How to build core strength + the best core exercises for walking

A strong core helps you maintain good walking posture, keeps your body strong and helps avoid injury, and lets you do more in your daily life. Walking is an awesome way to improve your overall fitness, boost your metabolism and burn some calories. Your daily walk can also be a chance to improve your core strength, and there are core exercises you can do at home that can build on your walking workouts.

This article will cover:

  • The importance of a strong core
  • What core exercises can’t do
  • Some ways to incorporate a core workout into your walk
  • A simple core workout for days you can’t get out for a walk

Note: If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)!

What is Your “Core” and Why is “Core Strength” Important?

What Exactly is Your Core?

People doing ab twists at the gym
Rido / Shutterstock

The term “core” is relatively new in the fitness world, but has become a much more widely used word over the last decade. Most people think of their abdominal muscles when they think about their core, but there’s much more to it than your abs.

Dr. Brenda Higgins, in a Healthsourcechiro.com article, describes the core this way: “The core is at the center of your body, it encompasses your abs, hips, back, and chest. Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction as well as having proper balance. It helps prevents falls and supports your body.”[1]

Medically speaking, we could describe our core as all the muscles of our torso.

Why Does Core Strength Matter in General?

  • Core strength is beneficial to just about every physical activity you do!
  • It affects your balance, posture, and strength while lifting and twisting in your everyday life.
  • A strong core makes it easier to walk with better posture, which can help prevent injury.
  • Good core strength can reduce spinal strain and reduce back pain.
  • Evidence suggests that good spine health may reduce migraine headaches.
  • A lean, strong midsection looks good too.

What Core Workouts Won’t Do

Man doing plank exercise for core strength
ESB Professional / Shutterstock

It’s important to be realistic about what core workouts can and can’t do. Many people believe that they can get six-pack abs if they just do enough situps. In fact, ab definition is usually more a factor of body fat percentage than the amount of core exercise or ab exercise that people do. Just as you can’t specifically reduce belly fat by walking a certain way, ab exercises like planks and crunches don’t target belly fat. Body fat percentage, in turn, is usually more a factor of what you eat. It’s important to note that celebrities and fitness models often have all day to work out, and have trainers, chefs and other helpers to achieve their chiseled looks.

Having a strong core helps in other ways, however. Your core is extremely important for lifting and twisting in your everyday life – things like picking up your kids or grandkids or taking groceries out of the car. Your core supports your spine, and strong abs and back muscles help keep your spine in proper alignment. There’s more to your core than toned abs, and almost everyone can benefit from stronger core muscles.

How to Add Light Core Workouts to Your Walk

1. Start With Core Stretches. Try “The Cobra”

Yoga cobra position back bend

We’ve already covered how stretching before or after a walking workout can help you increase your flexibility. First, be sure to properly warm up before starting stretches. As you would for any cardio workout, take a few minutes to walk around the room, or get your body moving and blood flowing. Once you’re warmed up, you can pay to your core area and stretch these areas to limber up, warm them up, and improve your flexibility.

Quick note – if you have health problems, or especially back issues for this move, consult a doctor before trying these stretches. Always stretch slowly – you shouldn’t feel pain during stretches. If you do, stop immediately!

The Cobra

  • Lie on the floor, on your stomach, hands on the floor below your shoulders.
  • Keep your forearms close to your sides. Your elbows will be pointing up.
  • Point your toes back.
  • Press your hips into the floor.
  • Lift your head and torso, arching your spine upward until you feel the gentle stretch through your abs.
  • Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds, then lower back down.
  • Try this once or twice before your walk

Other simple core starters are smooth side bends, and big pelvic circles. You can find great resources online on various stretches and exercises. Make sure to follow the trainer’s form as perfectly as possible, and ideally get an expert to show you the move in person.

