Even if you are enviably toned everywhere else, it is not uncommon to feel less than confident when it comes to your tummy. Blame hormones or babies or genetics. Regardless, many of us work hard for a crop-top-worthy midriff and rarely feel like we reach our goal.

To get the non-gimmicky, uncomplicated truth about how to strengthen our cores on our own, we talked to Chris Dollar at ORTHOCAROLINA PHYSICAL THERAPY. Chris is a licensed Clinical Specialist and Coordinator of Clinical Education. When I told him I expected to get a six-pack painlessly and STAT, he laughed.

“The true core muscles are muscles you can’t see in a mirror,” he reminded me. “In other words these muscles are small, deep and intimate to the spine. The ‘vanity muscles’ (ones you can see) are technically not core trunk muscles.”

Been crunching hard for months and seeing few results? This may be your culprit right here. Like putting on makeup without first washing your face, focusing on your vanity muscles before training the true core will not give you the results you want and may even set you up for injury down the road. You can’t perform outer core exercises correctly without a strong inner core.

The good news is, the “small, deep and intimate to the spine” muscles Chris talked about are easy to strengthen.

Here are Chris’ 5 Ways to Get a Strong Core within your daily routine.

  1. SIT UP. Or even better, don’t sit too much. “Sitting is a position that causes the abdomen to naturally slacken and can have the effect of making them weaken simply due to a lack of ongoing use,” Chris says. Unless one consistently sits up “like your grandmother told you to” without a back support, the abdominal muscles will not work well nor stay toned.
  2. KNEE LIFTS. Periodically stand up, keep your elbows at your side while bent to a 90 degree angle (hands facing forward) – and alternate lifting your knees to touch your hand with your knee. Keep your hands high! “This lifting of your knees has the effect of toning your abdomen by using your legs as a resistance weight,” Chris explains.

    image via Finishline blog

    image via Finishline blog

  3. WALK… at a slow pace, for 30 minutes or more. Seem wimpy? “Naturally swinging your arms has the effect of using your abdominal oblique muscles and the small stabilizing muscles of the back to rotate your trunk and tone those muscles,” Chris tells us.
  4. SIDE PLANKS. Chris says to focus on plank exercises that “are performed by moving, not holding (as is commonly done).” 
  5. BIRD DOG. You get on your hands and knees and slowly[!] lift an opposite arm and leg until both are no higher than parallel to the floor. Then slowly return the hand a knee to the floor and repeat on the other side. This exercise is usually timed for at least two minutes. 

For all of these exercises, Chris says we need to keep this in mind: “Core muscles are endurance muscles in function. They are not ‘power muscles’  so they must be exercised slowly and precisely.” In other words, it is better to do fewer exercises in a 2-5 minute span and do them correctly, then to speed clumsily through them to reach a certain count, at the cost of form.

All our thanks to Chris Dollar, life-benefactor!

CRDollar Photo

Chris Dollar, DPT, PT, OMPT Clinical Specialist III and Coordinator of Clinical Education


OrthoCarolina is one of the nation’s leading independent academic orthopedics practices serving North Carolina and the southeast since 1922. They provide comprehensive musculoskeletal care including operative and non-operative care, diagnostic imaging and rehabilitative therapy. They are widely known for musculoskeletal research and training, and their physicians have specialized expertise in foot & ankle, hip & knee, shoulder & elbow, spine sports medicine, hand, pediatric orthopedics and physical medicine and rehabilitation.

1915 Randolph Road Charlotte, NC 28209 704-323-3000

Extensive locations all over North Carolina. For a location near you, see the website here.

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