When you talk about strengthening your core, you’re probably thinking about your abs. In particular, you may be focusing on your rectus abdominus (that’s the six-pack muscle).

The rectus abdominus flexes your spine, with muscle fibers that run up and down. It’s the main mover when you’re doing crunches.

But your abdominals also include a deeper set of muscles under the rectus, including your transverse abdominus, with muscle fibers that run side to side, providing both postural stability and rotation, and the oblique muscles, which are your go-tos for side-bending and rotation.

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Core musculature also includes your hips and lower back muscles, and maintaining good muscle balance is best for function and posture.

Having a strong core means working for both strength and stability throughout the midsection of the body. When your posture is strong, you stand taller, and that improves both form and function (1).

How much resistance should you use? Because your abs are always at work supporting your body, endurance is more important than raw strength. That is, you’re better off using low-or-no resistance with a lot of reps than you are using a lot of weight at low reps.

That said, with a little bit of added stress, you can make gains in both strength and endurance a bit more efficiently. That’s why resistance bands are such a great tool.

Resistance bands provide enough stress to work your muscles harder while not asking for the brute strength needed for hand weights or machines.

Additionally, with resistance bands, you get plenty of emphasis on stability and the eccentric (muscle lengthening) contraction, giving you better postural balance with more balance on the whole core (2).

Where to purchase resistance bands

Bands can be purchased from anywhere that sells fitness equipment. Some of our favorites are the mini bands from Perform Better, which can be purchased in four packs ranging from light to very heavy, so you can have the right resistance for each exercise.

Perform Better also sells flat bands in 6-foot length, compared with 4-foot options available at many retailers. This allows for greater versatility. That said, bands are ubiquitous, and you can easily find one that works for you.

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Exercises using a mini-band

Banded bridge

Pressing into the band helps to activate the hip abductors, which are important stabilizers of the hip joint and lower back.

Suitable for: beginners and beyond

  1. With a mini band around your thighs, lie faceup on the ground, with your heels as close to the hips as comfortable, about shoulder-distance apart.
  2. Lift your hips high, keeping your shoulder blades on the ground, and gently keep the knees open.
  3. Maintain a deep scoop in the belly as you roll the spine back down.
  4. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.

Mermaid twist

This exercise works your obliques. To get the maximum benefit, aim to keep your hips still as you rotate from the waist up.

Suitable for: intermediate exercisers and beyond

  1. Sit off to the side on one hip, with your knees bent next to you, mermaid style. Anchor the mini band in your bottom hand.
  2. Hold the band near your chest with the top hand, maintain a long spine, and rotate the torso, stretching the band as you twist.
  3. Be sure to keep the effort in the midsection and not in the shoulders.
  4. Complete 2 sets of 6–8 reps on each side.

Banded dead bug

To work the core, be sure to keep the spine in a stable, neutral position throughout the movement, without arching the back.

Suitable for: intermediate exercisers and beyond

  1. Loop the mini band around one foot and hold in the opposite hand.
  2. Stabilize the hand and shoulder on the banded hand while extending the banded leg.
  3. If you’d like, you can add intensity by reaching the unbanded hand overhead.
  4. Pull in your belly to stabilize the spine as you extend and control your return to start.
  5. Complete 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Banded plank walk

To get the most out of this exercise, focus on pulling your leg forward using your abdominals for control rather than overworking the hip flexors, which can make your lower back arch.

Suitable for: advanced exercisers

  1. Assume a plank position on hands or elbows, with a band around your thighs, just above the knee.
  2. While stabilizing the core, walk your legs forward to a bear plank position, with knees floating just above the floor and back to a straight-legged plank.
  3. Be sure to engage the abdominals and alternate the lead leg for symmetry.
  4. Complete 2 sets of 8 reps, alternating the lead leg.

Mountain climbers

Be cautious not to sacrifice form when adding speed.

Suitable for: advanced exercisers

  1. With the band around the arches of both feet, find your way to a straight-arm plank, feet hip-distance apart.
  2. Alternating legs, pull one knee toward your elbows, stretching the mini band and engaging your core.
  3. Complete 2 sets of 15–20 full reps.

