Who doesn’t want washboard abs? The holy grail of the entire fitness industry, sought by men AND WOMEN across the globe. Whether you’re just interested in sculpting the perfect beach-ready summer bod, or have serious training goals, then it’s likely you’re going to want to include a decent chunk of ab exercises as part of your regular workout routine.
Strong, functional abdominal muscles can have a number of everyday benefits as well as enhancing physical performance.
- Everyday Benefits:
- # Rotation Exercises:
- # Swiss Ball Exercises:
- # ‘Crunch’ Exercises:
1. Reduced back pain:
Developing strong abdominal muscles may help to prevent back pain. This is because your abs anchor your spine at the front, which means if they are weak, the other muscles which support your spine are forced to work harder. Guess where these muscles are? That’s right, in your middle and lower back!
Strong abdominal muscles may also help prevent an exaggerated anterior tilt in the pelvis, which can place increased strain on the discs and facet joints in the lower spine. If you already suffer from back pain, strengthening your abs may help to alleviate the discomfort. Yoga and pilates are an excellent low impact way of achieving this.
2. Improved posture:
Weak abdominal muscles can often also lead to poor posture. By helping to keep your spine properly supported, functional abs can help to improve posture and prevent against the pelvic tilting already discussed and explained in the opposite diagram.
3. Functional benefits:
The simplest day to day tasks require some kind of core strength to complete. Sitting down into and standing up out of a chair, bending down to tie your shoe laces, or lifting a shopping bag from the ground, are all actions in which your body will recruit the abdominal muscles in order to complete.
4. Enhanced performance in sport:
Pretty much all athletic pursuits involve your core in some way shape or form. Whether it be acting to stabilize your torso whilst running, rotating as you draw your club head back away from the ball in golf, or bending over to play hockey, your abs are basically in constant use. Not only are they are vital component of injury prevention, but a strong set of abdominal muscles can also help you move more efficiently and waste less energy.
# Rotation Exercises:
These exercises are all designed to hit your Obliques, which predominantly help you rotate at the trunk, and are often neglected by those seeking to build a more solid and efficient core. I normally aim for 3-4 sets of between 10 and 15 reps of each of these exercises depending on their difficulty level.
1. Barbell Russian Twist:
Grip a barbell with both hands at the end and the opposite end wedged against a 2 sizeable discs on the floor. Standing with your feet around shoulder width apart, move the bar from side to side with straight arms whilst rotating your torso and pivoting at the feet as necessary.
Try the movement just with the barbell to start and if you find it too easy, you can easily increase the intensity by adding weight to the end of the barbell which you are gripping.
2. Horizontal Cable woodchop:
Adjust the cable to around shoulder height and grip the handle with both hands. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, toes perpendicular to the anchor point of the cable. With as straight arms as possible, pull the cable across your body whilst keeping your feet stationary and rotating your upper body. Return slowly to the start position, fighting the resistance of the cable pulling you back and repeat the movement before swapping sides.
3. Medicine Ball Russian Twist:
Adopt a seated position with your feet out in front of you and knees bent to around 45 degrees (as if you are at the top of standard sit up position). Hold a medicine ball in both your hands in front of you body with straight arms and rotate your arms and upper body to the left, tapping the floor slightly with the ball on the left side of your body, before rotating back to the right and tapping the ball slightly on the floor to the right side of your body. Repeat the movement, alternating which way you rotate. The intensity of this exercise can be increased very easily by using a heavier medicine ball, or simply by raising your feet slightly off the ground.
4. High to Low Cable Woodchop:
Adjust the cable to around hip height. Adopt a lunge position perpendicular to the anchor point of the cable with your left leg forward, and the cable on your right hand side. Rotate your upper body to grip the handle with both hands over your right shoulder and pull down and across your body, keeping your arms as straight as possible. Return slowly to the start position, maintaining control at all times and fighting the resistance of the cable pulling you back. Repeat the movement for a number of repetitions before swapping sides.
5. Side Plank and Cable Row:
Lower the cable position to its bottom setting (just off the floor).Adopt a side plank position perpendicular to the cable anchor point with your chest level with the cable handle. Grip the handle with the hand of your top arm (i.e. not the one you’re resting on to perform the side plank, and pull the cable with a straight arm from in front of your chest until your hand is pointing to the sky. Return slowly to the start position and repeat the movement, before swapping sides. This is a pretty challenging exercise so start with a low resistance on the cable and see how you get on.
6. T- Rotation:
Adopt the top position of a standard push up, with both hands and both feet in contact with the ground, arms straight and lumbar spine in a neutral position (i.e hips not too high or low). Taking your right hand off the ground, rotate your body until you are side on to the ground (side plank position but with straight arm and hand in contact with the ground rather than your elbow). Return slowly to the start position and repeat the movement a number of times before swapping sides and doing the same.
7. Hanging Lateral Leg Swings:
Hanging from a pull up bar with a neutral grip, raise your legs straight out in front of you so that your feet are level with your hips. Once in this start position, rotate from left to right, trying to keep your legs as straight as possible throughout the movement. Repeat the movement for reps or a period of time.
