As we get older, things we take for granted, like getting up from the floor or lifting heavy bags of groceries, can become more challenging. The term functional fitness refers to exercises that support your daily activities by activating and strengthening the muscles used to perform them. In addition to strength, it focuses on balance, flexibility, and range of motion. These are all things that can suffer as we age due to loss of muscle mass and bone density.
That loss of strength and mobility can result in poor posture and a higher risk of injury. Before you know it, you’ve thrown your back out by bending over to tie your shoelace. To avoid this, up your strength training game, throw in some yoga or pilates, watch your diet, and above all, work your core with the standing core exercises below!
What really is the “core,” and how will these standing core exercises help?
Almost every movement you make, like walking or standing from a seated position, relies on core strength to prevent injury. No, we aren’t talking about just your abdominals. While abs tend to get the most attention, your core is actually made up of all the muscles that attach to your spine and pelvis. These muscles work together to stabilize and protect your body and are necessary for not only balance but overall stronger movements both in and out of the gym. Some of the muscles run horizontally, while others run vertically, and some, like the obliques, extend in a diagonal direction. Together they form a stabilization system that, when strong, supports your every move.
There’s no argument that sit-ups and crunches work the abs, and planks are a must for working the entire core. But if you want to shake things up a little, it’s time to get on your feet. Standing core exercises engage more muscles simultaneously, forcing you to activate them in a way that floor exercises alone do not. Plus, there is less strain on your neck and hip flexors when you aren’t lying on your back.
Try adding these five standing core exercises to your workout routine. Perfect for tacking on to the end of your strength training days, or for a core-focused day, perform 2-3 sets of each.
1. Weighted Side Bend
Great for lengthening and strengthening, perform this move by standing with your feet hip-width apart and holding a dumbbell in your right hand. With your opposite hand on your hip (or behind your head if you are more advanced), gently lean to the right side, keeping the dumbbell close to your leg like you are painting a stripe down the side of your leggings. Keeping your hips facing forward, engage your obliques to return to center. Perform 30 seconds on one side and 30 seconds on the other.
2. Weighted Wood Chopper
One of the most effective standing core exercises for targeting the obliques, the wood chopper is performed by standing with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and holding one dumbbell horizontally at your chest. Bend your knees slightly and pivot your feet as you lower the weight to the outside of your right foot. Bring the weight back across your body and over your left shoulder in a reverse “chopping” motion, again pivoting your feet to follow the weight. Repeat for 30 seconds before switching to the opposite side.
3. Weighted Core Crunch
Think of this as a standing sit-up. Start with your feet hip-width apart and hold one weight horizontally overhead. Bring your right knee up and in towards your chest while bringing the weight down to meet it at the same time. Lift the weight overhead as you lower your knee to the floor. Bring the left knee in, and continue to alternate for 60 seconds, bringing the weight down to tap the knee each time.
4. Standing Straight Leg Lift
This one will test your balance in a whole new way. Stand with feet hip-width apart, and extend both arms straight in front of you, holding them perpendicular to your body. Activate your lower abs and keep them tight as you lift your leg to hip height. Keep the leg straight but the knee soft, and keep your core engaged to avoid leaning back. Alternate legs for 60 seconds.
5. Standing Bicycle Crunch
This oblique burner can torch MORE calories than the traditional floor variation, thanks to all of the additional muscles required to perform it. Begin by standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hands behind your head, and elbows in line with your shoulders. Raise your right knee as high as you can to your chest while simultaneously twisting your torso to bring the left elbow to the knee. Be careful not to pull on your neck as you draw the elbow down. Keep the work in the obliques where it belongs. Alternate sides for 60 seconds.
Changing up your routine is a good way to avoid physical plateaus and mental boredom. While it may take a little getting used to, once you master standing core work, it can be as (or in some cases more) effective than the floor variations. Try them for a few weeks, and you’ll be walking a little taller and feeling a whole lot stronger, ready to tackle all of the daily physical challenges life throws your way.
Tools for Standing Core Exercises