A Breakdown of Your Main Core Muscle Groups and the 3 Moves That Work Each One

When I hear the words "core workout," I don't ask questions, I usually just sign on with dreams of a six-pack. The funny thing is, I can't even list what muscles make up the core, let alone know if I'm targeting them all equally with said workouts.

This realization quickly turned into a mini identity crisis that has me questioning everything about my fitness habits. Luckily, ACE-certified personal trainer and the CEO of Simple Approach Sean Alexander has some answers.

"Your core is composed of many muscles in the abdomen, hips, back, butt, and legs — it's necessary to work all of these muscles when training your core," Alexander says.

For improved posture, boosted balance, and a healthier back (just a few pros of a strong core), Alexander says to focus on these seven muscle groups: the rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, serratus anterior, transverse abdominis, erector spinae, and hip flexors.

"A very simple workout that can be performed to target all of the muscles comprising your core includes only three movements: the full crunch, bicycle crunch, and hanging leg raises," Alexander says.

Since these moves require zero weight, he adds that the risk of injury is quite low. Even better, the exercises can double as a warmup because they loosen up the spine and initiate blood flow throughout the body.

However, you do need a cooldown following Alexander's three-move workout. He recommends walking for 10-15 minutes on a treadmill at a slight incline, or performing a very slow recovery yoga flow with poses like Upward-Facing Dog to stretch out the abdominal wall.

Full Crunch

Full Crunch

  • Start by laying down flat on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Use your core to lift your torso and sit all the way up, so that your shoulders are stacked directly atop your hips. Finish the movement by reaching your hands up to the ceiling for a full extension of your core.
  • Slowly lower back down to the starting position and repeat four rounds of 10-15 repetitions, resting just long enough to recover in between rounds.
  • If this variation is too difficult, place a weighted object on top of your toes for additional leverage.
Bicycle Crunch

Bicycle Crunch

  • Start by lying down flat on your back and placing your hands lightly on the sides of your head. Do not knit your fingers behind your head or pull on your head with your hands — by doing this you run the risk of straining your neck.
  • Raise one leg just off the ground and extend it out, and pull the other knee in toward your chest.
  • Now begin reaching your opposite elbow across toward your opposite knee (right elbow to your left knee, and vice-versa).
  • As you twist your torso, switch off extending each of your legs, as if you were riding a bicycle.
  • Perform this movement for three rounds of 20 repetitions.
Hanging Leg Raise
POPSUGAR Photography | Tamara Pridgett

Hanging Leg Raise

  • Find a pull-up bar and jump up so that your feet are hanging off the ground.
  • Without using momentum and swinging your feet up, slowly and with plenty of control raise your knees toward your chest. Focusing on rotating or "rolling" your tailbone up at the top of the movement activates the lower portion of your abs.
  • Perform three rounds of this movement for as many repetitions as you can.

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