8. Hanging Oblique Raise:
Hang from a pull up bar with a neutral grip. With bent knees (approximately 90 degrees) raise your knees towards your chest at the same time as rotating your legs to the left so that your right knee is moving towards your left armpit. Lower back down slowly to the start position and repeat the movement, alternating which side you rotate towards for each rep. It can be easy to lose control of this movement and end up swinging around all over the place. The more slowly you perform the action and the more control you have, the less swinging there will be and the longer your muscles will spend under tension.
9. Bear Crunch:
Adopt a bear crawl position with both hands and feet (your toes) in contact with the ground and your knees bent at around 90 degrees. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders, arms straight and your back should be nice and flat like a table top. Maintaining contact with the floor via your left foot and right hand, rotate your torso to the right (by opening out the right hip) whilst moving your right knee and left elbow towards each other so they meet in front of your chest. Return to the start position and rotate the other way, performing the same movements but with opposite body parts.
10. Dumbbell Side Bend:
Stand with your feet hip width apart and hold a dumbbell in one hand alongside your body with a straight arm. Lower the dumbbell along the outside of your leg towards the ground by side flexing at the hip. When you have reached the bottom of your range (depending on your mobility), return to the start position by standing tall and pulling the dumbbell back away from the ground, whilst always maintaining a straight arm. Make sure you lower the dumbbell with good control, and return to the start position with a bit more vigour. Once you have completed a number of repetitions, swap sides and repeat.
# Swiss Ball Exercises:
11. Swiss Ball Pike:
Adopt a press up position with your toes on a swiss ball as opposed to the ground. Roll the ball towards your hands at the same time as folding at the hips (pushing your bottom towards the ceiling). Slowly lower back to the start position and repeat the movement. Much like the TRX exercise already discussed, it’s very easy to allow your lumbar spine to slip into hyperextension by dropping your hips below parallel when returning to the start position. Remember to keep the core engaged at all times and pull your belly button towards your spine in order to maintain a safe neutral position.
12. Swiss Ball Jacknife:
Very similar to the above exercise. Adopt exactly the same starting position, but as you move the ball towards your arms, bend at the knees rather than at the hips. Return back to the start position and repeat the movement for a number of repetitions.
13. Swiss Ball Pot Stirs:
Adopt a front plank position but with your forearms on a Swiss Ball rather than the floor. Ensure your back remains in a neutral position at all times by engaging your core. Once in the start position, rotate your arms on the ball either clockwise or anti clockwise as if you were stirring a pot. Repeat the stirring motion for a set number of reps or a period of time before switching the direction of movement.
14. Swiss Ball Hands to Feet Pass:
Lay flat on your back with your arms stretched out above your head and a swiss ball held between your feet (straight legs). Raise your feet (and swiss ball) towards the ceiling at the same time as raising your upper body off the ground (as if you were performing a standard crunch). When the distance between your feet and hands is small enough, pass the swiss ball from your feet to your hands and return slowly to the start position. Repeat the movement, each time passing the ball back and forwards between your feet and hands.
15. Swiss Ball Grasshopper:
Adopt a standard press up position with your toes in contact with swiss ball and your hands in contact with the ground and directly under your shoulders. As with any exercise in which your body is in a prone position and your hips are off the ground, try to keep your lower back in a neutral position (avoid hyperextension at all costs). Once in the setup position and stable, take your left foot off the ball and bend this leg at the knee until it at approximately 90 degrees. Rotate your body to the right (by opening up slightly at the right hip) and straighten your left leg simultaneously so that it moves out to the side, away from the centre line of your body. Return slowly to the start position before repeating the movement with the opposite leg.
16. Swiss Ball Supine Leg Twists:
Laying flat on your back with your arms by your side and your legs straight. Take a swiss ball between your feet and raise your legs towards the ceiling until somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees (as if you’re doing a standard double leg raise). Once at the top of the range twist your legs so that one leg moves towards the front of the ball and one leg towards the back of the ball. Twist back to the central position before repeating the movement in the opposite direction. Alternate the direction in which you twist your legs for each rep.
17. Swiss Ball Prone Twists:
Adopt a front plank position but with your feet gripping a swiss ball on either side, hands in contact with the floor and directly under your shoulders. Preventing your feet from slipping from the ball is in itself a challenge. Once in the start position, twist your hips slowly to the right so that your foot just grazes the floor. Return to start position before rotating in the opposite direction so that your other foot just touches the floor. Repeat the movement, alternating which side you rotate towards.
18. Swiss Ball Skier:
Adopt exactly the same starting position as the swiss ball tuck. Instead of bending your knees towards your chest as you pull the ball towards your arms with your feet, rotate slightly at the hips and try to touch one of your elbows with the your knees. Return slowly to the start position and repeat the movement in the opposite direction, alternating sides for each rep.
