- miBenefits of Abdominal Exercise
- Get to know your Abdominal Muscles: The Anatomy of Abs
- What Determines the Visibility of Your Ab Muscles?
- 10 Ab Exercises for a Six-Pack
Achieving six-pack abs goes far beyond the dreaded exercises of crunches and sit-ups. In fact, the smart way to get six-pack abs avoids sit-ups and crunches entirely. As every proud six-pack owner will attest, achieving your goal of a rock-solid core requires far more than just repetitive crunches, twists, and sit-ups. Your abdominals are one of the most important muscle groups in your entire body and working towards chiseled abs and a sculpted torso is far more than just an excuse to wear fitted t-shirts or show off at the beach. Beyond giving you a pristine physique, having a stronger core will set you up for greater success in the gym. A strong set of core muscles can help improve your technique on exercises like the deadlift, bench press, shoulder press, and squats. Beyond that, strengthening your abs can help you recover more quickly and even reduce back pain. In a nutshell, abdominal workouts deserve just as much time and energy as any other muscle group in your body. Let’s take a look at 10 killer ab exercises that will help optimize your body’s conditioning and get you that six-pack you’ve always dreamed of.
Benefits of Abdominal Exercise
Getting noticeable abs is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to core training. There are several advantages to having a strong midsection that applies to practically everyone. Whether you’re a runner, lift weights, or are simply someone that’s seeking to get fitter, faster, and stronger, having a strong core unlocks countless benefits. Here are just a few:
Reduce or eliminate back pain: According to the Office for National Statistics, about 31 million workdays were missed in the U.K. in 2016 alone due to musculoskeletal issues, such as back pain. Treatment for those issues and the associated cost of missed workdays was estimated at £12.3 billion/year. Fortunately, the remedy is substantially less expensive. According to Canadian studies, a core-focused workout regimen can reduce back discomfort. Stationary exercises, such as lateral planks, were shown to be more effective for this purpose than either sit-ups or crunches.
Achieve new fitness goals: If your heavy lifting has plateaued, it could be due to a lack of supplementary training and a weak core. A strong midsection gives you a solid foundation for complex exercises. A strengthened core will allow you to lift heavier weights, perform more reps, generate more power through your torso, and keep your back stable. Actively working on your core strength is one of the easiest ways to reach your fitness goals and go even further.
Better posture: Simply put, core training will help you stand straight and tall. According to research published in Isokinetics and Exercise Science, male participants who completed three, hour-long pilates sessions every week for two months experienced substantial improvement in postural stability tests and exercises.
Better balance: Sports medicine specialist J. Christopher Mendler, M.D. states that "A solid core maintains your torso in a steadier position as you move, whether you're playing a sport or doing housework.” With a stronger core, you should easily notice an improvement in your balance while exercising and performing daily activities.
Improved athletic performance: Strong core muscles allow you to send more power to your limbs, allowing you to drive further, punch harder, and throw the ball with more force, improving your athletic prospects and performance.
Increased agility: Research published in the journal Kinesiology discovered that core and stability activities, such as TRX workouts (Total Resistance eXercise), and single-leg exercises, can help you become more flexible and agile.
Get to Know Your Abdominal Muscles: The Anatomy of Ab
If you want to get shredded abs, it’s important to understand a little bit about your body’s anatomy. Now, you won’t need a degree in sports science or kinesiology, but taking the time to learn about these muscles and gain some awareness of their position and function in your body will go a long way toward helping you know how to get the most out of your core training. The following key muscles found in your abdomen and lower back comprise your abdominal muscles—what we commonly refer to as the “core” or “abs.”
- External Obliques: These outer ab muscles run diagonally along your side from your lower ribs around and down towards your pelvis.
- Internal Obliques: These inner ab muscles form a thin sheet of muscle in between your external obliques and the transversus abdominis running diagonally up from the pelvis to the mid-body along your side.
- Rectus Abdominis: Forming two paired sheets of muscle, these midline muscles make it possible for you to bend forward from the ribs to the pelvis. (These are the muscles most people refer to as their “abs.” When there is strong muscle definition and only a thin layer of skin and subcutaneous fat over top, these muscles reveal themselves as the coveted “six-pack.”)
