To build a tighter, better looking and more functional core, you should aim to strengthen all of your core muscles:
• Your rectus abdominis is the ab muscle that runs down the front of your body (the traditional “6-pack” muscle). It helps to bend your body forward and backward at the lower back.
• Your oblique muscles run down the side of your abs. They help to rotate your body and bend it from side to side
• Your transverse abdominis (TVA) is a deep muscle under your abs that helps to keep your core (including your spine) stable every time you move.
It’s also important to understand that no ab exercise will work if you’re doing it wrong and ab exercises are ver easy to get wrong!
A common mistake I see is too much emphasis on bending at the hips, rather than bending at the spine when doing traditional ab exercises.
To really work your abs, you want to focus on curling up through your spine and rolling your spine back down slowly. You can think about bringing your belly button to your chest as you come up to contract your ab muscles.
You need to have a posterior tilt in your hips when doing this. There should be no arch in your lower back. This applies to any full range of motion ab exercise like hanging knee raises and crunches. It’s also important to have a neutral spine when doing stabilising exercises like planks.
You want to include both stabilising and full range of motion exercises in your ab workouts just like this one does.
Instructions: Complete the following 5 exercises as a circuit for an individual ab workout. Do this twice a week to really focus on developing your core.
Rest for 15 sec between exercises and 1 minute between rounds. You can do the circuit for 3-4 rounds and stick to the recommended rep ranges for each exercise.
You can also choose 2-3 exercises and perform as a circuit at the end of two of your regular workouts each week (for example you could add them onto the end of your upper body workout).
NOTE: If you feel you can do more than the recommended rep range, you should make it harder. I’ve included progressions below so you know how to do this. Make sure you’re confident you’re doing the exercise correctly before you make it harder. The best way to know this is to ask yourself where you’re feeling it- if you’re feeling it in your lower back then you’re probably doing it wrong.
1. Pallof Press
These improve stability in your core by helping you get stronger in resisting rotation at your hips and spine.
How To: Start by standing side on to the cable (or band) and hold the handle with both hands at your chest. The cable should be at a height just above your belly button. Make sure your hips are tilted back and your abs are engaged. Push the handle away from your body in a straight line until your arms are straight. The cable will try to pull you towards it and your job is to resist that pull and stay standing with your hips and shoulders square (spine straight). Hold at the top for a second then slowly lower the cable back to the starting position.
- Aim for 8-12 reps on each side.
- Progression: You can either add reps or increase the weight once 12 reps gets too easy.
2. Leg Lowers
These improve core strength and stability by helping you get better at preventing your back from overarching. These are great for your posture too.
How To: Lay on the floor with your lower back firmly pushed into the ground (tilt your hips back). Start with your legs straight in the air and slowly lower them down towards the ground. Keep pushing your lower back into the floor the entire time (it will want to arch and come off). Only lower your legs as far as you can go whilst keeping your back pressed into the ground- if your back starts to arch then stop and lift your legs to the starting position.
- Aim for 8-12 reps.
- Progression: You can aim to get your legs more parallel to the ground each week or add reps. Once 12 reps gets easy you can hold a dumbbell behind your head with your arms off the ground and do them weighted.
3. Hanging Knee Raises
These will help you grow your outer “6 pack” ab muscles.
How To: Sit in a roman chair or hang from a bar. Make sure your hips are tilted back and your feet are just in front of your body. Lift your knees up to your chest and think about shortening the distance between your belly button and your sternum as you do so. Slowly lower knees back down and make sure your feet drop in front of your body only (they shouldn’t go behind your body otherwise you’ll be using too much hips and not enough abs).
- Aim for 8-12 reps.
- Progression: You can add reps each week. You can do these in a roman chair to start and once 12 reps is too easy you can do them hanging from a bar. Once that gets too easy you can keep your legs straight and do hanging leg raises.
4. Reverse Crunch
These will work your outer “6 pack” ab muscles as well as your obliques and deeper abdominal muscles without putting strain on your neck or spine.
How To: Start by laying on the floor with an anchor like a heavy kettlebell behind your head. Hold onto it lightly with your fingers. Keeping your feet close to your bum and toes pointed towards your head, lift your bum off the floor into the air. Slowly lower back down until your tailbone hits the ground (but don’t let your feet touch the floor) then repeat.
- Aim for 8-12 reps.
- Progression: Use a lighter kettlebell to anchor you to make these harder.
5. Side Plank
These will strengthen your obliques as well as your glutes and shoulders.
How To: Lie on your side with your feet together. Lift your hip off the floor by propping your upper body up on your elbow. Your elbow should be directly under your shoulder. Keep your chest up, shoulders back and squeeze your glutes whilst holding your hip in the air.
- Aim for 10-20 seconds each side
- Progression: Increase time or elevate feet on a bench to make it harder.
Content and exercises provided by Jodie Walker and Fitness Marketplace Onekeelo