Your Ultimate 4-Week Core Strength Plan

Shana Verstegen
by Shana Verstegen
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We train our core for many reasons: great posture, less back pain, better athletic performance, tighter midsection and a myriad other valid benefits. Gain all of these benefits and more, safely and effectively with your own bodyweight during our 4-Week Core Strength Plan.  

Remember: A lot more goes into getting a tight and defined midsection than simply doing abdominal exercises. A healthy diet and plenty of sleep are both essential to creating a better athlete and a better body, so continue tracking your food and workouts on MyFitnessPal for overall health and fitness!



For maximum strength and endurance gains, hold tighter, more active planks for a shorter period of time. With the forearms on the ground and elbows directly under the shoulders, brace every muscle of your body (especially those glutes!) and hold a perfectly straight line for 10 seconds on, 2–3 seconds off. If you cannot complete a 10-second plank without the hips sagging, move your knees to the ground.  

For the weekly plank test, stop when you are no longer able to maintain maximum core tension or when body alignment suffers — there should be constant body tension and ears, shoulders, hips and ankles should be aligned. It is best to do these challenges (and all exercises!) in front of a mirror.


Plank + Arm Raises

Slide right hand out in front of your body, return, then repeat with the left hand.  Ensure there is no rotation or other movement with the plank.

Plank + Leg Raises

Slightly lift and abduct (push away from the body) your right leg, return, then repeat on the left. Ensure there is no rotation or other movement with the plank.

Plank Walks Side to Side

While on your forearms, maintain a straight and active plank while taking a “step” with the right forearm and right leg to the right, and returning with the left forearm and left leg to the left.


Dr. Stuart McGill identified three exercises (known as the “Big Three”) that focus on core strength and stability while putting a minimal load on the spine.

The McGill Curl-Up, one of the “Big Three” exercises, differs from a crunch in that there should be no movement from the lumbar spine so as to protect the discs and promote proper posture. Begin by laying flat on your back with only one knee bent. Place your hands under the small of your back to monitor movement, ensuring your back does not touch the floor. Brace the core muscles as if you were about to be punched in the stomach and lift the head and tops of the shoulders, keeping the spine in neutral. For an added challenge, lift your elbows off of the floor.


The side plank is another one of McGill’s “Big Three” exercises. Line your elbow up with your shoulder and your shoulder with your hip and heel. With a very tight and braced core, push the ground away from you, staying active in the shoulder joint. To reduce the intensity, perform this exercise as a side bridge from the knees instead of the feet.  

For the weekly side plank test, stop when you are no longer able to maintain maximum core tension or when body alignment suffers — there should be constant body tension and ears, shoulders, hips and ankles should be aligned. It is best to do these challenges (and all exercises!) in front of a mirror.


Side Plank + Leg Raises

While holding a strong, straight active plank, lift your top leg up about 6 inches and slightly back to engage the glutes. Lower and return.

Side Plank + Twist

Reach your top arm under your body while simultaneously raising hips. Return to a solid and straight plank position.


The bird dog is a co-contraction of one leg and the opposite arm in the quadruped position. Begin by posturing the spine in neutral, with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and the knees directly underneath your hips. Find a neutral spine and gently brace your core. Sweep the floor with your hand and knee after each 10-second hold.

About the Author

Shana Verstegen
Shana Verstegen

Shana is a TRX and American Council on exercise master instructor and a six-time world champion lumberjack athlete. She holds a degree in Kinesiology
- Exercise Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and is a certified personal trainer through ACE, NASM and NFPT. An energetic and personable speaker, she is also the National spokesperson for the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.


19 responses to “Your Ultimate 4-Week Core Strength Plan”

  1. Avatar April Hall says:

    While the plank instructions say to be on the forearms, the picture shows the plank on the hands with arms fully extended. The forearm plank is more difficult. For the McGill curl, the picture shows the straight leg slightly above the floor, but the instructions don’t indicate if the leg should be lifted and lowered, remain on the floor, or be held in a static position above the floor, or how many to do before switching leg positions.

  2. Avatar Caitlin Gendron says:

    I too think that core workouts are a MUST in your workout routine. For me however it was the problem of being able to hit multiple muscle groups at once. I love cardio so of course I’m obsessed with the treadmill. The BEST product I bought was TreadFitt because I was able to do cardio and core/arms!

  3. Avatar Ronnie Harrison says:

    Too tattoos look awful! Whatever possesses people to damage their bodies that their mothers and God gave them? Does the media choose these people covered in ink intentionally to promote this stupidity as being ok?

    • Avatar Melinda Strain says:

      Tattoos have nothing to do with getting fit. The fact that it bothers you enough that you just HAD to comment that makes you even more stupid. Get over yourself.

