while keeping your body in a straight line and then bring it back to center. Then step your left foot to the side and bring it back to center. This is one rep. Continue alternating sides for eight to 12 reps.
Day 8: Plank Lateral Walk
The main challenge in this exercise is to keep your body in a straight line throughout the entire movement. Your balance and coordination skills will be tested too.
How to do a plank lateral walk: In a high plank position, step your right foot to the right as you bring your left hand to the right side. Then, step your left foot to the left side and bring your right hand to the left side. This is one rep. Alternate hands and feet for eight to 12 reps.
Day 9: Plank Hops
Talk about a cardio blast, this dynamic exercise gets your heart rate up while igniting your lower abs. You can try hopping to your right and left to get some oblique action as well.
How to do plank hops: From a high plank position, hop your feet together toward your hands. Then, hop them back together in plank. Next, hop your feet together to your right, aiming for your right elbow. Hop them back to plank and then hop your feet to the left side, aiming for your left elbow. Hop your feet back to plank. Continue for eight to 12 reps.
Day 10: Side Plank With Reach Through
Your obliques, aka love handles, are the primary muscle movers in this ab exercise, but your glutes and back get some love too. Side planks are great for stabilizing your core and back and correcting posture. You want to think about un-hunching your shoulders and activating your glutes to keep your spine stable.
How to do a side plank with reach through: Get into a side forearm plank on your right side, stacking your right shoulder over your right elbow and your left hip over your right. If you’re not able to stack your left foot over your right, stagger your stance. Just remember to keep your hips square. Lift your left arm up and reach your left hand under your body past your hips, rotating your torso. Bring your left arm back up to the starting position. This is one rep. Repeat for six reps before switching to the right side for another six reps.
Day 11: Modified Side Plank With Leg Lift
You’ll strengthen your outer thighs and gluteus medius as much as your side abs with this exercise. You can play with tempo here to get more work out of your inner thighs by extending your count as you bring your leg back down. Think: one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi.
How to do a modified side plank with leg lift: Get into a side plank on your right side with your left hip stacked over your right, and your left leg extended and your right knee bent so your right foot is behind you. Place your left hand at your waist. Tightening your core, thighs, and glutes, lift your left leg up as high as you can and then lower it back down to the ground. Continue for six reps and repeat on the right side for another six reps.
Day 12: Hip Dips
Sculpting your obliques, this core exercise cinches your middle and also works your shoulders. You’ll want to tighten your abs and glutes at the top of the exercise.
How to do hip dips: From a side plank position on your right side, tap your right hip to the ground while keeping your shoulders, hips, and legs stacked. Repeat for six reps before switching to your left side for another six reps.
Day 13: Alternating Mountain Climbers
As you pick up the pace, this ab exercise will feel like you’re literally climbing a mountain. Working your obliques as well as your lower abs, this heart-pumping move will sculpt your middle and trim your waist.
How to do alternating mountain climbers: Starting in a high plank position, lift your left foot to bend your left knee and tap your right elbow. Then, bring it back to plank. Next, lift your right foot to bend your right knee and bring it toward your left elbow to tap it. Bring it back to plank. This is one rep. Repeat for eight to 12 reps.
Day 14: Spiderman Crunches
Spiderman crunches will strengthen your obliques into exhaustion, but they’re the perfect prescription for toning up your sides. You’ll want to crunch your knee up to touch your elbow as much as possible to truly tighten and sculpt these muscles.
How to do spiderman crunches: Get into a high plank position with your shoulders directly over your wrists. Lift your left foot to bend your bend knee and bring it towards your left elbow. Tap your left elbow if you can, tightening your left oblique. Then, bring your left foot back to the starting position. Next, lift your right foot to bend your right knee and bring it towards your right elbow, tightening your right oblique. Bring your right foot back to the starting position. This is one rep. Continue alternating sides for eight to 12 reps.
Day 15: Pike Toe Taps
We guarantee you’ll feel this ab scorcher in the morning. The pike brings a crunch to another level by testing your spinal mobility and stability.
How to do pike toe taps: From a high plank position, lift your right hand to tap your left foot. Bring it back to plank and lift your left hand to tap your right foot. Get back into a plank position and continue alternating sides for eight to 12 reps.
Day 16: Plank March
Testing your balance, spinal stability, and ab strength, these plank marches force you to tighten your core even more to maintain your balance.
How to do a plank march: Get into a forearm plank with your shoulders in line with your elbows and forearms parallel to each other on the ground. Lift your right foot off the ground and then your lift your left foot, as if you’re marching. This is one rep. Repeat for eight to 12 reps.
Day 17: Plank Rock
Your shoulders get some action in this moving plank. Remember to keep your core tight throughout the entire exercise and to avoid raising or dropping your hips. You want to think about moving your body in a straight line.
How to do a plank rock: Get into a forearm plank with your shoulders in line with your elbows and forearms parallel to each other on the ground. Rock your body forward so your shoulders go past your fists and you’re rolling towards the tops of your toes. Keep your core tight. Continue for 30 seconds.
Day 18: Lower-Ab Hover
While this move might look simple, this exercise leaves your lower abs burning. The challenge with this move is to keep your back flat on the ground.
How to do a lower-ab hover: On a yoga mat, lie face up and press your hands on the ground at your sides. Wrap your left leg over your right and slowly lower your feet toward the ground short of touching it. Then, bring your legs back up. Repeat for eight to 12 reps.
Day 19: Deadbug
The deadbug is one of the best ways to warm up your core and get it ready for exercise. It also particularly works your pelvic floor and transverse abdominis, the corseting muscles in your waist which provide stability in the spine. When performing this exercise, you want to think about sinking your back into the ground and keeping it flat.
