Core Exercises for Older Adults

Box of stretch bands

Summary: The best core exercises for older adults are part of a larger fitness program that targets all of the abdominal muscles to build a strong core that helps in everyday life.

Disclaimer: If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Well Guide contain information from peer-reviewed research, medical societies and governmental agencies; however, these articles are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Core exercises are important for everyone, regardless of age. However, not all older adults focus on these types of exercises. But they should. 

Seniors need three types of exercises to boost bone health and lower the risk of falls and injury: Weight-bearing exercises, resistance exercises and balance exercises. One component of having good balance is maintaining a strong core. A strong core can help prevent falls (Granacher, 2013). Therefore, core exercises should be part of any balance training program. That said, it is important for older adults to be mindful of the type of core exercise they are doing in order to protect their spine from injury (Granacher, 2012).

Why a strong core matters

Core muscles play a vital role in daily movement and posture. These muscles keep the trunk upright and help maintain your center of gravity. They can also contribute to preventing injuries or back pain. Regarding daily life activities, good posture is key to protecting your joints. In the case of someone with osteopenia or osteoporosis, it can protect your bones and help prevent spinal fractures. Good posture and strong abdominal muscles are also essential when performing strength training exercises to avoid injury.

As we age, it is important to work to maintain a strong core and good posture, as this will help maintain and preserve balance. Often, older adults who lack these traits assume a forward-rounded posture which can alter their center of gravity and increase their risk of falling. 

How to train core strength properly

The “core” is not just one muscle; it’s a muscle group comprised of multiple muscles that work together to provide stability for the body. A well-rounded core exercise program will target all of these muscles. There is more to the core than just the rectus abdominis, which most people refer to as the six-pack. The core also includes the obliques, transverse abdominis, multifidi, erector spinae, and pelvic floor muscles. But don’t worry about the names – just make sure you include a broad range of core exercises in your regular exercise routine to ensure that you are targeting all of them. 

Before diving into any core workout, an older adult should take caution. Classic core exercises, including sit-ups and crunches, involve a lot of rapid spinal flexion. This can cause stress on the spine, which poses risks for those with osteoporosis or osteopenia. It can also involve pulling on the neck, leading to pain or injury. If you are still determining whether or not specific core exercises are safe for you, seek a professional to learn which routine is best for your needs. 

​How to engage your core

To start, you should know how to engage or “brace” your core muscles. Core exercises are only effective if you master how to engage your core.

The best starting position to practice engaging your core is lying on your back (supine position) since it keeps the lower back neutral and supported. 

Abdominal drawing-in maneuver is a great foundational exercise for core strengthening. Start by bending your knees, so your feet are flat on the floor. Next, place your hands on your belly to feel your abdominal muscles. Gently draw your belly button towards your spine and slightly upward toward your rib cage. You should feel your abdominal muscles tighten under your hands. 

Practicing this makes for a good warm-up before getting into more complex or advanced core exercises.

8 core strengthening exercises for older adults

Core exercises can be performed lying down, standing, or sitting in a chair. The best core exercises for you are the ones that do not cause pain and do not make you feel unsafe. Chair exercises are great for people who feel unsteady on their feet.

1. Posterior pelvic tilt

The posterior pelvic tilt is a popular core exercise for older adults because it strengthens the abdominal muscles in a neutral spine. 

  • Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. 
  • Roll your pelvis so that the arch of your low back flattens into the floor and your belly button moves upward slightly towards your rib cage. 
  • Now, perform the abdominal drawing in maneuver as described above.
  • Hold this position for 1-2 seconds. 
  • Perform 10-12 repetitions.
  • Perform 2-3 sets. 
  • Breathing instructions: Inhale to prepare, exhale as you draw in the abdominal muscles and tilt the pelvis.

2. Glute bridge

The bridge is an excellent exercise for strengthening your lower body and back, but it is also a great exercise for your core. 

  • Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Your arms should be down by your sides with your palms facing down.
  • Brace your abdominal muscles first. 
  • Then slowly lift your hips toward the ceiling and squeeze your glutes. 
  • Slowly lower your hips back down to the starting position.
  • Perform 10 repetitions. Rest. Repeat for 2-3 sets. 
  • Breathing instructions: Exhale as you lift your hips. Inhale as you lower your hips back down to the starting position.

3. Plank

The plank is an excellent full-body exercise but is mainly known for working the core and back muscles. It is a static movement, so it is typically safe for all body types and injuries when performed correctly.