      • Avatar Ronnie Harrison says:

        Quite right, tattoos have nothing to do with getting fit. On a page about health it hardly seems appropriate to use a person to help illustrate it with no self respect for their own. Judging by the unwarranted insult I would hazard a guess you are a typical liberal millennial covered in them. Good for you.

        • Avatar Melinda Strain says:

          Unwarranted insult? And its ok for you to insult people with tattoos? Im sorry but tattoos have been around longer than millennials, and liberals aren’t the only people with tattoos. I am most definitely not either, and again you’re an ass for assuming. Here’s an idea, and I realize this might be a stretch, but if you don’t like tattoos, don’t look, and if you don’t like articles with tattooed models, keep scrolling you small minded jackass.

          • Avatar Ronnie Harrison says:

            Well it was just a guess based on experience. I am allowed my personal opinions just as much as you, believe it or not, and no I don’t like tattoos or what they symbolize or the risks to a person’s health when they have them and over the long term, and yes tattoos have been going a long time and were popular in the 50’s for a brief time before their resurgence in the past decade or so. Far from enhancing a person’s appearance they degrade it and turn them into little more than a billboard. My motives are entirely to dissuade others from this folly. So far I’m an ass, a jackass and stupid, you have quite the opinion of yourself don’t you? Says it all.

          • Avatar Melinda Strain says:

            Oh yes, it definitely says it all. Oh, and yes tattoos symbolize alot. We sacrifice kittens and chant to the devil. Horrible people.

          • Avatar DeeDee Biegel says:

            Really! The both of you! Ignoring is the best strategy, then no one gets the goat!
            THANK YOU!

          • Avatar Regina Ann Vanscoder says:

            I haven’t sacrificed any kittens lately. Damn. I should step up my responsibilities as a multiply tattoo bearer. I’m a disgrace to the ink!

          • Avatar Toni Natoli says:

            Not the venue for your side conversations. On topic, please.

        • Avatar Regina Ann Vanscoder says:

          BTW Ronnie, I’m slightly covererd in them… arms from shoulder to elbow are graced with floral designs, tat on side of both calves, and matching sister tats with my sister on my foot and upper shoulder blade… I have a ton of respect for myself actually. And I am FAR from a typical liberal millennial. I’m not typical. I’m not liberal. And I’m not a millennial. My tattoos do not damage my body nor do they mean I am stupid. I cover them for work or for functions I feel they would be respectful to cover, other than that they are an expression of myself.

          • Avatar Ronnie Harrison says:

            I have no wish to insult anyone who has tattoos, my own father has many he got in the army during the fifties. You have assumed it was meant as an insult rather than a personal opinion. Yet in typical liberal fashion you have directly insulted me several times, I say in liberal fashion because that is the usual reaction of your typical liberal to anything they don’t like rather than be reasonable. I guess I should not be so general in my opinions when they may offend anyone. The trouble is these days there is always someone who is offended, should I then not have any personal views to voice at all? Is that not the end of free speech? Simply put, I think tattoos are ugly and I am entitled to that view. When people grow to old age there are two things ALL regret, not learning the piano when they had the chance and having tattoos.

          • Avatar Ross Cameron says:

            Ronnie, Ronnie, Ronnie. Please re-read your initial post. You did not post an “opinion” – your post was, by and large, a statement of personal judgement and insult. “Stupidity” is not an opinion. It is a judgement. And an insult. Melinda’s response was much the same but a bit less subtle than yours. For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion on the tattoo subject: one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Please respect others’ opinions and stop being judgemental.

    • Avatar Toni Natoli says:

      Judge much? Snarcasm has many fields of discontent on the interwebs to run free. If that’s your happy place, go there. This site tends toward the positive, focused, goal oriented chat. Dude, check yerself.

  4. Avatar Nicholas Stephens says:

    considering this is from the MFP blog, they really should integrate with their own app; none of these exercises are in the app

    • Avatar Herta VonBehren-Jesse says:

      I highly agree with you on this statement. There is no way to import the recipes from the MFP blog and I find it ridiculous that this is given and then we cannot import it to our rs on MFP.

  5. Avatar hayboo82 says:

    This discussion is not what i expected LOL. Maybe everyone needs to take a week off and eat some pastries. Take the edge off. Fyi My daughter has several tattoos and is a biologist with advance degrees working @ Johns Hopkins Hospital. She is a lovely lady, not a millennial but is very much a liberal (if by liberal you mean someone who cares for the environment, cares about equal opportunity for all races and genders, cares about a woman’s. right to have access to proper medical care etc. etc. ., LOL no need to reply with snarky comments on being liberal. FYI I think these instructions look great and plan to start slow and build up. Thanks for the post Shana!

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