How to do a deadbug: On a yoga mat, lie face up and bring your legs to a tabletop position, with your knees bent, forming a 90-degree angle with your legs. Extend your arms directly above your chest. Next, straighten your left leg in front of you hovering an inch or two off the ground, as you bring your right arm straight behind you. Keeping your left foot flexed, imagine kicking the wall in front of you and reaching for the the wall behind you with your right hand. Repeat on the other side and continue alternating for eight to 12 reps.
Day 20: Leg Raises
This ab exercise might look easy, but if you’re doing it right, you’ll definitely feel it in your low abs. You want the movement to come from your abs—not the momentum from your legs.
How to do leg raises: On a yoga mat, lie face up and bring your legs together. Lower your feet toward the ground without touching it. Hold it for a second and then bring your legs back up. Continue for eight to 12 reps. Remember to keep your back flat on the ground and lower your legs without arching your low back.
Day 21: Runner’s Crunch
Unlike regular crunches, this variation forces you to engage your abs to roll yourself up off the ground and crunch your elbow toward your knee.
How to do a runner’s crunch: On a yoga mat, lie face up with your hands behind your head and your legs extended in front of you. Engaging your abs, roll yourself off the ground and crunch your right elbow toward your left knee, creating a 90-degree angle with the floor. Lower yourself back down to the ground and crunch your left elbow toward your right knee. Continue alternating sides for eight to 12 reps.
Day 22: Toe-Touch Crunches
Who knew touching your toes would be so much hard work? These crunches fire up your abs like no other. The goal is to tap your toes with the opposite hand.
How to do toe-touch crunches: On a yoga mat, lie face up with your legs extended toward the ceiling. Roll your torso off the ground to crunch and tape your left toes with your right hand and your right toes with your left hand. Be sure to keep your shoulders off the ground as you crunch up and your low back pressed to the ground. This is one rep. Repeat for eight to 12 reps.
Day 23: Reverse Crunches
Many workout newbies get this move wrong because they think they’re just lifting their legs toward the ceiling, but if you tighten your abs and lift butt off the ground, you’ll feel the crunch working it’s magic. This exercise also activates the external obliques and promotes better spine stability.
How to do reverse crunches: On a yoga mat, lie face up with your legs extended toward the ceiling. Pressing your hands on the floor at your sides, lift your legs, butt, and low back off the ground t0 crunch up. Slowly bring your butt and low back down to the ground. This is one rep. Repeat for eight to 12 reps. On the way down, move with control so your legs stay together. This also helps protect your low back.
Day 24: Spinal Twists
These ab exercises incorporate rotation, so you literally feel like you’re cinching your waist, namely your oblique muscles, as you’re performing them.
How to do spinal twists: Sit up on a yoga mat with your legs extended in front of you and lean back slightly so your torso forms a 45-degree angle with the floor. Rest your hands behind your head. Maintaining the lean in your back and keeping your legs on the floor, twist to your right side and then your left. Take a small pause when twisting on each side. Repeat for eight to 12 reps.
Day 25: V Sit-Ups
V-ups offer a great mix of cardio and strength work, as you’re sure to get your heart rate up crunching your entire body up to bring your hands toward your toes.
How to do V-ups: On a yoga mat, lie face up with your hands extended over your chest. Sit up to bring your hands to meet your right toes. Lie back down on the mat and then bring your hands to meet your left toes. Continue alternating sides for eight to 12 reps.
Day 26: V-Up Hold
If you’re not able to hold this position, you can modify the exercise by holding a knee tuck with your knees in tabletop position and maintaining a slight lean in your back.
How to do a V-up hold: Lie face up on a yoga mat with your legs extended in front of you and your hands behind your head. Lift your arms by your ears and your neck and shoulders off the ground. At the same time, your legs and feet off the ground. Hold this position for 30 seconds, working your way up to a full minute.
Day 27: 100s
A classic Pilates exercise, this move strengthens your core, legs, and arms while also getting your heart rate up. You’ll hold the position for a few seconds, but don’t forget to breath!
How to do 100s: Lie face up on a yoga mat with your arms straight by your sides. Lift your legs a few inches off the ground and your hands by your sides, shoulders off the mat. Maintain a tight squeeze between your legs. Start pumping your arms up and down, inhaling and exhaling for five to 10 seconds each time—that’s why it’s called the 100—until you count to 100.
Day 28: Flutter Kicks
Your lower abs will feel it the most in this exercise. Remember to keep your legs together and lifted at 45 degrees and your shoulders off the ground.
How to do flutter kicks: Lie face up on a yoga mat and rest your hands behind your butt. Lift your neck and shoulders off the ground and keep your legs together. Flutter kick your legs, alternating raising one leg and then the other while maintaining proper form. Continue for 30 seconds, working your way up to a full minute.
Day 29: Windshield Wipers
Working in more rotation to your ab exercises will not only help with improving your range of motion, but it helps target other muscles in your core too, like your obliques, hips and low back.
How to do windshield wipers: Lie face up on a yoga mat with your arms by your sides and hands pressing on the floor. Lift your legs up toward the ceiling, forming a 90-degree angle. Moving with control, swing your legs to the right side, short of them touching the floor, and then swing them to the left side.
Day 30: Penguins
Also known as heel taps, this exercise is harder than it looks. You’ll want to keep your neck and shoulders off the ground the entire time.
How to do penguins: Lie face up on a yoga mat with your arms by your sides and your feet flat on the ground. Keep your heels close to your butt. Lift your neck and shoulders off the ground and reach your hands to tap the heels of your feet. Continue for 30 seconds.