5 Basic Core Exercise Progressions

In the previous article, we covered some basic core exercises that can easily be done at the gym, in-home on a mat and as a complement to any training session.

Practicing basic fundamentals helps to limit compensatory techniques from occurring with more advanced movements.

Many basic core exercises involve being in an unloaded or simple position such as lying supine or on your back. The less loaded the spine is, the fewer variables the mind has to focus on while learning proper muscle sequencing.

Simple patterns have to be executed properly before advanced ones. Once good control in basic positions is mastered, progressing that motor pattern into more advanced positions helps to train proper core motor control for functional movements.

This then translates into training and sports performance. In this article, we discuss some progressions of the basic core moves towards challenging the central nervous system further in these positions.

Plank With Leg Raise

plank with leg raise

Assume the start position of the regular plank.

  • Forearms are on the floor; shoulder-width apart and your elbows are in line with your shoulders.
  • Your hips should also be in line with your shoulders. Avoid sagging the low back into extension.
  • Draw the belly button in, squeeze your gluteals together and raise one leg about 6 inches from the ground.
  • Avoid raising the leg too high to prevent lumbar extension and compensation.
  • Return to the start position and then complete it on the other side.

Alternate back and forth between sides. Make sure to move SLOWLY while focusing on your pelvis and spine control. Start with sets of 5 on each leg and increase the repetitions to your tolerance as long as you can demonstrate proper control.

Side Plank with Leg Raise

side plank with leg raise

Assume the side plank position.

  • Your forearm is on the floor with your elbow in line with your shoulder. Make sure to keep the top shoulder in line with the hips and ankles while ensuring you are in a straight line and not curled forward.
  • Then, draw the belly button inwards, squeeze your gluteals together and raise the top leg about 6 inches from the bottom foot. Avoid twisting or rotating your torso and focus on staying as straight as possible while raising the leg.
  • Return the leg back down and drop your body down. Reset for the next repetition.

Once the form is mastered with good control, you can progress to holding the side plank while completing continuous leg raises. Complete on both sides. Start with sets of 5 on each leg, progressing as tolerated and as long as good control is executed.

Quadruped Arm and Leg Raise Elbow to Knee

Quadruped Arm and Leg Raise Elbow to Knee

Assume the quadruped position.

  • Your wrists are directly under your shoulders; shoulder-width apart and your knees are directly under your hips.
  • Keep your back straight while avoiding extension or flexion. Balancing a half foam roll or even harder, a full foam roll, on the small of your back will really ensure that you are honest with your form.
  • Draw the belly button in, while at the same time, elevating the right arm and left leg straight out.
  • Once balanced and under control, then draw the elbow to the knee while maintaining a straight back. AVOID flexing your low back.
  • Return back out again with the arm and leg straight out and then return back down to the floor. Repeat on the other side.

Start with sets of 5 on each side. Make sure to alternate sides as well and move slowly to demonstrate control. Increase the repetitions as your technique improves.

Supine Double Knee to Straight Leg

Supine Double Knee to Straight Leg

Start by lying on your back with your knees bent.

  • While drawing the belly button in and ensuring the pelvis is level, slowly raise both feet off the ground so your hips are at 90 degrees. Ensure NO low back arching is occurring.
  • Slowly straight one leg as far out as you can go while maintaining control of the pelvis and preventing the low back from arching.
  • Focus on keeping the small of your back in contact with the floor while keeping the belly button drawn inward.
  • Return the leg back up to 90 and then repeat on the opposite side. Again, focus on moving slowly while extending each leg and maintaining the proper position of the pelvis.

Start with sets of 5 on each leg and increase as tolerated. If low back tension or discomfort occurs, avoid straightening the leg as far out. Maintain control of the pelvis first before progressing leg extension distance.

Half-Kneeling Paloff Press

Half Kneeling Paloff Press

Assume a half-kneeling position.

  • Make sure that the knee that is down on the floor is in line with your hip of the same side. The hip and knee should make a 90-degree angle.
  • Also, make sure the back foot is pointed downward to avoid using the toes for extra stability. The front leg should also make a 90-degree angle at the hip and knee.
  • Position the front foot in line with the knee and hip. If you are very unsteady in this position, then move the front foot slightly outwards to provide a wider base of support.
  • Holding a band tied from the side, position your hands at belly height with the elbows in at the sides. Slowly press the band straight out while avoiding lumbar extension.
  • Some tension may be felt in the thigh of the knee that is down. Make sure to draw the belly in and focus on using the core to stabilize instead of the quadriceps and hip flexors.

Try practicing both positions of either the front leg being closer to the wall as well as far away. Once one direction is completed, turn around and complete in the opposite direction to work the other side.

Start with repetitions of 10 while focusing on torso and pelvis position, again moving slowly.

These exercises are all progressions of the basic positions described in the first article discussing core activation training.

In review, practicing these muscle sequencing patterns on these positions will help to translate into more demanding movements such as resistance training and sports performance.

A common problem that occurs is that most individuals and athletes tend to skip these basic steps and fall into compensatory patterns to help complete more demanding tasks.

These basic movements are a good way to “check” the system to avoid injury and problems down the line.

About The Author

Michael St. George, PT, DPT (@icore_stgeorge on Instagram) is a physical therapist who works for Excel Physical Therapy and Fitness which is a private practice that is based around the greater Philadelphia region and suburbs. He is FMS, SFMA, Y Balance and Motor Control Test Certified with 8 years of experience in outpatient orthopedics and sports medicine. His training consists of experience working with physicians and surgeons from the Rothman Institute and therapists in his field specializing in various manual techniques and advanced treatment procedures.