Are you on a mission to find a killer workout for your abs? There’s a fair bit of confusion about what is really best when it comes to creating defined abdominal muscles. Of the millions of exercises out there, crunches are the familiar go-to for most. But are crunches the best exercise for getting a six-pack? More importantly, are crunches the best exercise for core strength?
We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but crunches alone won’t cut it.
The common crunch will activate your rectus abdominis, the long, close-to-the-surface core muscle which runs from your ribcage to your pubic bone. This is the section people are often referring to when looking for a workout to give them visible abs.
But your abs actually incorporate three layers of muscle: the deepest layer is the stabilizing transversus abdominis. On top is the rectus abdominis, which forms that famous six-pack. Your internal and external oblique muscles sit on either side, which help you to twist and turn.
Your core is even more complex and includes all the muscles in your torso – from your pelvic floor to your diaphragm. Along with your back, hamstrings and glutes, the core also makes up an integral part of your posterior chain – the complex group of muscles that connect your upper and lower body.
The benefits of a strong core are wide-ranging. Strengthening your core can improve movement, power, balance and stability, thereby improving your performance in workouts and sports. A strong core can even help relieve and prevent back pain, which makes it particularly important if you work a desk job or simply want to keep moving well throughout your life.
Just like any other muscle group, in order for your defined abs to shine through you will need to reduce the layer of fat that covers them. So as you begin your abs-sculpting journey, remember that a lot of your work must also be done in the kitchen in order to stay lean.
So are you ready to learn how to strengthen your core? The good news is that effective ab workouts for women and ab workouts for men don’t require entirely different sets of exercises, so anyone can use the exercises below to build an epic core workout. Here are the moves you need to work your abs at home, no matter your current fitness level.
If you’re new to working your abs, these exercises are perfect for a beginner core workout. Try doing these as a circuit, performing as many reps as possible of each exercise for 30 seconds and then resting for 20 seconds before beginning the next exercise.
How to do a high plank
The plank is a classic stabilization exercise that engages all the core muscles to improve strength and posture. Like all the exercises here, planks provide a great no-equipment ab workout. Here’s how to do it:
Place hands under your shoulders and feet under your hips (you can also bring your feet closer together if that is more comfortable.)
Tuck in your butt and hips so your lower back doesn’t arch.
Engage your core.
Keep your body in a straight line and hold the plank for as long as you can.
How to do a dead bug
This move may look odd, but it’s great for stabilizing your entire core and lower back muscles. Here’s how to do it:
Lie on your back with your arms raised above you, knees up and forming a tabletop with your shins.
Engage your core.
Lower your left arm toward the floor above your head while at the same time extending your right leg.
Both your left hand and right heel should end hovering just above the floor – hold this for a count of 1, 2, 3, then return to your starting position.
Switch sides, lowering your right arm and left leg.
Continue alternating opposite limbs with controlled and smooth movements, keeping your lower back pressed firmly into the floor.
If you are struggling to keep your lower back on the ground, don’t reach so far out with your arms and legs.
How to do ankle pulses
Your abdominals and obliques will be working hard in this exercise, but it places less strain on your lower back than crunches. Here’s how to do them:
Lay on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor, arms by your side.
Raise your torso into a slight crunch position so that your head, neck and upper back are off the floor. (Remember to roll forward using your core, not your neck.)
Using your core to drive the left-right movement, reach your left hand down to tap your left ankle, then your right hand to tap your right ankle.
Your lower back should stay on the floor throughout the exercise.
Ready to level up with some more challenging moves? Try doing these exercises as a circuit, performing as many reps as possible of each exercise for 40 seconds and then resting for 20 seconds before beginning the next exercise. Complete 3 rounds.
How to do a V-sit static hold
A V-sit hold will challenge your core to maintain balance, working your rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, as well as your hip flexors. Here’s how to do it:
Sitting down, extend your legs so they are hovering off the ground and lean your torso back, forming a roughly 45-degree angle.
Hold your body in this V shape.
If you can’t hold the shape without collapsing, keep your hands on the ground behind your butt while keeping your back straight.
How to do plank hold leg raises
This takes the benefits of a plank and moves it up a notch by forcing your core to work harder to stabilize as you lift your legs. Here’s how to do it:
Take the plank position on your forearms like Luke in the video, or you can do it in the high plank position with your hands on the ground.
Engage your core then raise one leg at a time, keeping a steady tempo.
Only lift your legs as high as you can without bending through your lower back.
How to do a forward to reverse crawl
Crawling is a fundamental movement pattern that, when practiced frequently, will give your core functional and athletic mobility and power. Here’s how it’s done:
Take the all-fours position on the floor – on your toes, with your hands directly underneath your shoulders, and your back flat. (Starting in a squat position then placing your hands on the floor may help you position your body.)
Your knees should be raised off the floor, directly in line with your hips.
As you crawl forward and back, your hands and feet should remain in the same line – picture them as being on train tracks.
As you improve and increase the crawling pace, your feet and knees may push out wider than your hands to drive forward with greater speed. You will also need to hoist your butt up higher and position your feet wider for a faster reverse crawl.
If you want to smash a really hard ab workout at home, make these exercises into a circuit. Try performing as many reps as possible for 40 seconds and resting for 20 seconds before moving onto the next exercise. Complete as many rounds as you can!
How to do v-sits
V-sits call on your core to move your whole body, building explosive power. Here’s how they’re done:
Lie on your back, legs straight and arms above your head.
Using your core muscles, raise your torso and legs – reaching your hands towards your shins – until your body forms a ‘V’ shape.
Control the movement as you lower your torso/arms and legs, then raise and repeat.
Your torso, arms and legs should raise and lower at the same time.
Your legs and back should remain straight throughout the exercise.
How to do hollow-outs
Hollow-outs force you to keep a neutral spine position while your whole body moves, which is great for stabilizing through your core.
Lie on your back, legs out and arms stretched above your head.
Raise your arms and legs off the ground, engaging your core, to take a hollow hold position.
Now begin to rock back and forth – your feet should stay just above the floor when you rock your torso forward, and your arms remain off the floor when you rock back.
Your spine, neck and head should remain in a straight line/neutral position.
Don’t use your neck or arms to rock forward, remember your core should be driving the movement.
How to do plank jacks + shoulder taps
Ashley revs up the classic plank by adding a bounce that is driven by your core (not your feet!)
Take a plank position, with hands directly under your shoulders.
Use your core muscles to jump your legs out to the side in a star jump motion.
At the same time, raise one hand at a time to tap your opposite shoulder.
Keep your torso straight and hips facing the floor – they shouldn’t twist up as you lift your arms to tap.
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