- Transversus Abdominis: The deepest abdominal muscle. The transversus abdominis wraps across the waist to support your
10 Ab Exercises for a Six-PackThis workout routine will tone every ab muscle in your body and help reveal that glorious six-pack:
|10 to 15 reps
|Slow-motion mountain climbers
|10 to 30 reps
|10 to 15 reps
|10 to 20 reps
|5 to 10 reps
|Hanging knee raise
|5 to 10 reps
- High-tension Plank
Why it’s effective: The plank is one of the most basic core workouts, yet most individuals perform it incorrectly. A high-tension plank results in fired-up abdominal muscles that help your body engage the rest of its muscles optimally. This ability to maintain tension through your core and the rest of your body becomes critical when you are running, leaping, and lifting weights.
How to do it:
- Get down on all fours and extend your legs behind you, holding yourself up on your forearms and toes. [Form a straight line from your head to your heels by raising your palms toward the sky while resting your thumbs on the ground.]
- Squeeze your glutes and quadriceps to keep your knees lifted and hips from dropping or “piking” too high. Tighten your core and push your forearms into the ground. (Your body should be perfectly “flat”—just like a wooden “plank.”)
- As you feel your body tensing and your muscles start to ”burn,” squeeze even tighter while still taking big, deep breaths. Try to avoid any movement up and down or side to side.
- To make the posture even more difficult, continue squeezing tighter while further lengthening and deepening each breath.
- Use a high-tension plank towards the end of your everyday warm-up or in between sets of compound muscle activities such as rows, presses, squats, and deadlifts.
- Warm up with 3-4 sets of 10-second holds or one 10-second hold between heavyweight exercises.
Why it’s effective: The core allows you to move your limbs while supporting your spine, an essential component of most strength-training exercises. The deadbug helps strengthen your core in a way that protects your lower back during mid-movement and prevents you from wasting energy.
How to Do It:
- Lie on your back with your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle. Raise both arms, reaching your fingertips to the sky. Contract your abdominal muscles so that your lower back lies completely flat against the floor.
- Begin by slowly extending one leg and lightly touching your heel to the floor. While your leg is extended, exhale as much as you can while maintaining full contact between your lower back and the floor.
- When you can no longer exhale, return your knee to the starting position.
- Repeat with the opposite leg. You may increase the difficulty by holding a weight in your hands or lowering the opposite arm and leg at the same time.
- Integrate variations of deadbug into your daily warm-up to fully master the technique.
- Begin each workout with 2-3 sets of four repetitions on each side.
- Bear crawl
Why it’s effective: As toddlers, crawling on all fours trained us to have stability in our shoulders and hips, and taught us how to move using our core. Crawlin can be beneficial as a workout activity, even as we get older. Bear crawls are excellent for fitness, finishing moves, and warm-ups.
How to Do It:
- Kneel on all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Hover your knees an inch or two above the ground to avoid lifting your butt too high.
- Keep your chest lifted as if pulling it away from the floor. Keep your head raised so that your gaze falls just in front of you. Begin to move forward, alternating steps between opposite arms and legs.
- Aim to glide with each step while breathing calmly. Increase the intensity by moving in different directions and at a faster, but controlled pace.
- Include bear crawls in your upper-body warm-ups.
- Two sets of 30 seconds will be sufficient to assist with torso and shoulder mobility, while 3-5 sets will improve your strength.
- The bear crawl is an excellent finishing exercise, as it is nearly impossible to do without working your core. This core component is especially noticeable when you are fatigued.
4.Slow-motion mountain climbers
Why it’s effective: Controlling your hip flexion while maintaining a balanced torso is an excellent approach to strengthening deep core musculature while also improving your runs, lifts, and leaps. Slowing down the pace of mountain climbers helps increase the intensity of your core workout.
How to Do It:
- Hold a push-up position. Tightly squeeze your glutes in order to stabilize your hips and lower back.
- Tighten your abs by pulling your belly button up and in while tensing your legs in preparation for bringing your knees to your chest.
- Slowly draw one knee toward your chest without allowing your body or hips to raise or lower, then slowly return to the original push-up posture. Repeat with the other leg.
- Each repetition should be performed at a 3:3 pace, slowly pulling your knee to your chest for three seconds, then slowly releasing it back to the push-up position for three seconds. Sync your breathing with the exercise by exhaling as you bring your knee in, then inhale as you return to the push-up position.
- In a circuit-style conditioning session, this core exercise provides an active recovery.
- Combine this exercise with a run or another fast-paced aerobic exercise to allow your heart rate to drop while actively stimulating your core.
Why it’s effective: Loaded carries are ideal for strengthening your postural integrity (strong core, straight spine), and are incredibly useful outside the gym. They are ideal for building endurance, or as an abdominal exercise that requires you to brace your core for the duration of the exercise.
