Best Core Exercises

Does doing sit-ups give you six-pack abs? The rectus abdominis are the muscles that give you flat abs, but from a back safety prospective, sit ups should not be your focus. Instead, spend your time strengthening the core.

As a physical therapist, when talking about “the core,” I’m referring to the lower abdominal muscles that help to support the lumbar spine. The core includes the transversus abdominus muscle, as well as the obliques, mutifidus, erector spinae, and quadratus lumborum. As a group, these muscles help to provide a stable base and foundation for one’s body to function. Just as a house needs a stable foundation to withstand environmental stresses, your body needs a strong core to carry out physical tasks.

These exercises activate many of the core muscles to support the back like a back brace. Integrate these core strengthening exercises into your daily exercise program to not only tone your middle section, but also to prevent back injuries.

The side plank has been shown to produce high levels of muscular activation in the obliques and transversus abdominus muscles, yet produces low compressive forces on your spine. Start this exercise supported on your forearm and knees and progress to forearm and feet. Hold for 20 sec and repeat 3 times, once you have perfected this move, progress to 30 second holds. Progress this by planking on elbows and feet like the video below.

Recent evidence has shown that engaging the lower abdominals without flattening the spine (neutral position) will activate the tranversus abdominus to a greater degree than a traditional pelvic tilt or segmental bridge exercise. With this evidence in mind, it is importance to encourage a neutral back position when strengthening your lower abdominals.

Exercises performed on your hands and knees are a safe way to strengthen the muscles along your back (multifidus and erector spinae). Research has shown muscle activity levels of 30% maximum voluntary contraction can be achieved with this exercise.


1. Axler CT, McGill SM. Low back loads over a variety of abdominal exercises: searching for the safest abdominal challenge. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997;29:804-810.


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