To start with, you won’t get flat abs with any workout; that’s going to come strictly from diet. If you’re like most people, you have at least a little fat around the middle, and that makes it challenging to see any definition. Don’t believe the crap you read on Pinterest and elsewhere promising “flat abs” with an abs workout alone. You gots to lose the fat to be phat (ha!). If you’ve read my clean-eating articles you’re already ahead of the game. (if not, read up and clean up!).
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s focus on the exercise portion of the abs equation. Whether you want six-pack abs are just standout obliques and upper abs, you should focus on core strengthening, with a little supplemental resistance thrown in. However, core strengthening will build muscle too with the right program.
Core Strengthening Principles
All of us can benefit from strengthening not only the abdominal muscles but the back extensors, lumbar spine, quadratus lumborum (low back), psoas, glutes, and latissimus dorsi. Strengthening your core supports and stabilizes your spine as you rotate around in daily life and in exercise. A strong core increases your athletic performance, too, be it cycling and running faster or swimming longer.
When you stabilize your body against gravity or your own resistance, you are strengthening your core. A movement might be “small,” but if it causes you to activate your glutes or stabilizer muscles, it’s a good thing.
Will big lifts like squats and and standing overhead presses be enough to strengthen your core? Strength experts vary in their opinion. But since the majority of us sit all day and have weakened hips and low backs, I believe we could all use the strengthening that a focused abs workout provides.
The take-home? Train your core for movement and stability – that’s how our core is used. Anti-rotational, rotational, anti-flexion, offset, and power movements are most effective.
A note about crunches: Common consensus among experts is that crunches can be ineffective and unsafe. The core muscles are best trained to brace and stabilize, not to flex the spine. You’re better off avoiding the rounded back position in core exercises and most other exercises, with only a few exceptions.
The Abs Workout Experts Recommend
A good abs workout shouldn’t take more than 10 to 15 minutes. Incorporate three or four of the following exercises as supersets/tri-sets at the end of your regular workout, do them as part of a circuit, or add them between sets. You only need to do an abs workout two to three times a week at most.
I’ve gathered the favorite ab exercises of strength and fitness experts I follow below. Keep in mind you can progress many of these to keep your abs workout challenging and effective!
~ Boston based strength and conditioning coach who writes at bodybyboyle.com
- Pushups with feet elevated and hands on a Bosu
- Many TRX exercises (try the TRX inverted row)
- Landmine with a twist
- Single-leg box squat
- Single-leg Romainian deadlift
- Overhead medicine ball throw
~Highly regarded professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada and a back-pain clinician (web site)
- Side bridge
- Bird dog
- McGill-approved crunch: Lie on your back, one knee bent, and position your hands beneath your lower back for support. Do not press your back against the floor or suck in your belly button. Just gently lift your head and shoulders a little, hold for a second or two, and relax back down. Do 5 with each leg bent and work up to doing more.
~Author, founder of Cressey Performance, and highly respected strength and conditioning coach (web site)
~Two-time recipient of Personal Trainer of the Year awards (2010 IDEA & 2006 ACE), master TRX trainer, and Discovery Health Fitness expert (web site)
Try these exercises too: Farmer’s walk, single-arm cable chest press, single-arm pushup, single-arm burpee. When your core is strong and your body fat is low enough to see your abs, you can add resistance to exercises like wood chops, hanging leg raises, and reverse crunches to build more muscle definition.
This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.