  • Begin on your hands and knees, with your elbows straight and hands on the floor shoulder-width apart.
  • Slowly reach your feet back one at a time, lifting off your knees and pushing up onto your hands. 
  • Your hands and toes should support your entire body. 
  • Make sure your spine is long, and your knees and elbows are straight. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds. Rest. Repeat for 3-4 sets. 
  • Work up to a 1-minute hold. 
  • Breathing instructions: Breathe normally as you hold the position.

If this movement is too difficult or causes strain on your back, try doing a plank on your knees, or with your hands on a raised surface such as countertop or back of a couch. 

4. Standing side bend

The standing side bend exercise works the oblique muscles, which allow the spine to bend laterally (to the side). Without strength in these muscles, your spine is at risk for injury with these movements.

  • Start standing with your hip-width feet apart with your shoulders stacked over your hips. 
  • While maintaining a forward-facing position, slowly lean your trunk to the side, reaching one hand down your leg.
  • Then return to an upright position. 
  • Repeat this 10-15 times on this side. Then repeat on the opposite side. 
  • Rest. Repeat for 2-3 sets. 

5. Quadruped alternate shoulder flexion 

Quadruped alternate shoulder flexion is a great exercise to enhance core strength, including abdominal and lower back muscles. 

  • Begin by getting into a hands-and-knee position on your mat. Your hands should be directly below your shoulders, and your knees should be directly below your hips. Your back should be in a neutral position.
  • Brace your abdominal muscles. 
  • Elevate one arm forward and the opposite leg backward. 
  • Then return to the starting position. 
  • Repeat with the other arm and leg.
  • Continue to alternate sides, performing 10-20 repetitions total. 
  • Rest. Repeat for 2-3 sets. 
  • Breathing instructions: Exhale as you engage your lower abdominals and elevate your arm. Inhale as you return to the starting position.

6. Standing alternate hip flexion

The standing alternate hip flexion ties together core strength and balance. This exercise engages your abdominals and hip flexors on one side while improving your ability to stay balanced on the other.

  • Start by standing tall with your feet about hip-width apart.
  • Slowly lift one knee toward the ceiling until it is hip height. 
  • Lower your leg back down to the starting position. 
  • Repeat on the opposite side.
  • Continue to alternate sides, performing 10-20 repetitions total. 
  • Rest. Repeat for 2-3 sets. 
  • Breathing instructions: Exhale as you lift your knee up. Inhale as you lower your knee back down.

7. Superman

The superman (or woman) exercise strengthens the core and back muscles involved in keeping an upright spine. This exercise is also helpful in treating lower back pain.

  • Start by lying face down. 
  • Reach both arms out in front of you with your elbow straight.
  • Slowly lift one arm and the opposite leg. 
  • Lower back down to the mat.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Continue to alternate sides, performing 10-20 repetitions total. 
  • Rest. Repeat for 2-3 sets.

8. Modified side plank

Similar to the plank, side planks are a total body exercise. Side planks bear weight through one arm and target the hip abductors and the oblique muscles. It is a great way to strengthen the spine with rotational and side-bending movements. 

  • Start by laying on one side with your elbow propping you up. 
  • Bend your knees so that your thighs are inline with your torso.
  • Lift your hips up so that you are bearing weight through your elbow and the side of your bottom knee. 
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds. Rest. Repeat for 3-4 sets. 
  • Work up to a 1-minute hold. 
  • Breathing instructions: Breathe normally as you hold the position.

Every Wellen workout incorporates core exercises for seniors that are safe, so you can feel confident with the exercises that you are doing to get stronger.

join us

Get started

Join us and experience our exercise program designed by physical therapists specifically for women with osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Already have an account? Log in here
Check mark
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
We will contact you shortly.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Explore related exercises

Abdominal Drawing in Maneuver

View exercise

Quadruped Alternate Shoulder Flexion

View exercise

Standing Alternate Hip Flexion

View exercise

Modified Side Plank

View exercise


  1. Granacher U, Gollhofer A, Hortobágyi T, Kressig RW, & Muehlbauer T. The importance of trunk muscle strength for balance, functional performance, and fall prevention in seniors: A systematic review. Sports Med. 2013;43(7):627–641. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0041-1.
  2. Granacher U, Lacroix A, Muehlbauer T, Roettger K, & Gollhofer A. Effects of core instability strength training on trunk muscle strength, spinal mobility, dynamic balance and functional mobility in older adults. Gerontology. 2012;59(2):105–113. doi:10.1159/00034152.

Explore related articles