Whether you desire to have Janet Jackson’s sculpted six pack or Cameron Diaz’s slim waist, building strong abdominal muscles goes deeper than the traditional sit-up. Enter core strength exercises. Core strength refers to the muscles of your abdominals and back and their ability to support your spine to keep your body well-balanced and stable; crucial for preventing lower back pain and injury.

Variety is key to sticking to your fitness goals, so maximize your workout by combining the following 5 core exercises into your regimen. You will be amazed at the results!

1. Balance

Adding balance to any strength training routine will help improve your core strength.

* Try standing on one leg while doing a bicep curl. It will force you to use your core muscles to help stabilize and balance.

* Be sure to start with a lower weight until you feel comfortable balancing on one foot. Once you are able to stand on one foot without any shakes, you can then increase your weights if you so desire.

* While balancing on one foot, make sure to put even weight through the whole foot, keeping the knee soft. Focus on tightening the abdominals and then start the exercise.

* Alternate each leg with each set. 2 sets of 10, each side.

2. Medicine ball toss standing on a BOSU (A BOSU is a balance trainer (looks like a Swiss ball cut in half) that can be used with the platform side either up or down for different challenges. Check out www.fitnessdepot.ca for where to buy.)

This is a great exercise that not only incorporates the core but overall balance and coordination.

* Standing on BOSU with knees bent and abdominals tight, toss medicine ball to your partner across from you. Best to start with a lower-weighted medicine ball (most gyms have a variety to choose from ranging from 2lbs to 10lbs).

* Continue to toss back and forth for 10 repetitions. Repeat this 3 times.

* Once you are comfortable with this exercise, try adding a twist to help target the oblique muscles. Standing on BOSU, bring medicine ball up on a diagonal angle twisting your trunk but keeping hips forward and knees bent. Toss to partner across from you standing sideways. Repeat 10 times and then switch sides.3. Swiss ball push ups

This exercise is one of the best ways to improve core and upper body strength.

* Place your shins on the Swiss ball (feet is more difficult) and hold yourself in a push up position maintaining a strong core. Just holding this position will force you to use your core muscles.

* Be sure to tighten the abdominals so you don’t drop your waist.

* Hold this position and then roll the Swiss ball in towards you by bending your knees towards your chest. But, keep the movement smooth!

* Extend your legs back to start position. Repeat 2 sets of 10 reps. Really want to work it? Try adding a pushup in between each repetition to progress the exercise.

4. Seated Twist with Medicine ball

* Sit on the floor with upper body leaning back in approximately a 45-degree angle.

* While keeping shoulder blades back and abdominals tight hold medicine ball with elbows bent on either side of your waist. Rotate your body side-to-side pausing briefly in the middle each time. You can progress this exercise by lifting one or two feet off the floor.

5. Cardiovascular exercise
Add cardio to your core workout for even greater results.

*Try lateral hops over the BOSU: Place one foot on the BOSU in the centre (dome-side facing up). Keep knees bent into a squat position and hop over the BOSU laterally by pushing through your foot that is stable on the floor.

* Transfer your weight from side to side alternating the foot that is placed on the BOSU.

* Begin by doing a 30-second interval and repeat it 3 times.

* Remind yourself to keep your abdominals tight. The lower your squat when you jump the more your legs will work! This will not only challenge your cardiovascular system but will improve stabilization, balance and core strength.

Tina Ceroni is an Oakville-based certified personal trainer with a background in Kinesiology and rehab as well as formally trained in the essential and advanced mat intensive program from Stott Pilates. She is the owner of her own fitness consulting firm Personal FIT. For more, please contact: [email protected]