You already know abs require losing bodyfat. But they also require a strong core, with muscles that make themselves known, and that look strong and toned. That means using great ab movements to build better strength and muscle in the core.
Today, we’re going to cut through the boring and predictable approaches to give you something more effective. We’re going to cover 10 of the best ab and core exercises that aren’t getting enough attention, that you should be using to build a stronger, more defined midsection…
The abs are there to curl your spine up, which is called spinal flexion. They squeeze the hips and ribcage together, which is why exercises like crunches and sit-ups are so played out!
We’re looking for something better, and that means training the core smarter. We’re going to look at integrating different core muscles to get the best look and performance. We’re going to expand on the normal, boring ab workouts with ideas from Gymnastic strength training, functional training, and the strength workouts of elite athletes.
You train the core by learning how it works, and then using it for the things it does! It sounds obvious, but many ab workouts are just designed to do crunches, when they’re only 1 half of flexion, which is only one of 3 planes the core moves in.
This is what guided our choice of exercises and it’s what we use to decide what makes a great ab movement:
These are key to building better core muscles, looking better, performing better, and keeping your body in great shape!
This is a fantastic exercise for building ab strength in combination with the other muscles of the core. Specifically, it’s great for training your abs and obliques together. This is a crucial pairing for both aesthetics and performance.
Aesthetically, the abs and obliques are right next to each other. They form a single unit, with the obliques providing the outer ‘frame’ of muscles, and the abs the inner definition. Strong, visible abs without obliques look weird.
Functionally, the two work together to stabilise your spine. Training them to do this job together helps keep your lower back and hips healthy. It also trains your core to become stronger for functional, everyday movement.
The lying leg raises is a great way to train your abs, combining the ab and hip flexor muscles. It also helps you develop hip flexion with straight legs, which is an important part of movement quality.
This makes you stronger, makes your abs more muscular, and helps you practice ab muscle control for other exercises.
This is a fantastic variation that expands on the benefits of the lying leg raise. It’s a slightly more challenging variation if you keep your legs straight, offering a full-range crunching motion.
The added range and focus on “curling up” is the key to this exercise. It engages the abs more effectively, even more than the leg raise. It focuses on spine flexion as well as hip flexion, which is directly controlled by the ab muscles.
Normal planks are usually too easy to build muscle mass. They’re good for performance and postural endurance, but lack the challenge needed to drive muscle growth. 8-point planks are more challenging and super easy to scale up when they get too easy.
The elongated position puts more challenge on the core muscles. This means they’re working harder – even without weight – and they’re performing the spine-stabilising task they perform. The 8-point plank offers a great muscle and performance building exercise without adding any extra weight.
This is an exercise that uses the whole core. It develops the abs, but focuses on the obliques. The key is that it also develops rotational strength, key to proper core development and spinal health.
The side plank twist can be a great way to add real challenge to you core workouts and – if you do it properly – build better abs. This will define the area around them, make them look tight and sucked in, and produce a more aesthetic core area.
This is the difference between athletes and models, and then the rest of us. The work on using the core muscles together, for their job, is a great way to get better results.
L-sit holds and knee tuck holds are a favourite of gymnasts because they build strength in the core and hips statically. They’re challenging to hold and they can be progressed or regressed easily: the straighter your legs, the harder they are!
These build immense core strength, tying the abs in with the lower back, hip flexors, and the obliques. They’re challenging quickly and they can be progressed as you get stronger – making them a staple of any good ab/core workout.
The bridge and crunch is an easy way to take the stress off your lower back and perform high-rep core work for an excellent pump. It’s like a sit-up, but you raise the bum off the floor at the end of the movement.
It also practices controlling the position of the spine and can be used to push through with resistance, too. It only needs to be a mild squeeze of the glutes and a little space off the floor, then you bring it back down into the next rep of sit-up/crunch.
This is one of the best ways to keep the core active, to maintain tension throughout, and to make sure your core and hips are well-controlled. Coordinating the two is an important carryover to other exercises, making the bridge and crunch one of the easiest and most powerful ab-building tools.
This is a normal sit-up with added plate weight. That’s already a good place to start, adding weigh to an exercise for more muscle-building stimulus.
However, the added overhead movement is a great way to keep developing the core while moving the upper body. This is important, as it prevents you from overcompensating in other muscles, putting focus on the core while also developing overhead flexibility and stability.
This is one of the most challenging bodyweight core exercises with bodyweight. It’s the hardest version of a crunch or sit-up that most people will ever do. It works the hip flexors and core, as you bring the knees and chest up, together, to a pike position.
This is a fantastic and challenging exercise that will build massive ab and hip flexor strength. It’s a popular exercise with elite CrossFitters and training gymnasts, where it offers great bang-for-your-buck in strength and muscle mass.
This is a horrible, wonderful exercise. It’s like the V-up but you’re supporting your upper body on your arms. This makes it a little easier, but it also means you can pump out tons of reps – providing one of the best overlaps between hard reps and lots of reps.
This is one of the best intermediate-advanced burner exercises for building better abs. You can work up to it with seated knee tucks, and bent-knee versions of the leg raise, until you’re ready for the real thing.
This is a fantastic exercise and one of the most devastatingly effective ways to sculpt your abs. It’ll feel tough, but it pays off almost immediately as your abs and hip flexors become stronger and more defined.
Pace is a great way to improve your workout: more time working, less time resting! Try to avoid breaks during sets, and maintain a constant work-rate. If you’re training abs for 10 minutes, most of that should be spent doing the exercise – save resting for afterwards!
Effort and intensity make the difference. Most people are lazy with their ab work and don’t take it seriously. It should be treated with the same effort and deliberate movement as any heavy lifting, sport, or anything else you do at high intensities.
Be honest with the challenge! If it’s too easy, turn it up. Equally, if you’re struggling to perform an exercise, just revert to an easier one. There’s nothing to prove – your workout just needs to make you better over time, and that comes from using a challenging exercise, but one that you can do. If it’s too hard, you’ll not get enough reps or total work, and you’ll not improve.
Getting a defined, strong, healthy core comes from good work. These 10 exercises are some of the best moves to develop your abs, as well as your whole core. This is the kind of well-rounded core development that you should be chasing: it looks great because it performs great.
Each of the movements we’ve mentioned can be regressed to make it easier, or made more complex to make it harder. This means that – no matter what level you’re at – you can get the most out of these suggestions. The better you get at the simple stuff, the easier everything else gets, and the better you look. Sculpting your abs is more than just exercise, but putting your core work into smarter, more effective exercises is a leg-up to get closer to your goal.
For more info visit theformulaic.com