According to Henderson, getting a strong core and lower body is about more than simply getting washboard abs and a perky butt. “All of the muscles from your knees to your armpits on the front, back and sides of the body form your core,” says Henderson. “A strong core lowers risk of injury to your knees, hips, and lower back.” For each of the following six moves, Henderson recommends working up to two or three sets of 15 reps per move — but, as you get stronger, you may find that you can increase your number of reps to 20 or 25 per set.
Check out our painless routine for getting strong, sexy, and seriously fit. Who wears short shorts? You will — trust.
The Reverse Lunge
Before you start your workout, Henderson recommends warming up by jogging in place or doing jumping jacks until you feel your heart rate raise. Ready? Okay!
First stop: legs — hello, shapely gams! Starting with feet together, back straight, and abs contracted, take a large step back.
Theory 38 Luv Spike Lime Bra, $65, available at Theorystores; Theory 38 Soak Athletic Lime Jacket, $125, available at Theory stores; adidas Ultimate Three-Quarter Tights, $50, available at adidas; New BalanceMinimus 20v3 Training Sneakers, $99.99, available at New Balance.
Slowly lower into a lunge. Hold for a count, then bring your foot to the front, to starting position. During this exercise, be sure to watch your technique, says Henderson. “The number-one landmark to be wary of is your knee in relationship to your ankle. Keep the knee aligned directly over the ankle while performing squats, and the same for your front leg. If your knee goes past your shoe strings or blocks you from seeing your big toe, it’s gone too far.”
Continue to lunge, alternating legs, until you’ve reached fifteen reps. Rest, and then do one or two more sets of fifteen, depending on your strength level — you’ll end up with tight quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
The Ballet Squat
Next move: the ballet squat. Start with your feet wider than shoulder width apart, as shown. (You’ll look similar to a ballerina in second position.) You can bring your arms in front of you for balance. Straighten your back up, and contract abs.
H&M Sport Zip Up, $29.99, available at H&M stores; Old Navy Active Bra, $16.50, available at Old Navy; NikeIcon Mesh 3.5 Women’s Training Shorts, $23.97, available at Nike; New Balance Minimus 10v2 Road Sneakers, $109.99, available at New Balance.
Slowly lower into a low squat position. The lower the better, as long as you make sure that you keep proper form — as in, back straight and abs contracted. Henderson says, “Keep the ribs directly over the hips so the butt doesn’t poke out — no Donald Duck!”
To make the move slightly more challenging, raise onto your tiptoes once you are in the squat, for a modified calf raise. Multitasking? Why not!
Hold for a beat, then lower heels, and raise up to starting position. Continue to squat for fifteen reps, rest, and repeat for one or two more sets.
Reclined Leg Circles
It’s booty time! To begin this move, lie down on your side, supporting yourself on one elbow, with the other hand on the ground in front of you for support. Next, lift your top leg up a few inches into the air.
Keeping your leg muscles tight and contracted (you’ll start to feel that burn in the glute area), bring your leg back a few inches behind you.
Continue in your circle, lifting the leg up, a few feet from the ground.
Bring your leg about a foot in front of you, being mindful of your form. “Be sure to stabilize the spine and lower back,” Henderson says. “This will help isolate the glutes.”
Complete the circle by returning to your starting position. Try not to lower your leg all the way down to touch your other foot, in order to get the most out of the exercise. Says Henderson: “It’s going to burn, but you’re going to need to push past the burn to get real results. Most people quit as soon as they feel the discomfort — but this when the exercise is just starting to work.”
Repeat the leg circles for fifteen reps, rest, then continue with two more sets.
The Kick Back
The next move to boost those glutes: the kick back. Start on your hands and knees with your back straight and abs contracted (sensing a theme here?). Bring your left leg forward toward your chest, as shown — the farther forward, the better.
UA Victory Pinney, $22.99, available at Under Armour;UA Seamless Advantage Bra, $39.99, available at Under Armour; Nike Icon Print Woven 2-in-1 Women’s Training Shorts, $45, available at Nike; New Balance Women’s 890v3, $109.99, available at New Balance.
Keeping your back straight the whole time, kick your leg straight back. Be careful not to lift the leg too high, as this will cause your back to curve.
Continue with the same leg, bringing your knee forward to your chest, and back out again. Complete 15 times, then switch to the other leg. Repeat with two more sets on each leg.
Bam! When did your caboose get so high and mighty?
The Bicycle Crunch
Next up: ab time. To start the bicycle crunch, start by lying on your back. Bend your knees and bring your legs up, so that your legs form a ninety-degree angle. Support your neck with your hands, and suck in your abs so that your lower back is flush with the floor. According to Henderson, this will avoid causing any hypertension in the lower back.
Twist your body to the left side, bringing your right elbow and left knee together. Hold for a beat.
Twist to the opposite side, hold for a beat, and continue to crunch, alternating sides. This all-in-one-move (see? More multitasking!) will work your obliques on both sides, in addition to your abdominal rectus muscles.
A word to the wise, says Henderson: Don’t pull your chin into your chest, as this could strain your neck muscles. Try to keep your neck and shoulders as relaxed as possible, and focus on isolating your ab muscles as you move.
The Leg Raise
Okay, we saved the hardest move for last, but at this point, we promise that you’ll be warmed up and ready to kick ass (er, abs)!
To begin, start in a reclined position with your hands under your buttocks, palms down. This will help stabilize your movements. If you have particularly tight neck or shoulder muscles, Henderson says that you can support your neck with your hands.
Crunch forward so that your abs are contracted and your head is slightly lifted off the ground. Keeping legs straight and toes pointed, lift both legs a couple of inches of the ground. Next, lift your right leg straight up into the air, so that your leg is at a ninety-degree angle to the ground.
Keeping leg muscles contracted, switch legs. Continue alternating your leg raises. Feelin’ that burn yet?
Continue alternating sides until you’ve completed 15 reps of the exercise. Rest, then aim for two more sets of 15.
And look at that — you’re done! Once you’ve completed all six exercises, Henderson recommends cooling down with a bit of light jogging, followed by stretching, which will cut down on the amount of soreness you’ll feel afterwards.
But hey, no pain, no gain, right? We promise that this will be the good kind of burn. Now, go strut your stuff in that thigh-grazing dress.
Photographed by Ben Ritter
Styled by Willow Lindley,
Modeled by Sabrina at Fenton Moon NY
Click HERE to read more from Refinery29.