5 of the best core exercises for beginners that build fitness and reduce injury

Apr 21, 2021

As a beginner to the world of core training, it is vital that you go about things in the right way.

Exercises you choose should be simple to understand and to master, they should work on the fundamental aspects of core strength and stability, and they should offer a robust foundation from which you can build.

Of course, when we’re exercising, we want to push our bodies and try out more and more complex exercises. But I believe it’s so important to get these foundations right that I’ve chosen five key exercises and made them the cornerstone of my online core strength and stability programme.

I talk you through them below, but if you prefer a more visual approach, you’ll find plenty of images as well as more detailed explanations of the muscles you’re using in the video linked above.

5 of the best core exercises for beginners

  1. The Plank


Yes, the pros might pride themselves on being able to hold a plank rock steady, for a minute or even more, but don’t let that put you off. There are plenty of ways to dial up and down the intensity. Start by laying flat on your front on the floor and then lifting up onto the bottom section of your arms and your knees, or even toes if you’re feeling confident.

While holding steady you should be concentrating on bracing your abdominals and creating a straight line from your ear to your ankle – don’t let those hips rise up or sink down.

Why is this good for beginners?

The beauty of the plank is in its simplicity. It’s familiar to most people, easy to get started with allowing you to focus on keeping your abs tight, squeezing your glutes and shoulder blades without having to worry about movement or using weights. Getting used to relaxing and contracting these particular muscles will mean it’s easier and more natural when you do start including movements in your routine. This is a great way to begin to build endurance and reduce the risk of lower back pain in the future.

  1. The Side Plank


Another static exercise is the side plank. This time you’re lifting up onto only one arm and keeping the body facing forwards rather than downwards. You can once again choose whether to lift up onto your knees or your feet as long as you concentrate on keeping that straight line from toes to ears. Again, this position gives you the opportunity to practise bracing the abdominal wall, but in this case the main focus is on the underside of the obliques, depending on which side you’re holding the position.

Not only will you be working the obliques, but also the glutes and the QL (Quadratus lumborum) muscles – more commonly known as the back muscles that support the connection between your pelvis, rib cage and lower spine.

Why is this good for beginners?

I like using this exercise with beginners as it helps them to focus on getting everything where it should be and achieving muscle tension in the correct places. It’s also another good one for helping to build endurance and allows you to concentrate on working one side or the other. If you find it noticeably easier to remain stable on one side, it may mean you have an asymmetry – indicating that one side compensates for the other during general movement. It’s worth working on strengthening this weaker side as this can lead to back problems in the future if left unchecked.

  1. The Hip Thrust


With the hip thrust we start to add a little movement into the stretch. Lie on your back on the floor and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground and hip width apart. This is your starting position.

Now extend your hips, raising them up to create a straight line between your knees and chest. Repeat this movement 10 – 12 times, concentrating on engaging your glute muscles to slowly lift and relax.

Why is this good for beginners?

The hip thrust is perfect for building real fundamental principles of core strength training. It’s simple, so you can really focus on using the right muscles. But it genuinely helps to train your brain to activate your hips and bring your glutes online, meaning your back will be more supported when doing daily activities such as running, walking, bending and lifting etc.

The step on from this position would be the bridge. Without practising this first step, the danger is that in extending into the bridge position, people tend to access their hamstrings rather than their glutes. Building this muscle memory in the brain, repeating this static hip thrust position and really focusing in on the muscles is a really good way to start to build up the hips and activate the glutes to support as and when you need them.

  1. Half Kneeling


The half kneeling position is one of those that sounds more simple than it is. To do it well at least.

Kneel up on both knees and then lift one in front of you, placing the foot flat on the floor. Activate your core to keep you straight upright and steady, concentrating on that line from your knee to your ears.

Why is this good for beginners?

Once more, as this is a static exercise, it gives you plenty of time to focus on engaging the glutes and finding your balance. The knee that is down helps you to train your hip stability, but if you are finding it easy, it’s worth narrowing your base a little by bringing that flat foot across. The next step then is adding rotation, moving arms and shifting centre of gravity to challenge your stability a little more.

Often, beginners try to tackle more complex exercises and wonder why they struggle. It’s almost always because they haven’t built this foundation. And unfortunately that also means they’re at a higher risk of injuring themselves.  

  1. Bird Dog


The starting position for the Bird Dog is on all fours, hands and knees. The idea here is to be able to maintain a neutral posture through the spine as you slowly lift opposing arms and legs, i.e. the right arm at the same time as the left leg. You must be sure not to rotate or shift your torso when lifting and holding the position.

Why is this good for beginners?

Perhaps the most challenging of these five exercises to do well, the Bird Dog focuses on training hip stability and shoulder stability, working the spinal erectors all the way up the spine, the glutes on the side of the lifted leg and the lats on both sides too. Even better, because you will be lifting your arm too, the posterior muscles on the back of the shoulder and the shoulder blade are getting a workout as well.

This is my favourite exercise for beginning to integrate movement into a routine as it is simple to understand and yet requires practise to do it well. Bird Dog involves not only contracting the abdominals to maintain the position, but improving stability through movement too, making it easier to progress onto harder positions in the future.  

 In my opinion these are five of the best exercises for beginners because they are not just about doing exercise for the sake of exercise. They are a genuine foundation stage for doing more and higher intensity movements safely and at lower risk of injury. In fact, they train your brain so that these fundamentals come naturally when you’re trying to master those harder moves.

 Why not start the right way by enrolling in my 12 week core strength and stability programme? Not only do I cover these exercises in more detail to help you build those fundamentals, but I’ll help you to build on them in the right way too.

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our free monthly newsletter to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.


50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.