If you’ve set aside some time for a 20-minute core workout, you might be thinking about all the dedicated “abs moves” you could squeeze into that routine. But if you have 20 minutes to work your core, the best bang for your exercise buck is going to be moves that work your entire body instead.
That’s because when you perform compound exercises—movements that work multiple muscle groups across more than one joint—your core has to remain stable so the muscles you’re intending to work can actually do what they need to do, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, C.P.T., owner of Strong with Sivan, tells SELF. So while you’re hitting your other muscle groups, your core is also working, too.
Think of it like this: If you want to push weight over your head, like in an overhead shoulder press, your spine is tempted to flex forward under the weight—so your core needs to fight that and fire to keep you stable, says Fagan. This is called anti-flexion, and it’s a type of anti-movement that really challenges core stability.
There are other types of anti-movement, too, including anti-rotation, where your core resists twisting, anti-extension, where you resist the hyperextension of your lower back, and anti-lateral flexion, where your core resists bending from the side.
A solid core routine should include both anti-movement moves and movement moves, says Fagan. Most traditional “abs moves” already check the movement box—think crunches, V-ups, and mountain climbers—which is why spending time on anti-movement core moves is especially important.
In this 20-minute core workout Fagan created for SELF, you’ll be doing just that: You’ll work on big, compound moves that really recruit your core to fire to keep you stable, as well as a couple dedicated abs moves to isolate your core region even more. The result? A quick, full-body workout in circuit form that’s surprisingly challenging for your core.
All you need is 20 minutes and some dumbbells to work your core—and the rest of your body, too.
What you need: An exercise mat for comfort and some dumbbells. You may want a lighter set for the reverse fly and a moderate set for the other two moves.
- Curtsy lunge
- Single-leg reverse fly
- Squat to overhead press
- Plank tap
- Complete 30 seconds (per side) of the curtsy lunge and single-leg reverse fly, 45 seconds of the push-up and squat to overhead press, and 1 minute for the plank shoulder tap. Perform in a circuit format, trying not to rest between moves. After all five moves are completed, rest for 1 to 2 minutes. Complete 3 rounds total.
Demoing the moves below are Cookie Janee (GIF 1 and 3), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; Erica Gibbons (GIF 2), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist; Rachel Denis (GIF 4), a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York State powerlifting records; and Nathalie Huerta (GIF 5), a coach at The Queer Gym in Oakland, California.
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