Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 12, 2021

Core strength is one of the most important fitness factors. You need a strong core for intense sports like running or biking, but that’s not the only time you use your core muscles. You rely on the muscles in your torso for everything from getting out of bed to sitting down on a chair.

Your abdominal muscles are a part of your core. These include the rectus abdominis muscles in the front of your abdomen and the obliques in the front and side of your abdomen. Underneath those muscles is the transverse abdominis, which helps support your spine. The other parts of your core include the erector and multifidus muscles in your back.

Exercising your core muscles will help you improve your overall fitness. It may help increase strength and endurance and help make everyday activities easier. You may find that a toned core makes you feel better about how you look. Some people find that improving core strength helps reduce back and hip pain.

Planks help with strength and endurance. You need to engage your arms, shoulders, abs, back, hips, and legs to hold a plank position. This makes it an efficient muscle workout. All of these muscles must work continuously to hold the plank position. Doing planks is one of the most effective exercises you can do to tone and strengthen muscles.

  1. Lie face down with your forearms on the floor. Extend your legs and keep your feet together.
  2. Raise your upper body and rest your weight on your forearms. Use your toes to raise up your legs.
  3. Your body should form a straight line from your head and neck to your feet‌.
  4. Hold this position while you engage your abdominal muscles. Try to hold the position for up to 30 seconds.
  5. Lower your body back to the floor.

Start with a goal of holding a plank for 30 seconds. You can increase the time as you get stronger.

Variations on planks:

  • Arms extended. Try holding a plank with your arms extended to their full length and your palms flat on the ground.
  • Modified plank. Rest your lower body on your knees instead of your toes.
  • Plank on an exercise ball. Place your legs on an exercise ball and rest your hands flat on the floor. Hold the position for as long as you can maintain good form.

Push-ups work a lot of muscles at once. You will use muscles in your arms, chest, abdomen, hips, and legs. Researchers have found that people who are fit enough to do multiple push-ups in a minute have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

  1. Begin in a full plank position with your arms extended. Your palms should be flat against the floor and just below shoulder level.
  2. Keep your feet together or about 12 inches apart.
  3. Keep your back straight.
  4. Lower your body until your elbows are at 90 degrees.
  5. Straighten your arms to push back up to complete one rep.

Start with 1 to 5 push-ups at a time and gradually increase the number you do.

Variations on push-ups:

  • Modified push-up. Rest your knees on the floor rather than supporting your weight on your feet. Use your arms to push your upper body off the ground.
  • Wall push-ups. Place your hands on the wall at chest height, shoulder-width apart. Bend your arms to lower your body toward the wall.‌
  • Vary your hand position. Moving your hands closer together or further apart will vary how you use your chest and shoulder muscles.

Crunches target the muscles in your abdomen. Strong abs help with better posture and mobility. You use your abs to bend and stretch during daily activities. Keeping these muscles in good shape can improve your general quality of life.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent. Set your feet about hip-width distance apart. Fold your arms on your chest. (Do not place your hand behind your head. This can strain your neck.)
  2. Raise your head and shoulders off the floor.
  3. Hold for a count of three, then return to the starting position.

Do 1 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 crunches.

Variations of crunches:

  • ‌Crunch on an exercise ball. Sit on the ball and cross your hands over your chest. Tilt your torso backward until your abs engage. Bring yourself back to sitting.
  • Crunch with raised feet. Instead of keeping your feet on the floor, place them on the wall. Your knees should form a 90-degree angle.
  • Twisting crunches. Instead of raising your torso straight up, twist your trunk as you rise. Move your shoulder toward the opposite knee, then straighten your spine as you return to the floor.

If you are unsure if you are healthy enough to do planks, push-ups, or crunches, talk to your doctor. They can help you plan a fitness routine that will work for you.

Show Sources


Britannica: "Human muscle system."

Mayo Clinic: "Video: Abdominal crunch," "Core-strength exercises," "Plank with fitness ball."

Harvard Health Publishing: "The rise of push-ups: A classic exercise that can help you get stronger," "Straight talk on planking," "Tips to help you embrace abdominal workouts."

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