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7 exercises that target the deep core (and what that actually means)

The best workouts to target your deep core (and why that's important)

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Spend enough time — or any time — on bodybuilding TikTok and Instagram, and you’ll see tons of tools and exercises focusing on the coveted six-pack abs. That part of the mid-section is visible, though a six-pack isn’t attainable for everyone. Genetics plays a role.

Besides, toning the midsection is about much more than a particular look—and even those sometimes visible ab muscles. In fitness studio classes and on apps, trainers constantly discuss the “deep core.” These crucial muscles team up to help you run faster, lift heavier, and operate better in your day-to-day life. What are the deep core muscles, and how do you target them? This information and seven bodyweight-only deep core exercises will improve your fitness and function and reduce pain risk.

What is the deep core?

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“Core” may be singular. However, numerous muscle groups comprise the core, each serving an essential purpose in strength, length, and mobility. The deep core muscles are the transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor. Here’s a quick primer on each:

  • Transverse abdominis. These are the deepest muscles in your core and are often nicknamed the “corset” muscles. A well-oiled transverse abdominis is vital to preventing back pain.
  • Multifidus. A muscle located deep within the back, the multifidus stabilizes the spine and lets you reach, bend, and stretch.
  • Diaphragm. Easier breathing is a hidden benefit of a solid, deep core. The diaphragm is set beneath the lungs and helps you take big, belly breaths.
  • Pelvic floor. Real talk: These muscles support the bladder, small intestine, and rectum, allowing you to perform the primary function of using the bathroom (and holding them until you get there).

These deep muscles combine with the rest of the core muscles — the six-pack abs (rectus abdominis), internal and external obliques, and glutes — to make up your midsection.

The importance of a solid deep core

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From helping you reach your fitness goals to helping you touch your toes, the benefits of a solid deep core are multi-layered. Let’s unpack. A well-functioning deep core helps with:

  • Stability
  • Posture, especially if you spend time sitting at a desk
  • Balance
  • Back pain
  • Form when exercising
  • Breathing
  • Bladder/rectum control
  • Back pain reduction
  • Injury prevention
  • Athletic performance and endurance

In other words, strengthening these muscles through deep core exercises helps you improve your workouts and quality of life—yes, it’s that serious.

7 deep core exercises you can do on a mat

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You can target the deep core muscles. However, doing so will take careful attention to form and a mind-body connection. The step-by-step for these seven deep core exercises will help you master both.

Deep breathing

Yes, deep breathing made this list. They call them “belly breaths” for a reason. Breathing engages the diaphragm and helps you focus on the mind-body connection that will be vital as you progress in a workout targeting the deep core.

How to do it:

  1. Sit straight and tall on a mat or pillow.
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other beneath the rib cage.
  3. Inhale deeply and slowly through the nose. Feel as the hand rises with the belly.
  4. Hold for two to three seconds.
  5. Exhale slowly through pursed lips as if you are trying to blow out 100 birthday candles, tightening the stomach muscles as you go.
  6. Repeat as desired.

Dead bug

The dead bug engages the entire core and gives the back a bonus workout.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle in a tabletop position. Your hands should be stretched straight up, and your hands and shoulders should be aligned.
  2. Inhale deeply and lower the left leg and right arm toward the mat, keeping the pelvis stable.
  3. Exhale and return to the starting position.
  4. Switch sides.
  5. Repeat.

Bird dog

Similar to the dead bug, but on all fours, a bird-dog engages the entire deep core. The hamstrings also get some work.

  1. Get in an all-fours position with hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips.
  2. Inhale, keeping the spine neutral as you extend the right arm in front of you and the left leg behind you.
  3. Hold for a breath.
  4. Lower back to start.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

Planks

A classic ab exercise, planks target each muscle in the core. Engaging the abs by drawing the belly button into the spine and continuing to breathe will enhance the deep core benefits planks provide.

  1. Get into a high plank position with palms directly under your shoulders and legs extended behind you.
  2. Hold for 30-60 seconds, keeping the spine straight and not sagging.

Hundreds

A mainstay in Pilates workouts, hundreds engage the pelvic floor and help stabilize the spine.

  1. Lie on your back in a tabletop position. Inhale.
  2. Exhale as you lift your chin and shoulders off the mat. Curl your abs and extend your arms in front of you parallel to the floor.
  3. Pump the arms slowly and in a controlled manner as you inhale for five breaths.
  4. Do the same as you exhale for five breaths.
  5. Repeat nine times.

Bridges

It may be called a glute bridge, but this move doubles as a deep core exercise that targets the pelvic floor and transversus abdominis.

  1. Lie on the mat with feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart. Inhale.
  2. Exhale as you peel your hips off the floor with control.
  3. Stop when you hit the top, squeezing the glutes. Hold for three breaths.
  4. Exhale as you lower your back to start.
  5. Repeat.

Toe taps

Similar to dead bugs, this deep core exercise engages the transverse abdominis. Are you really trying for that six-pack? The move also targets the rectus abdominis.

  1. Lie on a mat in a tabletop position with your hands by your sides on the floor. Inhale.
  2. Exhale. Slowly lower both legs to the mat, tapping the toe on the floor.
  3. Inhale. Return to start with control.
  4. Repeat.

Summary

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The deep core muscles may be invisible but play significant roles in our day-to-day functioning. The muscles include the transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor. The deep core muscles help stabilize and mobilize the spine, improve posture, assist with breathing and bladder function, reduce injury risk, and boost athletic performance — among a bevy of other benefits. Though deep core exercises are generally safe, speak with your care team before starting a workout post-injury. Some conditions, like diastasis recti, may require a more gradual approach with monitoring.

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BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on healthline.com and parents.com. In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
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