Bodyweight, Equipment, Tone, and More

We all know how important a strong core is to, well, everything.

From walking to running to weightlifting, stable core muscles can make a world of difference in how you feel during exercise and everyday life.

Strengthening and defining your core, particularly your abs, can be done many ways, but will require some dedicated time and effort.

Here’s how to get started.

There are plenty of standing core moves that can help you reach your goal.

As a beginner:

  1. Start by incorporating some gentle stretching, which will assist in waking the core muscles up.
  2. Integrate some foundational strength training moves that will recruit your core in a functional way.
  3. Work on building on that strength and defining your muscles by challenging yourself with more advanced exercises.

Core work can be incorporated into your workout routine several times per week. In fact, many of the “standard” strength training exercises that you may already do, like squats and deadlifts, also target your core.

We’ve split 24 standing core moves into four phases below. Progress from Stretch and Strengthen to Build and Define by mastering these movements.

Start by getting comfortable with some dynamic stretches to prime your body for movement. Try these moves to activate your core, holding each for 20 to 30 seconds.

Side reach

Stretch your side body and start to wake up your core with side reaches.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms down at your sides.
  2. Inhale and bring your right arm above your head while you lean to the left, stretching out your right side body.
  3. Exhale and return to the center.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Chest opener

Feel a nice stretch in your chest while activating your core during a chest opener.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms down at your sides.
  2. Inhale and clasp your fingers together behind your back.
  3. As you exhale, begin to lean backward in your torso, feeling your chest open to the room.

Forward Fold

A nice full-body stretch, a forward fold will help get everything warm.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet close together.
  2. Inhale. While you exhale, bend forward at your hips, bringing your head to your knees and your hands on the ground.
  3. Aim for straight legs as you do this. If needed, bend your knees slightly to allow your hands to reach the ground.

Hip circles

Start to engage your core and bring movement to your hips with hip circles.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips.
  2. With your feet firmly planted, begin to draw a circle with your hips going in a clockwise motion.
  3. As your hips get looser, widen the circle.
  4. Repeat going in a counterclockwise direction.

Hip hinge

Warm up your hips with help from your core muscles.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips.
  2. Keeping your knees soft, inhale and bend forward at the waist.
  3. Keep your back straight, shoulders back, and neck neutral.
  4. Bend forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
  5. Exhale and release back to standing.

Standing Cat Cow

Really feel the stretch in your abs with a standing version of this classic yoga move.

How to:

  1. Bend at your waist and put your hands on your knees.
  2. Inhale and arch your back, dropping your head down.
  3. Exhale and turn your face upward, allowing your back to sink toward your thighs.

After stretching, beginning to bolster your abs with some basic strength training movements will get you well on your way to a strong, healthy core.

Start with body weight here — 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps — until that feels like a breeze. Then add additional weight if need be.

Standing bird dog

Challenge your balance and your core with the standing bird dog. Go as slowly as you can to make the movement worth your while.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet together and your arms down at your sides.
  2. Inhale and simultaneously lift your right arm and left leg up, bending your left knee and keeping your right arm straight.
  3. Pause when your right fingers are pointing up toward the sky and your left thigh is parallel to the ground.
  4. Exhale and release, repeating on the other side.

Squat

Although it’s considered a lower body exercise, squats are a foundational movement that fully engage your core.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly lifted upward.
  2. Keeping your chest up, begin to sit back in your hips, bending your knees and dropping your butt toward the floor.
  3. Allow your arms to come out in front of you, and make sure your knees push out, not fall in.
  4. When your thighs reach parallel to the ground, push through your entire foot back to start.

Single-leg deadlift

Unilateral, or single-arm/single-leg movements, challenge your balance — and therefore your core — in a new way.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms down at your sides.
  2. Inhale. As you exhale, begin to bend at the waist, taking your left leg straight behind you and your arms straight in front of you.
  3. Take care that your hips don’t open up, keeping them square to the floor. Keep a slight bend in your right knee, feeling the ground beneath you.
  4. Take your leg back as far as you can comfortably — the goal being that your body will form a straight line from fingers to toes — then return to start.
  5. Repeat on the other leg.

Wide side crunch

Strengthen your side abs — called the obliques — and give your legs a workout with a standing wide side crunch.

How to:

  1. Take a wide stance and sink down, bending your knees until your thighs are close to parallel.
  2. Place your hands behind your head.
  3. Inhale and bend your torso to the right, feeling the crunch in your right oblique.
  4. Exhale and return to center, repeating on the other side.

Knee tuck extension

Another great move for your side abs, standing knee tucks require balance and mobility, too.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms bent, hands behind your head.
  2. Bend your torso to the right while simultaneously bringing your right knee up, aiming to touch elbow to knee. Keep the movement concentrated to your side.
  3. Return to start, then repeat on the other side.

Standing bicycle crunches

Take your bicycle crunches up a notch by standing, focusing on the rotation for the most oomph.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms bent, hands behind your head.
  2. Bring your right knee and left elbow to touch in front of your body, twisting and crunching your torso.
  3. Return to start, repeating with the left knee and right elbow.

Once you have a good foundation of strength in your abs, it’s time to challenge yourself by adding some new movement patterns and additional weight.

Start with 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps, adding weight as needed.

Standing core stabilizers

Grab a light dumbbell and challenge both your arms and abs with this move.

