The Best Core Exercises

Everyone wants a lean, sexy core. Whether you’re male or female, a defined midsection is what separates an average body from an incredible body. There’s no honor in sporting big guns and cannonball delts if you’ve got a spare tire. And what woman wants to be relegated to covering her midsection with a towel wrap at the beach?

The first, and most important, step for getting a washboard stomach is with the right diet. Replace all carbs with vegetables, take two teaspoons of Carlson fish oil at breakfast/lunch/dinner, and eat one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass (LBM = total weight – fat weight).

Once your diet is in order, then it’s time to focus on your training. You can find hundreds of crazy ab exercises (most of them do more harm than good) on YouTube, but it’s imperative that you master the plank and side plank first. Especially important is side plank endurance. Your core must have sufficient endurance strength before you progress to more esoteric ab exercises. If you skip this step you’re setting yourself up for a back injury.

Dr Stuart McGill, the world’s foremost expert on a healthy core, recommends that you be able to hold the side plank for 75 seconds on each side. In addition, you should be able to hold the plank for 90 seconds. Like all forms of training I put my clients through, the progression occurs in stages. Each stage lasts as long as it takes. Do the following two exercises, one set each day, until you reach the goal. Then move on to Stage II.


Side plank (work up to a 75-second hold)

Plank (work up to a 90-second hold)


Now that you’ve established your base of strength endurance for your core, it’s time for the next variations. For each of the following variations it’s imperative that you brace your core and do not let your hips shift or rotate one bit. This is harder than it looks when you lock your hips in place. Do the following two exercises, once each day, until you reach the goal.

Single-leg plank (work up to a 45-second hold with each leg up)

Single-arm plank (work up to a 45-second hold with each arm up)

For the Stage III exercises that build the ultimate core, check out my Body of F.I.R.E. system that’s coming soon. It’s what the incredible Ralek Gracie used to prepare for his fight last Saturday against the legendary Kazushi Sakuraba. (Ralek won, by the way). Check out Ralek’s banner at the beginning of this video for proof:

Stay focused,

14 thoughts on “The Best Core Exercises

  1. Chad

    Great advise on core training.! The progressions and time recommendations are very helpful. I recently tried some side planks and found that one side was significantly weaker than the other! I have low back pain and have found that these have been very helpful in improving things. Am looking forward to the new release..
    Thanks again

  2. Chad
    How many reps and how often (days per week) do you do these?



  3. Hey Chad,

    I do circuits when i workout, can i incorporate planks into my circuits?

    Looking forward to Body of F.I.R.E.


  4. Yes, I use plank variations in circuits quite often. If planks are your weakness, put them first. If they just need a little work, put them last in the circuit.

  5. I’m a 5’4 female and weigh 130. My goal is 115. I eat right and workout and can’t seem to get to a size 2 (I’m a 5). Is it true that eating a lot of protein can make you fat if you’re not working it off? I heard that you should only eat a lot of protein if you lift weights (which I only do light weight resistance). What should I be eating?

  6. You should be eating about 1 gram per pound of lean body mass. If you’re 130 pounds with, say, 20% body fat, that means you need about 100 grams of protein per day. That’s not excessive by any means. At that level, no protein will get converted to fat. In fact, it’ll boost your metabolism so you’ll burn off more fat. Just be sure to keep your calories in check if you’re increasing protein intake. No need to increase overall calories. Take out simple carbs and replace with protein.

  7. When replacing simple carbs with vegetables, does this include peri-workout meals? And how long should I remain on this reduced carb phase before introducing carbs back into my diet?

  8. Any suggestions on upper body workouts only? I’m trying to gain as much as possible within 4 weeks, my goal is 10lbs of lean muscle.



  9. Chad –

    Since I’m doing an iso-hold for abs, why not thow in a squat and a push-up hold too. Any suggestions?

  10. Iso holds with the squat and push-up aren’t as effective as what I described for the core. Why? Because the core is designed to be stabile and it should have plenty of endurance. Squats and push-ups should be dynamic in order to carry over into real-world activities. However, I work my fighters up to a 3 minute hold for the push-up to boost shoulder and core endurance.

  11. Hey Chad,

    Is it possible to build an athletic physique focusing mainly on core exercises?

  12. Chad,
    All I have to say is that I found one of you workouts through a trainer about 2 years ago over at T Nation. Had great success with that until I got lazy and quit all together. Then I bought the Huge in a Hurry and Muscle Revolution books from you. I have read both of them and am currently working through the Huge in a Hurry book (Last phase of the Get Strong program). All I have to say with the advice that you have offered and the knowledge that I have learned from your books. I went from 286 pounds down to 240 in almost 4 months now. Not to mention I have never felt better in my life.
    Thanks for the tips and blog here. Amazing what a little motivation can do

  13. Chad,
    I have just completed day one of ‘Get Ready’ from your book, “Huge In A Hurry” and have a question. Can I still do a set of pushups to exertion after a workout or should I just follow the plan exactly? I regularly do pushups and situps, so it is weird not to do them! Thanks for writing the book, I know it is really going to help me. I am going to be a State Police Officer, and need to be as strong as possible. I don’t usually lift and my max bench-press is starting out at 195ibs and I hope to be able to bench 350ibs within a year and a half!!! I know that is a lofty goal, but aren’t they supposed to be? I will take pictures and let you know what is happening, as I plan to be a success story!!!!!

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