How to Do It:
- Begin by preparing to pick up two kettlebells or dumbbells, as if preparing to lift a heavy briefcase with each arm. Tighten your core, bend at the knees, and hinge at the hips to support your back, straightening to standing.
- Once you've reached the top, walk steadily while resisting the temptation to rush, shrug, slump, or lean forward.
- You can perform the exercise with two weights ("farmer's” carry) or with one weight ("suitcase" carry).
When to do it:
- Perform heavy-weight carries twice a week as a finisher, or as part of your core strength routine for best results. Choose a weight heavy enough that you cannot carry it for more than a minute.
- Carry the weight for 3-5 sets, resting for 1-2 minutes between sets. You can perform lightweight carries as a quick warm-up every day you workout.
Why it’s effective: Performing exercises such as crunches and sit-ups after sitting all day can result in bad posture, tight hip flexors, and lower-back problems. However, flexion is still a crucial element of mobility, and reverse crunches provide better outcomes.
How to Do It:
- Lie flat on your back while holding onto something heavy and sturdy (such as a bench or railing) with your arms fully extended behind your head.
- Bend your knees to a 45-degree angle and place your feet flat on the ground. Push your lower back into the ground. Exhale and begin to lift your knees up and in towards your chest, curling your pelvis up off the floor.
- Your breath rate should determine the speed of the activity. Exhale as you curl up and inhale as you roll back to the starting position.
- The reverse crunch is a useful exercise for realigning your hips before a lower-body workout.
- Reverse crunches help take some of the strain off your hip flexors by strengthening your lower abs.
Why it’s effective:Hollow-body holds are great for shaping your body and building strength and endurance. They can also help you to improve your pull-up efficiency.
How to Do It:
- Lie down on your back, with arms and legs outstretched. Tighten your core, as if it were a shield, pulling your belly button up and in.
- Raise both your arms and legs off the ground. You should feel as if your shoulder blades are lifting off the ground as you create a hollow shape with your body, maintaining straight legs and tension throughout your body.
- Perform hollow-body holds when you work your back or upper body (especially when you plan to do pulling movements).
- Start your workout with 3-4 hollow-body holds for 10 seconds to activate your core.
Why it’s effective: While training, the core and glutes function in combination. The strength between these large muscle groups must be balanced in order to use either effectively. The traditional unweighted glute bridge engages your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings (the posterior chain) to hold your weight. Glute development is critical for equal strengthening of both major muscle groups.
How to Do It:
- Lie down on your back with your legs bent at a 45-degree angle and your feet flat on the floor. Brace your front core, press your hips upward, and push your knees forward.
- Hold the bridge position at the top for 1-2 seconds, squeezing your core and glutes tightly and equally.
- Slowly release from the bridge position, laying your back down on the floor sequentially from your upper back through to your lower back and glutes.
- This core exercise would be excellent in a daily warm-up, particularly on days when a lower-body workout is scheduled.
- Perform two sets of 10 to 20 repetitions.
Why it’s effective: Kneeling rollouts are simply a more difficult variation of hollow-body holds. Rollouts are an advanced approach to increasing the quality of your pull-ups.
How to Do It:
- Begin on your hands and knees while holding either an ab wheel or a barbell with plates in your hands. Lift your chest away from the floor until your upper back is slightly rounded.
- Squeeze in your core and clench your glutes. Begin lowering yourself gradually by rolling forward with whichever equipment you are using. Keep your elbows slightly bent and your shoulders down and away from your ears.
- Only roll as far forward as you can control while keeping your abs firm. (If you go too far, your hips may drop, and your lower back will take the stress from your abs.) Finally, pull yourself slowly back up to the starting position, keeping your core and glutes squeezed tightly throughout.
- Use this as a warm-up prior to pull-ups or in place of them if you're still building up your strength.
- Keep the volume low, 1-2 days per week, with 2-3 sets of five repetitions.
10.Hanging knee raise
Why it’s effective: One group of athletes with extremely strong core muscles are rock climbers. Mimicking one of the key movements rock climbers perform, hanging knee raises are an effective exercise designed to control the legs and torso and quickly strengthen your core.
How to Do It:
- Place a rolled cloth of foam pad between your knees and squeeze firmly. Using an overhand grip, suspend yourself from a bar, ensuring your feet do not touch the ground.
- Begin by slowly curling your knees up towards your chest, lifting them as high as possible. As you raise your knees, exhale completely. Then, slowly lower your legs while inhaling, controlling the action with your core.
- As an overall warm-up, perform 1-2 sets of 5-6 slow reps.
- Repeat daily for optimal results.
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