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Your goal might be to have ripped abs, but even if it’s not, a strong core – it’s more than just your abs, FYI, and includes all the muscles attached to your pelvis and spine – stabilises your whole body, improves posture and makes all movement stronger, whether you’re at the gym or doing housework.

The problem is that most people think you can tighten and strengthen the core simply by doing loads of crunches. But, really, they only hit a certain group of muscles and you really want to get them all. Here are five exercises to fire up your belly (and beyond).

If you’re confused by any of the exercises, there are heaps of demonstrations of each on YouTube.

The plank

This is one of the most effective core exercises. Get into a push-up position, bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your forearms parallel to one another on the floor. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders and your entire body in one strong, straight line. Switch on your core and hold the position for as long as you can, aiming for a solid two minutes.

Once you’ve mastered that you can add variations: adding shoulder taps (one hand to opposite shoulder) while maintaining a straight body; raising one foot at a time without rotating your body; resting your elbows on an exercise ball.

Arm and leg raise

Position your hands and knees on the floor, with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Now, engage your core and slowly raise your right hand and left leg (at the same time) until they’re at least parallel with the floor. (Make sure you keep your eyes down so your neck is long and straight.)

You can raise your leg higher but you need to be stable and your hips and shoulders shouldn’t rotate at all. Hold at the top for five seconds, then slowly lower. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. That’s one rep. Aim for three sets of eight reps.

Stability ball roll-out

Kneel on a mat with the stability ball in front of you and within arm’s reach. Place your hands in a fist on the side of the ball closest to you. Using your core to control the movement and keeping the elbows reasonably straight, roll forward as far as possible.

Now roll back to your original position by pulling your arms back. If you have problems, just roll out as far as you can and build your strength. Using a smaller stability ball makes the exercise harder. Aim for three sets of eight reps (a rep is the combined out and in movement).

Single-leg stretch

Lie on a mat on your back. Curl your head and shoulders off the mat, bend both knees to your chest, engage the core then extend one leg while holding the other bent leg in place (opposite hand holds the knee, outside hand is placed near the ankle ¬– correct hand placement ensures the knee moves in a straight line to the chest).

Now slowly switch legs while keeping your upper body and pelvis stable. The move should be deliberate and strong. Both legs count as a single rep; again, aim for three sets of eight.

Alternating superman

Lie on your stomach on a yoga mat with your face also resting lightly on the floor. Engage the core and, as you exhale, raise one arm and the opposite leg. Stretch out as long as possible and hold at the top for five seconds.

The rest of your body should remain still and strong. Swap sides and repeat for eight repetitions and complete three sets. The advanced move is to lift both arms and legs at the same time.

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