A set of six-pack abs is, for many guys, the absolute fitness ideal. For too long common logic has dictated that the only way to feel confident and strong is with a rippling, muscular midsection—that, or keep your shirt on in a state perpetual coverage to never see the light of day.
That type of thinking is, thankfully, on the outs. Eking out a core worthy of a Grecian statue shouldn’t be the only reason you’re training, since there are so many better motivators, like gaining strength and mass, improving performance, and boosting your overall health. It takes more than just sweat to carve out visible abs too, so the endless crunches plan shouldn’t even be on your radar.
You should also be focusing on your abs for more than just aesthetic purposes. A strong core is the key to building overall body strength and supports your spine—so that extra 15 minutes of your workout you spend on ab training isn’t just a waste, either.
Instead of focusing on arbitrary goals like finishing 100 situps or holding certain positions for minutes on end, try out these super effective abs exercises and workouts. They can help you to build strength and start to shape that six-pack—which isn’t a bad goal to have as long as it isn’t the only one.
The Ab-Strengthening Exercises
The hollow body position is a basic gymnastics maneuver for a reason: it’s extremely efficient at building core strength and fine-tuning proper posture.
The key to the exercise is to flex your abs to press your lower back into the ground as you raise your arms and legs into the air. That way, you’ll be able to maintain the right position throughout the hold without having to worry about the spinal flexion that can occur in crunches.
Try to work up to 3 to 4 reps holding the position for 45 seconds to a minute. Check here for more detailed tips.
You’ve probably used planks in your workouts before—but you need to make sure that you’re doing them right. That means that you’re not just resting on your elbows and toes with a caved-in back and shoulders.
Tension is the name of the game for the plank. You should be squeezing your lower back, glutes and core, which means that you won’t have a perfectly straight line from your shoulders to your heels. Just make sure you keep your butt down.
Top out your planks at about 1 minute. You should be creating enough tension that holding for that long is a challenge. For more tips, check here.
The Pallof press uses tension created by a band or cable to make your core muscles fire, forcing them to work together as a unit.
The pull of the band or cable is the key. To counter that, you’ll have to brace yourself to stay in the proper position. Make the movement even tougher by stepping off your feet by kneeling on one or both knees.
Whether you stand or kneel or use a band or cable, start with 3 sets of 8 reps when you first try the exercise.
3-Step Core Getup
The Turkish getup is a complicated, difficult move to learn—so if you’re not ready to step under the weight just yet, start with this simplified three-step version instead.
Instead of standing all the way up, you’ll stop at raising your hips and torso off the ground. Since you’re still going through that much movement, you’ll utilize your glutes, abs, lower back muscles, and obliques together to pull it off.
Start with a light load until you get the form down, with 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps. See more on the details and subtleties of the move here.
Like other muscles, your abs need to take on a challenge from a load to really build up size and strength, so sticking to bodyweight-only workouts won’t do if you want real growth. You don’t need to bust out the heavy weights all the time though—resistance from bands can be effective, using moves like this cable crunch.
This particular routine adds a twist, literally, along with some static holds to ratchet up the tension to stimulate the core muscles. Count up from 1 second holds all the way to 5 seconds to finish through a set.
Try 3 sets of count ups to 5 second holds to try out this abs-builder. Read more about the workout here.
An exercise that looks incredibly cool and crushes you core—what’s more to love?
This dragon flag variation also helps you to workout on your lower body coordination as you cycle your legs forward and backward, mimicking a running stride. Just be prepared to brace your core and get your legs up high.
Try 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps of this burner.
You already know how to take on the plank. Make it even more difficult and add a dynamic element to the static move by pulling some weight.
The dual nature of this exercise means that you won’t just be working your core—your arms and lat muscles will be challenged, too. Isolation moves can be great, but you’ll find more success when you mix up your workouts to hit multiple muscle groups at once.
Find a good distance for your pulls, then reel off 3 sets per arm. For more details, check here.
Hollow holds are great, but you can really up the challenge by adding some extra movement. This animalistic variation is even tougher and can help to hone your focus and control.
Everything about this exercise is designed to throw you off-balance, from the offset arm position to the difficult rolls to the rocking maneuver. If you can concentrate on keeping your form, though, you’ll be in stronger shape.
Try 3 rounds of the series. If you need extra tips, check here.
This full-on hollow hold circuit uses resistance bands to make the position even more challenging. This is a workout to shut down your training session—you won’t want to move after this.
Battle Ropes Core Workout
Ab work doesn’t just need to be tacked on to the end of your workout. This battle rope routine from trainer Matthew Forzaglia, utilizes core crushing moves throughout the whole 10-minute period.
You’ll warmup with less intense movements, then start slamming and twisting to smash through your belly fat and build muscle. Check out the full list of moves here.
Ready to pull off a seriously impressive, abs-centric maneuver? The L-sit is tough, but you can learn how to do it if you follow trainer Jay Maryniak’s progression here. Working up to master the move is a workout in and of itself, but you should only do it once or twice a week once you have it down.
Check out more core-flattening ab circuits with the full, six-week Anarchy Abs program.
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