19. Swiss Ball Wipers:
Laying flat on your back with your arms out the side (so your body forms the shape of a T), legs straight, and a swiss ball between your feet. Raise your legs until they are directly above your hips (or as close as you can depending on your mobility). Once in this setup position, lower your legs to the left of your body until your feet are about 12 inches above the ground, keeping both shoulders in contact with the ground as you do so. Return your legs to the setup position before lowering them to the right hand side. Repeat the movement, alternating which side you lower your legs towards for each repetition.
20. Swiss Ball Legs Elevated Crunch:
Lay flat on your back with your heels and calves on top of a swiss ball, knees bent at around 90 degrees and your arms across your chest. Raise your upper body from the floor in a standard crunch movement. Lower slowly back to the floor and repeat the movement for a set number of repetitions or a period of time.
# ‘Crunch’ Exercises:
21. Supine Dumbbell Leg Raise:
Lay flat on your back on a bench with your hips level with the end of the bench and your legs hanging from the edge. Place a dumbbell between your feet and with bent legs, raise you feet away from the ground until your knees are directly above your hips. You can grip the underside of the bench above your head as an anchor point. Lower the dumbbell slowly back towards the ground. Before it makes contact with the floor, repeat the movement again. Start with a very light dumbbell and if you find it too easy then you can always increase the weight.
22. Reverse Crunch:
Laying flat on your back with your arms by your side, raise your slightly bent legs so that they are directly above your hips (lower back still in contact with the ground). Once in this start position, push the bottoms of your feet towards the ceiling by lifting the lower half of your torso off the ground. Return slowly to the start position before repeating the movement for reps or a certain period of time.
23. Medicine Ball Mountain Climbers:
Adopt a standard press up position but with the palms of your hands in contact with a medicine ball rather than the floor. Then simply perform the normal mountain climber movement. Lift one foot of the floor and bending the knee towards your chest (to around 90 degrees). Return to the start position at the same time as you perform the same knee bend with the other leg (there should be short period of time when both feet are NOT in contact with the ground. Repeat the movement, alternating your working leg each repetition.
Lay on a bench on your back, gripping the underside of the bench with your hands either side of your head. Raise your legs up to the ceiling and back towards your head so that your feet are directly above your shoulders and only your upper back and shoulders are in contact with the bench. Once you reach this position, pause momentarily before lowering your legs and hips back towards the bench as slowly as possible until you are back at the start position. Repeat the movement for a set number of repetitions or a certain period of time.
25. Cable Crunch:
Adjust the cable to a position somewhere between hip and shoulder height and fix a rope attachment. In a kneeling position, facing away from the cable anchor and gripping the rope with both hands behind your head, fold forwards at the hip against the resistance of the cable. You must keep you upper body and arms in a fixed position (straight or slightly bent) in order to ensure that it is your abdominal muscles doing the majority of the work. Return slowly to the start position and repeat the movement.
26. Roll Up Crunch:
Lay flat on floor on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees, the bottom of your feet in contact with the floor and your arms by your side. Slowly raise your torso towards your knees ensuring that each vertebrae in your spine leaves the ground independently, starting with your upper thoracic and moving down towards your lumbar spine. This should take a lot longer than a standard crunch meaning that your abdominal muscles are spending a greater time under tension. Once you reach the top of the crunch range (when the entire of your spine is no longer in contact with the ground) return slowly to the start position. The vertebrae in your lumbar spine should make contact with the ground first as you gradually curve your back into the ground. Once you have returned to the start position, repeat the movement a number of times.
27. Bench V Crunches:
Sit on the edge of a bench with your legs straight and heels just raised off the ground, and your hands gripping either side of the bench behind your body. Pull your knees towards your chest and lower slowly back to the start position. Repeat the movement for multiple reps. The intensity of this exercise can easily be increased by holding a light dumbbell between your feet.
28. Bicycle Crunches:
Lay flat on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees and your feet slightly raised from the floor and your hands touching your ears so your elbows are pointing outwards. Raise your torso off the floor and bring your opposite elbow and knee together. Return slowly to the start position and repeat the same movement but with the other elbow and knee. Repeat the movement a number of times, alternating which knee and elbow come into contact each repetition.
Adopt a seated position on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and slightly raised off the floor. Lean your torso backwards slightly with your arms straight out in front of your chest. The only part of your body which should be in contact with the ground is your bottoms. Hold this position for a set period of time. I normally go for somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute as part of a wider core circuit. If you’re just doing this exercise in isolation, you can easily increase the intensity by resting a light disc weight on your feet, or holding a small dumbbell between your feet.
30. Frog Crunch:
Adopt a seated position hugging your knees to your chest with both arms and your feet slightly raised off the ground. Extend your legs in front of your body so that your feet are well above the level of your hips when fully straightened. Simultaneously move each arm out to the side of the body, keeping them straight. Return slowly to the start position and repeat the movement a certain number of times.
In addition to the exercises above, there are two movements which are often overlooked when it comes to training your core, or at least, they’re benefits are assumed to be elsewhere. What are they?
The first is sprint training, and the second is the squat pattern.
Both should almost certainly be included in your workout routines if you’re really serious about that washboard stomach…!