7 most effective standing core exercises to try at home – not a crunch in sight

Bored of crunches? Try these standing core exercises instead.

A woman practicing standing core exercises
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to our quest for a healthy, fit body, few things have as much enduring appeal as a strong core. That said, there are a plethora of ways we can choose to train our abs - from Pilates, to Barre, to the ubiquitous crunch, it’s tricky to know what really works.

Here at Marie Claire UK, we’re always on the hunt for smart and effective ways to train our bodies for strength, flexibility and improved quality of life, so when we read that standing core exercises are not only easier than their supine counterparts, but they’re more effective too – it’s safe to say, our interest was piqued.

If (like us) you’ve assumed that standing core exercises are simply a modification when we can’t quite face another crunch – you’d be wrong. Not only are they super accessible, but standing core moves are seriously effective.

First things first though – it’s important to note that when we talk about training our core, it’s about more than just abs, as personal trainer Mandy Wong Outram explains. “The terms "core" and "abs" are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference,” she tells MC UK. “The core comprises all the muscles in the body's trunk, including your abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques and rectus abdominis) as well as your multifidus, erector spinae, diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles. On the other hand, the abs specifically refer to four muscles located between the ribs and pelvis on the front of the body: transverse abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques, and rectus abdominis.”

The real beauty of standing core workouts as opposed to lying on your front or back is that they target the whole core, rather than just the abdominal muscles – making them more effective for building a balanced and strong mid-section.

So, if you’re used to tacking a few cursory crunches onto the end of a workout (guilty), then it’s time to up your game and try a targeted, core specific workout – while we can’t spot train areas of the body, there’s no doubt that a strong core has benefits way beyond aesthetics. From better balance and posture to improved spatial awareness, the rewards will speak for themselves.

So put those mats away and get up on your feet – and while you’re at it, you might be interested to read about our favourite core exercises, a guide to the best ab workouts for women, and home core workouts, too.

7 best standing core exercises to try at home 

What are standing core exercises?

You'll be pleased to hear that they're exactly what they say on the tin - no confusing jargon here. 

According to Wong Outram, a standing core exercise is simply a “physical movement that focuses on engaging and strengthening the core muscles while standing upright.”

How do standing core exercises work?

Standing core exercises typically involve dynamic movements that target the muscles in your core including your abdominal, oblique as well as your back and pelvic floor muscles - an all-rounder, if you will. 

"By performing these exercises in a standing position, you can enhance balance, stability, and functional strength," advises Wong Outram, "while also promoting better posture by engaging the core in a weight-bearing position."

Think about a standard crunch - performed lying down, you'll be engaging your rectus abdominis - so far, so good. But to perform a standing crunch, you'll need to recruit postural muscles to keep you upright, your leg muscles (especially if you do a cheeky squat at the same time) and those all-important, tricky to target deep core muscles. 

So, the consensus is that rather than being a modification, a standing core exercise will supercharge your core - and the benefits don't end with it's efficacy, either. 

What are the benefits of standing core exercises?

If you're still not convinced, there are so many other benefits to a standing core workout. Not only will you avoid neck and shoulder strain, but you don't need any equipment or experience to start, making them highly accessible for everyone. 

"Training your abs is crucial for various reasons," explains Wong Outram. "Your abdominal muscles facilitate everyday movement such as bending, rotating, and twisting. Strengthening those muscles will improve your body’s overall stability and posture, preventing injuries when carrying out those movements."

A strong core also is also vital in preventing back pain and injury, as it will stabilise, support and protect your spine. Standing core moves, in particular, will improve your posture, enhance your balance and reduce risk of injury during activities, contributing to better functional movement in day to day activities.


7 PT-approved standing core exercises to try tonight 

Keen to give yor neck a break and give some standing core exercises a try? Here's our pick of PT-approved moves to tackle tonight, compiled alongside Mandy Wong Outram. 

1. Dumbell woodchop

What? A classic standing core move, the dumbbell woodchop requires you to move a dumbbell with control from above your shoulder to your hip. 

Why? "This is a great exercise because it engages the entire core and mimics real life movements, improving functional strength and power," says Wong Outram.

How long? Control the movement back to the starting position and repeat for 10-12 reps before switching sides.

2. Standing oblique twist

What? Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart (holding an optional weight plate, medicine ball, or dumbbell with both hands at chest level). Engage your core and slowly rotate your torso to one side, keeping your lower body stable.

Why? Target the obliques while improving rotational stability and enhancing core strength.

How long? Repeat for 10-12 reps before switching sides.

3. Standing side bend

What? With or without a dumbbell, slowly bend directly to one side at the waist, lowering the weight as far as comfortably possible while keeping your back straight and shoulders square. 

Why? Challenge your obliques and improve lateral flexibility, for a funtional move that really works. 

How long? Repeat for 10-12 reps before switching sides.

4. Pallof press with resistance band

What? Anchor a resistance band at mid-chest height. Stand perpendicular to the band's attachment point, grasp the band with both hands overlapping near your chest. Push your hands straight out in front of you while bracing through your core muscles. Hold briefly before returning to your start position.

Why? This exercise is renowned for its ability to improve core strength and stability by targeting anti-rotational muscles.

How long? Repeat for 10-12 reps before switching sides.

5. Standing bird dog

What? You'll likely recognise this move - similar to a lying bird dog, you'll focus on extending the opposite arm and leg to lengthen your whole body. 

Why? This moves targets abs, obliques, glutes, hamstrings and lower back all in one hit.

How long? Try for a total of 10 reps each side. 

6. High knees

What? The classic HIIT exercise, focus on drawing your knees up as high as you can while tilting your pelvis forward to fire up those abdominals. 

Why? Fancy a side of cardio with your core workout? This move has got all bases covered. 

How long? 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off for a total of three minutes. 

7. Standing crunch

What? Stand with your legs hip width apart, a soft bend in your knees. Hinge at the waist and pop your hands behind your head. Draw your elbows inwards to face forward. On an exhale, engage your core, round your spine, and crunch your elbows down towards your knees. On your next inhale, return back to a neutral spine.

Why? There's nothing wrong with the humble crunch - but this version is neck-friendly. 

How long? Complete two to three sets of 40 seconds on each side. 

Shop MC UK's go-to standing core workout kit now

Anna Bartter
Health Writer

Anna Bartter is a freelance journalist who writes about health, fitness and women's lifestyle for publications including Stylist, Metro and Psychologies, among others. 

She's always on a quest to find a variety of fun and functional workouts that give you the most bang for your workout buck and she's passionate about championing movement for everyone's mental and physical wellbeing.