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Many people are surprised to find out that our core is more than just our abs. It’s comprised of the abs, glutes, inner thighs and low back. A strong core promotes stability and a strong central foundation as well as helping to tone and tighten the midsection. Whether you’re looking for better core strength, improved balance, a smaller waistline, or a more defined midsection, this plan is for you!
The workouts are a combination of Pilates core exercises and traditional strength-training exercises to tone and tighten your core from all angles.
Traditionally when people think core, they expect a plan with planks, crunches and mountain climbers. I chose exercises that are more accessible to those who are looking for an entry-level ab routine. While they may appear to be gentler — and they are in some ways — they are actually extremely effective in building a strong, well-rounded core. Using my Pilates background and experience in personal training clients for almost 15 years, I’ve curated my favorite core exercises for a workout routine that will really help you target those deep core muscles and teach you to engage them properly.
31-day core workout routine
This month’s routine is divided into two different series. Core workout #1 is done completely on the floor, like in a Pilates mat class. This could even be done in bed! Core workout #2 is done while standing without getting down onto the ground. For each routine, I’ve added in a warm-up move: the pelvic tilt. This is an important step that I recommend people do before any ab routine. Training your body how to properly engage your core begins with proper alignment of your spine and engagement of your abdominal muscles. By performing a pelvic tilt and doing all of the core exercises starting from this position, you’re automatically engaging the deepest abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis, which supports the low back and strengthens the front of the body.
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Core workout #1
Warm up: Pelvic tilt
Lie down on a mat with your hands at your sides and your knees bent with your feet flat on the ground. Inhale and fill your stomach up with air, and then exhale as you tilt your pelvis forward so that your low back is pressing into the ground with the abdominals engaged. Inhale and release. Repeat 10 times.
Pilates ab crunch
Come into the pelvic tilt position from the exercise above. From this tilted position with your low back pressed into the ground, place your hands behind your head. Exhale as you curl up with your head, neck and chest. Pretend that you’re holding an egg in between your chin and your chest that you don’t want to crack. Then gently pulse upwards 10 times and rest.
Lie on your back with your head resting on the floor. Keep your arms straight at your sides with your palms on the floor and then bend your knees so your heels are under your knees. Slowly raise your hips in the direction of the ceiling. When you are fully extended, hold the pose for ten seconds. While holding the pose, squeeze your glutes — butt muscles — together as well. Also, pull your navel in toward your spine and make sure that your shoulders are relaxed with your shoulder blades still on the floor. Lower your hips and repeat the exercise 10 times.
Lying on your back, bend your knees and open your feet as wide as your hips. Relax the arms by your sides. Pull the naval in toward the spine as if you’re zipping into a tight pair of pants. Slowly roll the hips so that you lift your low back up off the ground, and then your middle and finally upper back. Press down through the feet, then lift the right foot off the ground as if you’re beginning to march. Repeat 10 times, alternating between the left and right legs.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your legs up and bring your heels together with your toes apart and your knees as wide as your shoulders. Exhale as you press the legs out at about a 45-degree angle, bringing your inner thighs together. Inhale to come back to center and repeat 10 times.
Pilates half roll down
Seated on the ground or on a mat, bend your knees. (For a more advanced exercise, straighten your legs.) Then, reach your arms straight out in front of you with the shoulders relaxed. Pull the naval in toward the spine and slowly roll down half way to the mat. Reach the arms up overhead, and then bring the arms back to center and slowly roll back up to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
Lie on your stomach and reach the arms forward and legs back. Open the legs as wide as the hips and the arms as wide as the shoulders. Pull the belly button in and away from the ground to engage the abs. Relax the shoulders as you reach the arms up off of the ground and squeeze the quads to lift the legs off the ground. Avoid putting too much pressure on the low back by ensuring that the abdominals stay contracted. Hold for a few seconds then rest. Repeat 10 times.
Core workout #2
Warm up: Standing pelvic tilt
The standing pelvic tilt can be performed while standing against a wall, making it a comfortable go-to ab exercise. (You can also do this without the wall.) Leaning against the wall, bend your knees slightly. As you exhale, tilt your pelvis forward and away from the wall. Your low back should press gently into the wall; engage your abdominals to maintain proper form. Release and repeat 10 times.
Standing bird dog
Reach your right arm up towards the ceiling and put your weight in the right foot. Then lean forward, reaching the right arm forward as you reach the left leg back behind you. Keep the arm and leg straight and bring the limbs so that they’re parallel to the ground. Keep your abs engaged and squeeze your left glute and hamstring while pressing the right foot into the ground. (Squeezing the right butt cheek will help with stability). Then come back to center. Repeat on the other side. Alternate, performing 10 reps total.
Wide side crunch
Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders and turn your toes so they’re facing outward. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows open wide. Then lower down into a wide leg open toe squat with your back straight and your pelvis tilted forward with your abs engaged. Reach the right elbow down toward your right thigh and crunch the right side, then come back to center. Repeat on the left side. Continue alternating side to side for a total of 10 reps.
Standing bicycle crunches
Begin in the same starting position as the standing crunch. With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend your elbows and place your hands behind your head. Bend your right knee, bringing it toward your left elbow. Alternate sides, squeezing your abdominals throughout. Repeat 10 times to each side.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your hands placed behind your head. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and down and your core muscles engaged. Take a deep breath in and on the exhale, bend your upper body forward, hinging at the hips, and lower into an upside-down “L” shape until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings. If you feel any pain or uncomfortable pulling, you’ve lowered too far! Slowly move back into the standing position on your exhale. Repeat 10 times.
Standing with your feet shoulders-width apart, reach your arms up over your head. (To make this more challenging hold on to a light dumbbell or something you have nearby, like a pillow or water bottle.) Reach your arms up high and pull your naval in toward your spine. Reach the arms over to the right, to the front, to the left, and backward. Keep going for 10 circles to the right before repeating 10 circles to the left. The entire time, engage your core by pulling your naval in toward your spine, squeezing your glutes, and trying to keep your hips still.
Standing gate swing
Stand on your left leg with your right knee bent at 90 degrees, the foot off of the ground. Have the knee up in front of you and then engage your core to open the knee out to the right as if you were swinging open a gate. Bring it back to center. Repeat 10 times and then switch to the left side.
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