How to:

  1. Hold a dumbbell by each end and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Raise your arms out in front of you.
  3. Inhale and twist your arms and upper body to the left, allowing your left toe to pivot as you go. Stop when the dumbbell is directly to your side.
  4. Exhale and return to center.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Reverse lunge with a twist

Adding a twist to your lunge creates more core engagement. You can do this move with or without weight — whatever floats your boat.

How to:

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your arms either down at your sides or holding a dumbbell out in front of you.
  2. Step back into a reverse lunge with your right leg, allowing your torso and arms to twist over your left thigh.
  3. Come back to start and repeat with the left leg.

Knee tuck extension with weight

Hold a light dumbbell in each hand during your knee tucks for a progression.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms bent, bracing a dumbbell on each of your shoulders.
  2. Bend your torso to the right while simultaneously bringing your right knee up, aiming to touch elbow to knee. Keep the movement concentrated to your side.
  3. Return to start, then repeat on the other side.

Squat with front raise

This isn’t a direct ab exercise, but don’t worry — your core will be feeling it!

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell by each end, arms straight down in front of you.
  2. Begin to squat, sitting back in your hips, while simultaneously completing a front raise.
  3. Stop when your thighs and arms are both parallel to the ground. Take care that your chest stays proud throughout the movement.

Overhead circles

A subtle movement like overhead circles may seem easy, but if engaged properly, your core will be fired up.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grip a dumbbell at both ends, extending your arms above your head.
  2. Keeping your feet planted, engage your core and start to draw a circle in the air with your dumbbell, allowing your torso to rotate.
  3. Go clockwise for a desired number of reps, then counterclockwise.

Plank walkout

You can’t go wrong with a plank if the goal is to strengthen your core.

How to:

  1. Start standing with your feet close together and your arms down at your sides.
  2. Drop into a forward fold, putting your hands on the ground.
  3. Walk your hands out until your body reaches a high plank position.
  4. Pause here, then walk them back to the forward fold position and return to start.

Help chisel your abs with some of these more advanced moves.

You’ll need some added equipment — a dumbbell, TRX straps, and barbell — to complete them.

Wood chop

A full-body exercise with an ab focus, wood chops will help you build power and balance.

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grip a dumbbell by each end, holding it to your right side.
  2. Squat down slightly, rotating your torso to the right.
  3. Keeping your arms extended, stand up, bringing the dumbbell up and across your body by twisting your torso.
  4. Allow your right foot to pivot and your torso to rotate to the left as you go.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Oblique bends

Concentrate on your side abs with oblique bends. Don’t be afraid to go heavy with your dumbbell here!

How to:

  1. Stand and hold a dumbbell in your right hand down at your side.
  2. Engage your core and bend toward the right at your waist, allowing the dumbbell to drop toward the floor.
  3. Using your obliques, pull yourself back to start.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps, then switch sides.

TRX oblique rollout

The further out you drop, the harder this move will be.

How to:

  1. Start by standing in front of the TRX straps, adjusting them to be about waist level.
  2. Hold one handle with each hand, straightening your arms and allowing your body to fall forward slightly.
  3. Slowly begin to drop your chest, driving your arms out.
  4. Lower as far as you can, or until your body forms a straight line from fingers to heels.
  5. Return to start and repeat.

TRX hip drop

A good alternative to a side plank, the TRX hip drop is another killer move for the core.

How to:

  1. Adjust the TRX straps to waist length and stand with your right side to the straps.
  2. Grab the handles together with both hands and position them on the top of your head, elbows bent. Put your right foot in front of your left.
  3. Keeping the tension in your arms, begin to drop your left hip toward the ground, using your core to do so.
  4. Return to start, repeat for the desired number of reps, then switch to the other side.

Kettlebell windmill

An exercise that promotes balance and mobility, the kettlebell windmill is challenging but beneficial.

How to:

  1. Hold a kettlebell with your right arm overhead. Turn your left foot slightly out.
  2. Keeping your right leg locked, push your butt back into your right leg and bend at the hip, leaning forward until you can touch the floor with your left hand.
  3. You should keep your gaze on the weight overhead at all times, while your right arm stays locked.
  4. Reverse to start and repeat on the opposite side.

Barbell landmine rotations

Hit your obliques, as well as your upper body, with a landmine rotation.

How to:

  1. Position yourself in front of a barbell in a landmine attachment. Grab the end of the barbell with both hands overlapping.
  2. Keeping your arms extended, move the barbell to your right hip, twisting your torso to meet it.
  3. Bend your knees slightly and rotate your trunk, bringing the barbell up and over to the left hip.
  4. Keep your arms straight throughout the movement, and allow a pivot in your foot to make the movement fluid.

The key to any ab exercise is to truly engage your core — think of the muscle-mind connection.

Slow down to ensure you’re working the muscles effectively.

If you feel anything painful — particularly in your lower back — stop and reassess to prevent injury.

Standing core exercises can be an effective tool in strengthening and defining your abs. From beginners to advanced exercisers, there’s something for everyone.


Nicole Davis is a writer based in Madison, WI, a personal trainer, and a group fitness instructor whose goal is to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. When she’s not working out with her husband or chasing around her young daughter, she’s watching crime TV shows or making sourdough bread from scratch. Find her on Instagram for fitness tidbits, #momlife, and more.


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