Six easy exercises to build your core strength and give your abs a super workout

By Sebastien Raybaud

Want to take your fitness to the next level? Try these drills at home without any any need for an expensive gym membership

By Sebastien Raybaud |

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All body strength comes from the same area – your abdominal muscles (abs) and core. Working on your core is essential as you increase your overall power in body weight exercises.

Each week, we’ll guide you through a series of exercises that target a particular area of the body. This week’s exercises target your core.

You don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment to do these exercises. However, it’s a good idea to invest in a skipping rope (usually around HK$150) and two resistance bands – one for warming up and one to aid you with certain strength exercises (also about HK$150 each). These are great for starting or finishing your workout.

You can practise these exercises at home or in a park. Kowloon Tsai Park, Victoria Park, Ma On Shan Park, and Tin Sau Road Park in Yuen Long all have spaces for working out.

Make sure that you’re in good physical health before you attempt any of these moves. If you’re unsure, consult a doctor, trainer or other specialist.



Always take five to 10 minutes at the start of your workout to warm up. You should get the blood flowing to all of your muscles so you don’t suffer any injury later. A quick run or some skipping will do the trick. Begin slowly and never strain yourself.

Reps and sets

Personal trainer Calvin Au Yeung suggests that beginners aim for three sets of six to eight repetitions. More advanced athletes should aim for 10 to 12 repetitions and four to six sets. Apart from doing reps and sets, you can vary your workout by using time under tension – holding part of the exercise for a few seconds at the top or bottom.

Personal trainer Calvin Au Yeung reminds beginners to start off slowly.
Photo: Sebastien Raybaud/SCMP

Core/abs exercises

Having a strong core doesn’t mean you have a six-pack; the core is the whole trunk of your body, including stabilisers in your spine and all around.

If you are an athlete, try to do more dynamic core exercises. When you are playing your sport, you are usually moving in certain ways, so make your training mimic your sport.

For example, many people turn to sit-ups to engage their core, but a simple barbell squat works the same muscles, and is closer to the movements in many sports than a sit-up.

However, if you just want to improve your core for daily living – and as we’re focusing on body weight exercises – try “pike and saw” movements, hanging knee or leg raises, and V sit-ups. Try three or four sets with 20 reps per set and 45-90 seconds rest in between. You can mix and match any exercises you like – but make sure you choose exercises that target upper, lower and side abs. As a beginner, aim for 60 to 80 repetitions in total, going up to 200 or more for advanced.

Pike and saw – find a bench in the park or use your bed for an elevated platform. Hold yourself in a plank position with your feet back from the edge of the bench. Push your arms straight and drag your feet forward to raise your body into an inverted V shape. This is very tough!

Hanging knee raises/leg raises – suspend yourself from a bar, straighten your body and then raise your knees towards your chest. This targets your upper abs. If you are more advanced, straighten your legs and lift them up and outwards in an L shape to fully engage your entire core. If you don’t have a bar, you can do this on the ground.

V sit-ups – lie facing up, with your arms over your head, touching the ground. Keep your arms straight, and raise your legs and upper body in a V shape until your hands and feet meet.

Flutterkicks – lie facing up, raise your legs about 20cm off the ground, then move your legs up and down continuously.

Raised leg circles – lying on the ground, raise your legs and then move them in slow, small circles. As you become more confident, make bigger circles.

Oblique ankle touches – this strengthens your oblique muscles – the ones down the sides of your torso which help with your posture. Lie on your back with feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Start a sit-up and hold the position, then reach your right hand to your right ankle. Return to the starting position, then repeat on the left.

Edited Pete Spurrier

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