How firm are your core muscles? Would you like your waistline to be even tighter? Properly developed abdominal muscles can look attractive on both women and men. However, there are greater benefits to having stronger abs than just appearance.
People radically underestimate the importance of core strength.
In essence, your spine is you. When your spine is out, you are out.
Back pain is the worst, and the easiest way to prevent it is to strengthen the muscles of your body’s core. Keep them very strong at all times!
Below are 12 exercise ideas to help condition your core.
Your core muscles are those muscles that comprise the entire circumference of your mid and lower torso:
- Front: rectus abdominus and tendinous inscriptions.
- Side: external obliques and serratus anterior.
- Back: erector spinae, thoracolumbar fascia, and the upper gluteus medius.
In essence, your core is like a foundational corset that protects and encases your vital organs and spine. Visualize it as your very own bulletproof shield.
Eat Your Way to Chiseled Abs
The best way to be able to see all of your ab muscles is to eat properly. An anti-inflammatory diet reduces fat cells, bloat, and puffiness under the skin.
However, if you really want to see your abs when you look in the mirror, you’ll need to exercise your core muscles consistently.
Well-conditioned ab muscles will plump up a bit, which helps the skin stretch taut over the muscles.
Interestingly, even though the muscles might increase a bit in size, the overall effect is trimming – as the abdominal muscles will appear longer and flatter when they are both strong and flexible.
An Abdominal Workout You Can Do Anywhere for a Stronger, Leaner Core
These 12 exercises will get you started on developing and defining your abdominal muscles. These movements are well-suited for both women and men.
- Each circuit is done three times.
- There are four exercises in each of the three circuits.
- Do each exercise within the circuit consecutively without rest, then take a 2-minute rest before repeating the circuit again.
- After you complete your third time through a particular circuit, you move on to the next circuit in the series.
To get the clearest understanding of these core movements, see the short video provided with this article.
- Ab Wheel
- 1-Minute Ball Plank
- Pelvic Scoops with Ball
- Oblique Toe-Touches on Ball
- The ab wheel is an extremely effective exercise – the abdominals are forced into play to stabilize the weight of the body and control the speed of movement.
- On all fours, with knees directly underneath your hips, roll the wheel with your hands – out to full planking position.
- Protect your lower back by keeping your ribs compressed and your navel pulled tightly up toward your spine.
- Beginners don’t have to go out so far; more advanced athletes can go out all the way until the chest almost touches the ground.
- 10 repetitions, done slowly.
- Resist the temptation to hold your breath.
- Many people make the mistake of bringing the ab wheel all the way back to their knees on the return trip. But once you get the ab wheel back underneath your shoulders, the abs stop working. So when you’re coming back, once your hands are directly underneath your shoulders – stop there – go back out again.
1-Minute Ball Plank
- Planking is very important for conditioning the abdominal muscles. While the abdominals are designed to help us with flexion (such as when we do crunches or sit-ups) their primary purpose is to help stabilize the body, especially during precarious or imbalanced positions. Planks accomplish this beautifully.
- Elbows braced on a stability ball.
- 1 full minute with perfect form; that means keeping your pelvis centered – no sway back.
- Remember, even though you’re holding the position, you’re not holding your breath.
Pelvic Scoops with Ball
- 10 reps.
- Imagine that your pelvis is a shovel and you’re scooping sand with it at the beach. It’s a subtle forward-and-up movement.
- Try to flatten your lower abdominals as you lift the pelvis – those are the abs below your navel.
- Exhale during the pelvic lift.
- Your lower abs are going to want to pop-out like a punching bag. Do the opposite. Keep them flat and tight toward the ground.
- You don’t have to lift your pelvis six inches in the air! This is about depth and quality-of-contraction. It’s not about how high you can get your hips.
- Keep the ball between your feet the entire time. This really locks-in the inner thighs and engages the core.
Oblique Toe-Touches on Ball
- This is one of my favorite abdominal exercises. It may not look strenuous from the outside, but while you’re doing it you’ll feel all core muscles being activated.
- Be careful not to let your tailbone drop down too low around the ball – keep a slight tuck to your pelvis to protect your lower back.
- Opposite arm reaches up to touch the toe of your straight leg.
- You’ll be tempted to use the momentum of swinging your arms and legs; instead, initiate the movement from your center.
- 10 reps each side (20 total).
- Leg Raises
- 1-Minute Jumping Rope
- Overhead Oblique Side Bends with Bar
- Elbow Side Pank with Leg Lift
- In this exercise, your arms support the weight of your body, but don’t hyperextend your elbows (keep a slight bend to them).
- Put a little torque in your grip, as if you’re trying to turn your hands outward.
- Use the contraction of your abdominal muscles to bring your straight legs to waist level.
- Your hip flexors will be working, too, but try to initiate mostly from your abs.
- 10 reps.
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1-Minute Jumping Rope
- One of the biggest mistakes people make while jumping rope is not centering their pelvis. Do not arch or sway your back.
- Jumping rope is a great ab workout if you do it correctly. Just trying to keep your ribs compressed, your pelvis centered, and your navel pulled in tightly while jumping takes a lot of effort.
- Keep your grip light and your feet relaxed.
- Don’t jump on tip-toes only; allow your heels to get close to the ground (even if they don’t touch).
Overhead Oblique Side Bends with Bar
- Make your body as tall as you possibly can, then lean from side to side holding a weighted bar.
- Imagine your heels planting firmly into the ground.
- If you want long, flat, tight abs muscles then you need to make them long, flat, and tight while you’re training them.
- Too often, I see people training their abs with a short spine. Make your spine long!
- Resist the temptation to let your ribs pop forward.
- 10 reps each side (20 total).
- For beginners, no weighted bar is necessary.
Elbow Side Plank with Leg Lift
- Support the weight of your body – on your side – with a bent elbow.
- Make your body as long as you can.
- Top arm reaches up to the sky.
- Lift your top leg up and down slowly.
- This exercise teaches you that your core is your body’s powerhouse.
- 10 times each side (20 total).
- You’ll feel your obliques fatiguing!
- Standing Oblique Twists with Bar
- Skip Jumps
- Ball-Bar Twists
- Back Extensions
Standing Oblique Twists with Bar
- This exercise is all about keeping your hips stationary – facing forward – while you twist.
- Initiate the movement from the waist, not the arms.
- Make your torso as tall as you possibly can, like you want the top of your head to touch the clouds.
- 10 reps each side (20 total).
- These are exaggerated skips. So during the down part of the movement, your legs are bent so you’re closer to the ground; but during the up part of the movement you lift a knee and jump high.
- Keep your abs long, tight, and flat the entire time you’re skip-jumping.
- 40 reps total.
- Lay back on a big ball, keeping your glutes active and your pelvis scooped up toward the sky a bit.
- Holding a weighted bar, slowly twist your torso from side to side.
- The movement doesn’t have to be dramatic. No momentum; initiate from the core.
- 10 each side (20 total).
- 10 reps.
- To protect your back, you want to “mate” your pelvis into the ball.
- Keep your feet parallel, or, rotate your legs slightly in – but don’t let your feet turn out like a duck; that will compress your lower back too much.
- Go slowly and listen carefully to your body on this one – your spine will tell you what it can handle on any particular day, if you listen.
Executed properly with good form, the above core exercises can help to give you strong, flat, and chiseled abdominal muscles and improve your overall physical conditioning.
The entire workout can be done in under 45-minutes.
As always, ask your medical doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
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Special thanks to Ákos Farkas for his help with this article.