We know that there's no great magic to achieving the perfect 6 pack, but rather it's about a lot of hard work and clean eating. We also know that no matter how badly we'd like to believe otherwise, there's no such thing as spot training. This doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't be working out your abdominal muscles on a regular basis. They make up a very significant part of your core and if they aren't engaging then you are doing yourself a big disservice.
THE 5 BEST ABDOMINAL EXERCISES
Although a classic, you've probably heard that crunches aren't the most effective abdominal workout. The reason for this is because they work only the front and sides of your body. To get a better, more "total" and functional workout you should be focusing on working out the entire core. That being said, including some crunches in your workout is not a bad thing in a pinch, but there are so many better exercises out there.
Rather than just focusing on your abdominals, keep in mind that working out your abs is no different than any other exercise you might do and that form matters. It's very tempting to knock out a whole bunch of crunches while you grunt away using your glutes, quads and back muscles. While you are doing your abdominal workout, its wise to slow down, pay attention to your breathing and focus on using the muscles you intend to strengthen.
Plank with side crunch (spiderman). I am a huge fan of the plank. It works all of your core muscles at once and has numerous variations. Really, there's something for everyone. This exercise starts in a classic plank position. Make sure your abdominals are engaged and your shoulders are down. Take a breath and on the exhale, pull one knee up toward your armpit. Repeat with the other leg. Do this 10x on each side. If you feel some discomfort in your lower back, make sure you are engaging your abdominals and simply lift your glutes toward the ceiling by a few inches. This should relieve any pain. Watch that you aren't letting your head drop toward the floor and keep your ears between your shoulders. This workout can be done either with straight arms or propped up on your forearms.
Side plank. Very similar to a classic plank but your body is rotated to one side. For many simply holding this position for 30+ seconds will be enough. Work your way up to 1 minute.
Modification. To increase the difficulty try lifting one leg in the air. This will also work those hip muscles as well. This workout can be done either with straight arms or propped up on your forearms. You can also add a rotation. In one movement, lift your hip toward the ceiling and sweep your arm beneath your body, then return to your start position. Repeat 15x each side.
Single leg stretch. Lying on your back start with your head and shoulders curled up off the floor and your legs bent and 90 degrees off the floor. Inhale, then as you exhale straighten your right leg. Your right arm will touch your left knee and your left arm will reach toward your left ankle. Inhale and repeat on the other side. Don't stress too much if the arm sequence is confusing. I like to teach this exercise with both hands lifted toward the ceiling. Modifications: Do this while holding a ball. If you find this hurting your neck, just place your upper body on the floor. The workout will be just as good, you are simply working slightly different abdominal muscles. Repeat with each leg 10x.
Bicycle. Start lying on your back, hands behind your head, legs bent and lifted off the floor at 90 degrees. Inhale and as you exhale, curl your torso off the floor rotating your upper body to the left while straightening your right leg. Keep your upper body off the floor and alternate sides. Another option is holding a ball between your legs, straightening them as you rotate your torso from side to side. Want to take this up a notch? Add the instability of a BOSU ball and you'll feel a burn like no other. Modification: If you start feeling pain in your lower back, simply lift your legs higher, keep them bent until you get stronger or place them on a ball or chair. What to remember: keep your shoulders down and elbows wide and never pull on your head/neck. Your hands are there for support only.
Teaser. This is my absolute favourite ab workout and when done properly is a killer. Start by lying flat on your back with your arms straight and by your ears but not touching the floor. Inhale. As you exhale, start curling your upper body and legs simultaneously off the floor until you are in a V position. Take a breath and then slowly roll back down to your start position. Tips: Keep your toes pointed and inner thighs glued together, this will help your balance as well as work additional leg muscles. At the top of your V, ensure that you are not arching your back, instead try keeping it slightly rounded. Modifications: If you are a beginner, start the exercise with your feet already in the air and bent if necessary, or place them on a ball. If you find this easy then try doing the exercise with a ball between your legs. When you reach the top of your V, try lowering and lifting your legs a few inches 10x. Or hold a ball in your hands as you add a rotation at the top of the V.
A key tip to remember is that if any of these exercises are hurting your lower back, you must stop and reassess. You may be doing something wrong or your back and abdominal muscles simply aren't quite strong enough. Never feel bad about doing modifications as they are essential to keeping you safe and injury free. Above all keep working at it and have fun!
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