A simple plan to strengthen your core

Core strength, though it has been a hot term in the fitness industry for more than a decade, has unfortunately become synonymous with six-pack abs. Those are nice, but the core doesn’t stop where your shirt hem ends. In fact, for women, the core pretty much starts there.

As a woman, you generate the lion’s share of your strength and stability from your hips. And though women do have powerful legs, we tend to have relatively poor core strength by comparison, which can set us up for a world of hurt in places such as the soccer field or basketball court.

These key moves from the PEP plan (prevent injury and enhance performance) will help keep your core and steering wheel stable and strong. For optimal results do two sets of each exercise three days a week.


Walking lunge

(1 minute or 3 sets of 10 reps)

Strengthens the glutes and quads muscles and improves balance and stability

How to: Take a giant step forward and lunge forward, leading with your right leg. Drop the back knee straight down, keeping your front knee over your ankle (you should be able to see your toes). Push off with your right leg and lunge forward with your left leg, repeating the move. Control the motion and try to prevent your front knee from caving inward.

Make it harder: Hold dumbbells.


Single toe raise

(1 minute or 2 sets of 30 reps)

Strengthens the calf muscle, improves glute strength, and increases balance

How to: Stand up with your hands on your hips. Bend the left knee up and contract your right glute and tighten your abs to maintain your balance. Slowly rise up on your right toes while keeping your balance. You may hold your arms out parallel to the floor to help stabilize. Slowly lower to the ground for a full set and switch to the other side.

Make it harder: Hold dumbbells.


Bridge with alternating hip flexion

(15 reps per side)

Strengthens the outer hip muscles and glutes

How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Raise your butt up off the ground and squeeze. Lift your right foot off the ground and make sure that your right hip does not dip down. Lower your right foot and repeat the move on the left side for a full set.

Make it harder: Perform a full set per side rather than alternating.


Plank with knee dips

(10 dips per side)

Strengthens the abdominals, shoulders, hips, and glutes

How to: Get into a pushup position, extending your arms so your hands are on the floor directly beneath your shoulders and your legs are straight with your weight on the balls of your feet. Keep your abs taut and your body in a straight line. Pull your abs in and slowly drop and tap the floor with your left knee. Straighten your left leg and repeat the move with the right knee. Return to a straight plank position for a full set.

Make it harder: Perform the same move with your elbows bent and upper body propped on your forearms.


Side plank

(Hold for 20 to 30 seconds per side.)

Strengthens the abdominals, obliques, and shoulders

How to: Lie on your right side with your legs extended and feet and hips stacked. Prop your upper body up on your right elbow and forearm. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Hold this position. Flip around so that you’re lying on your left side and repeat. For a beginner modification bend your knees and keep your lower legs on the ground.

Make it harder: Add a twist. Bend your top (nonsupporting) arm and put that hand behind your head, elbow pointed toward the ceiling. Keeping hips stacked, slowly rotate your torso, bringing your elbow toward the floor. Rotate to start. Repeat for a set of 6 to 8 reps. Then switch sides.


This story original appeared on Rodale Wellness.