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HARDCore: Simple Moves to Strengthen Your Midline.

Posted September 27, 2013 by Melissa diLeonardo in Life After Five
I recently read that September is the second most-popular time of the year to set a fitness or weight loss goal.  (The first being January with New Year’s resolutions.)  Summer is winding down and bikini season may be drawing to a close, but it is a great time to keep your waistline strong and in shape. The winter holidays will be here before you know it.

Get ready!

There is more to core training than traditional crunches or sit ups.  Successful core programming includes a variety of exercises that incorporate your abs, chest, back and shoulders. A conditioned core will not only help keep your pants fitting comfortably, but will also improve your posture and reduce back pain.

To keep things simple, I highlighted my four favorite core moves.

You can put them together for a challenging no-equipment-needed routine fit for all levels.

1.) Bicycle Crunches: When done with control and proper technique, bicycle crunches strengthen and tone your rectus abdominis (aka “six pack”), and obliques (muscles on your side body).


  • Start on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-distance apart. For more challenge, float your legs to a bent tabletop position; this will incorporate more of your hips and deep abdominal wall (transverse abdominis).
  • Place your hands behind your head and keep you elbows out in your periphery.
  • Inhale.  As you exhale, draw your navel down, and bring one elbow toward the opposite knee.
  • Keep your elbows wide!  Alternate side to side, moving with control; follow your breath.

2.) Quadruped: This exercise appears easy, but engages your deep abdominals, back, and shoulder stabilizers.  It is a key movement that will assist with core strength and better posture.


  • Begin on all fours (table pose).
  • Extend your right leg out.  Keep your hips square to the ground.
  • Extend your left arm out (thumb up to the sky).  Inhale.
  • Exhale, drawing your navel in toward your spine and bring your elbow and knee toward each other.
  • Repeat.
  • To make this more accessible, keep both hands on the ground and bring your nose to your knee, rather than your elbow.

3.) Reverse Marches: This is another move to strengthen your deep abdominal wall (transverse abdominis) and improve hip stability.  Your TVA helps keep your belly in and it is vital to train this muscle group when looking to strengthen your waistline.

Reverse Marches

  • Begin on your back with your legs bent and feet hip distance apart.
  • Place your arms out at your sides, palms up in the shape of a letter T.
  • Maintain a small curve in your lower back.  Draw your shoulders together and down toward the ground and engage your abdominals.  Inhale.
  • Exhale drawing your navel down and lifting one leg off of the ground.  Keep your knee bent and draw the thigh to a vertical position.
  • Inhale, slowly lowering your foot to the ground.
  • Exhale, lift opposite leg.
  • Repeat, alternating legs.
  • For more challenge, begin with your legs bent in a tabletop position. Work from the top down to the floor.
  • A great breakdown of this move can be found here.

4.) Plank: The options are endless with planks! You can make these more or less difficult with different variations, or work on traditional variations with longer holds.  Regardless of the style you choose, planks a great way to strengthen your abs and back.


  • Begin on all fours (table pose).
  • Walk your hands out to a modified pushup position.  Open your hips, draw your inner thighs toward one another, and pull your navel in toward your spine.
  • Press your heart away from the floor (don’t sink between the shoulders) and keep your neck neutral.
  • For a greater challenge, extend your legs and reach long through the heels of the feet.  OR, try placing your elbows on the ground, directly under the shoulders.
  • Breathe steadily and lower down gently when done.

Putting it all together: Try this quick and easy routine.

  • 30 Bicycle Crunches
  • 15 Quadruped with Right Leg
  • 30 Bicycle Crunches
  • 15 Quadruped with Left Leg
  • 20 Reverse Marches
  • 30-60 Second Plank Hold
  • 20 Reverse Marches
  • 30-60 Second Plank Hold

Strengthening your core, should not lead to back pain.  When in doubt, decrease your range of motion or reduce reps. Try the routine twice a week to feel more aligned, balanced and in shape.

Get started today!

Note: As always, consult your physician prior to starting any new fitness routine. 


About the Author

Melissa diLeonardo

Melissa is an East Coast native who has made Chicago her home! She has worked in the health and wellness field for over six years and lives to bike, hike, run, lift, and play. As a ReebokONE Brand Ambassador, Certified Personal Trainer via the American Council on Exercise, and a Registered Yoga Teacher, Melissa is down with good health. Voted “Best Personal Trainer” in the 2013 Chicago Reader’s Annual Poll and selected as a global finalist in the 2013 Life Fitness Personal Trainer to Watch Contest, Melissa instructs fitness and yoga classes throughout the north side of Chicago (spinning, boot camp, strength training). She a proud member and assistant coach at CrossFit Chicago and Master Trainer for Life Fitness Academy . Co-founder of the Chicago-based wellness collective, true-2-life.com and Program Manager for Corporate Movement at Life Fitness Corporation, you can follow her on twitter @mdsapphire. Now let's dance!