Slip one of these, small or large, under the small of your back when performing crunches and a host of other core moves. Regular crunches only get you so far; adding in a balance ball forces the muscles to work extra hard and gives you better results in a shorter amount of time. In the basic exercise, lean back on the ball, put your hands behind your head and perform a crunch. If you find that difficult or want to start out slow, begin by simply balancing on the ball. Try sitting on it and lifting up your feet, one at a time. This forces your core to stabilize your body, engaging all the right muscles.
If you want to strengthen your back, perform supine bridges by sitting on a large ball with your feet hip width apart on the floor at 90 degree angles. Slowly roll out so that your shoulder blades sit on the ball and pelvis is in the air. Dip it down, and then lift it back up. An excellent, challenging move is to place a small ball under your feet while lying on your back on a mat. Keep your knees bent, arms at your sides. Lift up into a bridge, raising your pelvis as high as you can. The ball forces you to find both balance and strength in your core.
No other workout routine focuses so intensely on the core. Make it an everyday part of your routine to get a stronger core within days. A great way to keep the core in shape is to perform the series of five each day. Begin with a stretch and warm up, then lie on your back on a yoga mat or thick rug. Pull your legs up to table top position, grasp your right knee with your right hand and your right ankle with your left hand, and extend the left leg out to a 45 degree angle. Lift your head and neck off the mat and pull the right leg in twice, then switch legs. Perform 10 times with each leg.
Next, pull both knees in and hug with your arms, head and shoulders still off the mat. Breathe out as your extend both legs and arms away at a 45 degree angle, hold for one second, then swoop back in. Repeat five times.
Raise both legs straight up and grasp the right leg behind the calf and drop the left leg to a 45 degree angle. Keeping both legs straight, scissor them back and forth, pulling the top leg in for a two count. Repeat 10 times.
Then, keeping the legs straight up, drop your head and neck for a breath to relax, and then lift up again. Put your hands behind your head and lower your legs down for a count of three, then pull back up. Breathe out as you lower. Finally, keep your hands behind your head and pull your knees into tabletop position. Extend the left leg out as you rotate your left elbow to your right knee and breathe out. Return to center, breath in, and extend the right leg and rotate to the left. Repeat five times slow, then five times fast.
A simpler movement that also stretches the body is the Saw. Sit with legs extended in a V and arms outstretched. Sit up tall, breathe in, rotate to your right and bend over as your breathe out. Your left pinky should cut across the outside of your right foot. Press your right hand up behind you, rotating the palm up to work the triceps. Breathe in and return to center, repeating on the left side.
Another move from Pilates, this intense exercise requires little to no movement, yet engages your upper body and core muscles. Begin on your stomach with your forearms on the ground and elbows underneath your shoulders. Lift up your body into a straight line, using just your toes and arms to support you. Suck in the stomach and engage the core, tightening the area like you are wearing a corset. Hold for 30 seconds, eventually building up to three minutes as you become stronger.
If you find the position too difficult at first, start on your knees and keep your upper body straight. To make it more difficult, extend one leg or arm out, or an opposite arm and leg at the same time. Lifting up onto your hands into a pushup position also works the core in the same manner.