2. Engage Your Core While You Walk

Group of people power walking in a city park
goodluz / Shutterstock

During your walk, the best way to work your core is simply to engage it! Walk briskly, with a purpose, and think about tightening your abdominal wall. To start, during your walk consciously tighten your ab muscles and hold it for a few steps. Then release, and give yourself a bit of time to rest before trying again.

Try a half dozen to a dozen of these (if you’re not feeling any discomfort) during a longer walk and then see how you feel the next day. If you’re quite sore, consider dialing it back or at least not doing more repetitions until you’re used to this level. When you start feeling fine with your ab work, start to build on it. You can hold the abdominal flex for more steps, or do more reps. The choice is yours!

Here are a few other ways to engage your core as you walk:

  • Think about your back and hips as part of your core too! Consciously engage these areas for a few seconds at a time during your walk.
  • Focus on a nice, straight posture while you walk.
  • Stride from your hips, use your entire leg and hip to reach forward with each step (after you’ve stretched, of course).
  • Try power walking, and engage your ab muscles as you’re pumping your arms.

Get creative and add some twists or side-bends to your “rests”, or while waiting at intersections on your walk.

An Indoor Core Workout

Sometimes we can’t get out for a walk. Life happens! Whether you’ve got stormy weather, sick children, or an all-important phone call to wait for, sometimes you need to be in the home for a while. You can still use this time to get a solid core workout done. This is a great alternative to indoor walking when you have limited space available, but you want to do something that can benefit your walking routine. You’ll feel great knowing that you still got a valuable workout done, even if you couldn’t step out.

A great place to start is Pacer’s video-guided workouts. You’ll get a variety of exercises to try, with a video demonstration of how to do the moves properly.

You can also create your own core workout. Start with a warmup and some quality stretching, then try these core exercises:

1. The Plank

Woman doing plank exercise at home

You might already be familiar with the plank position, as it was an internet craze a few years ago. Plank position is an actual core exercise – it works your core, abs and back, and builds muscle strength and endurance.

  • Begin with your forearms and hands on the floor, elbows under your shoulders.
  • Extend your legs behind you, rest your toes on the floor.
  • Make your body as straight as possible.
  • Squeeze your entire core, your glutes, and tuck your butt in a little bit to keep your spine straight. Don’t drop your hips or go “butt high”.
  • Hold this position while you count to ten, then rest. Do up to three reps the first day, and see how sore you are tomorrow.
  • Build on this exercise by holding the position longer (count to 15, 20, 30) and by doing more reps.

Don’t feel pressure to hold a plank longer than you feel comfortable. It’s more important that you plank correctly so that you engage the right muscle groups. Trying to hold a plank for longer using bad form is likely to lead to injury, and won’t work your core effectively anyway.

2. If You Like, ad Crunches or Bicycles or Another Ab Exercise

Many people are familiar with crunches, but not everyone does them correctly. Here’s a guide from LiveStrong on how to do crunches correctly. Crunches can be a bit intense, and many people believe that the plank is more effective than crunches in targeting your abs in any case.

If you do use crunches, make sure your neck is relaxed and never pull on your neck and head to complete a crunch. Don’t jerk into crunches, but try to slowly raise and lower your body using your ab muscles. You don’t need to do full sit-ups where your elbows touch your knees. You’ll get a better ab workout with less risk of injury by doing crunches instead.

Another great variation is the “bicycle crunch.” Here’s a guide from Self.com on how to do the move correctly. You essentially assume a crunch position, and move your legs as if you were riding a bicycle. Bicycle crunches are also a rather intense move, so you’re better off waiting to try this one until you’ve got a little more experience.

3. Don’t Forget to Cool Down

Man and woman power walking for fitness
Tom Wang / Shutterstock

Don’t forget to spend a few minutes slowing down at the end of your workout. This is almost as important as stretching!

Walk around your house for a few minutes and repeat your stretches to build your step count and flexibility. Focus on deep, cleansing breaths and de-stress yourself. You’ll be so glad that you did!

Get Pacer

If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.

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