Controlled rollup

In this case, the band helps you on the upward part of the motion. It gives you a reverse curl on your way down, strengthening your back and abs while easing the upward motion.

Suitable for: beginners and beyond

  1. Sit on the floor and loop a resistance band around your feet, holding on with both hands.
  2. Roll your spine down to a supine position slowly, scooping your abdominals inward toward your spine.
  3. Nod your chin, and begin rolling up back to a seated position, with control. Keep your arms as straight as possible so that the work doesn’t move to the biceps.
  4. Complete 1 set of 8–10 reps.

Russian twist

As mentioned above, your obliques will benefit the most in rotation exercises if you focus on stabilizing the hips and rotating from the waist up. To protect the lower back, be sure to keep your spine long and avoid compresssing the lumbar spine.

Suitable for: beginners and beyond

  1. Sit in a V-sit position, with knees bent and heels on the floor.
  2. Loop the band around your feet and hold the ends in both hands.
  3. Stabilize your lower body while twisting the rib cage and bringing hands from hip to hip with an energetic pace. Repeat on the other side.
  4. You can make this move a little harder by floating your feet off the floor, and harder still by extending your legs.
  5. Complete 2 sets of 15 full reps.

Banded bird dog

In this exercise, focus on using your hamstrings and shoulder muscles to move the band, keeping the core engaged. It’s easy to arch your lower back, but aim to keep your spine long and strong.

Suitable for: intermediate exercisers and beyond

  1. On hands and knees, anchor one end of the band around the arch of one foot and hold it in the hand on the opposite side.
  2. Simultaneously extend the banded arm and the banded knee.
  3. Keep your spine stable and abdominals engaged and aim to move smoothly.
  4. Complete 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Banded wood chop

Do your best to rotate from the torso first before pulling the band with your hands.

Suitable for: intermediate exercisers and beyond

  1. Stand in a split stance, with forward foot anchoring one end of the band.
  2. Both hands hold the other end of the band.
  3. Rotate in the direction of the back leg, lifting the arms to stretch the band as you keep your abs tight and hips stable.
  4. Complete 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Palov press

The Palov press works your abdominals in their function as stabilizers. So in this case, you’re trying to avoid moving your torso as the resistance pulls on your body.

Suitable for: intermediate exercisers and beyond

  1. Anchor the band at shoulder height and turn 90 degrees to the side.
  2. Extend your arms and move away from the anchor, until you feel an appropriate amount of tension, and then pull the elbows back in toward your chest.
  3. Slowly extend your elbows, maintaining tension in the band throughout the movement.
  4. Try not to rotate as you press the arms out in front of you. Bend your elbows to return to the starting position.
  5. Do 2 sets of 10 reps. Be sure to do both sides.

Double leg stretch

Aim to keep your bottom rib connected to the floor and maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.

Suitable for: advanced exercisers

  1. Lie on your back with your legs in a tabletop position, bent at 90 degrees at both the hip and knee, with your feet off the ground.
  2. Wrap the middle of the band around your feet, and anchor the ends in your hands.
  3. While drawing your abs down toward the floor, extend both legs out away from your midsection, and control their return. To make this exercise more challenging, you can extend your arms overhead and lift your head and shoulders off the floor.
  4. Do 1 set of 12–15 reps.

It’s important to check for small tears in the band before every workout. Because elastic can snap, you want to prevent getting popped in the face with a breaking band. If you find little tears and nicks in your band, don’t take a chance — replace it.

Form is especially important when working with progressive resistance.

During the muscular contraction (concentric) phase, you’re likely to move in a more controlled way, but it’s easy to neglect that control during the muscle lengthening (eccentric) phase. Doing so, however, can damage both muscle and connective tissue (3).

Ensuring a slow release of tension can both increase strength and reduce the risk of injury.

Resistance bands are useful tools for workouts that you can do anytime, anywhere.

They’re compact and easy to carry, they can provide enough resistance to increase strength and endurance, and they offer enough variety to keep the workouts fun. Improving your core strength and posture was never so easy.