Tired of crunches, planks and knee tucks? Of course you are, not only are they boring, but they're ineffective and even dangerous.
Think of your abs as a frame with a picture in it (any picture will do…though a picture of a ripped six-pack would make sense). You can’t ignore any part of the frame, otherwise the picture becomes skewed. To follow is a quick anatomy lesson of the framework followed by a core workout that you can tack on to the end of any routine to chisel your unit.
For the sake of aesthetics, let’s say your abdominals and core unit are comprised of 4 main areas: your Obliques (the actual frame or your abs that creates the V-shape; these are responsible for trunk rotation – twisting exercises), your Abdominal wall (the 4, 6, or 8 pack that sells underwear; responsible for forward flexion – crunching exercises), your Intercostals and Serratus (the completely underrated and ignored muscles of your ribs and below your armpits; responsible for chest cavity constriction & stability during push-exercises), and your inner core -Tranversus Abdominis (TVA) and Pelvic Floor (PF) – which are responsible for cinching in your waist (it is literally an internal girdle) and bracing your core and pelvis.
There are specific exercises to target each of these muscles, but rather than isolating certain muscles (like doing planks for your TVA), you can work multiple muscles by focusing on activation, rather than resistance. For instance, because your TVA and pelvic floor are designed to brace your core, you will work them just by properly activating them during any other exercise (squats, deadlifts, bench press, you name it).
To properly activate your TVA and PF, you will need 3 steps: 1) Suck in your tummy 2) While your tummy is sucked in, squeeze your abdominals like someone is about to punch you in the guts and you want to break their hand 3) While holding the abdominals in this position, engage your pelvic floor by activating the same muscle the stops you from peeing. Once these are all engaged, you have proper activated your core and are ready to work! Chances are, at first, this will require more focus and body awareness than you have. Practice this engagement process while you are sitting in your chair at work, or make it part of your warmup. Once you get the hang of it, it will come more naturally and you will be able to incorporate it, not only into all of your abdominal exercises, but all of your regular exercises too.
1. Hi to Low, Cable Woodchopper
This is the best core exercise for your money. It truly works all of the muscles that I mentioned when done properly, poses no risk to your spine, and develops all of those eye grabbing upper body muscles that create an aesthetically pleasing frame. Hail to the king of ab exercises, the Woodchopper.
2. Flip Flop Crunch
The health of your inner core muscles cannot be over-emphasized when it comes to both overall strength and fitness and to the aesthetics of your tummy. This exercise is a nice variation on the side plank. It’s alternating and variable movement pattern makes it so our core muscles do not burn out and lead to poor posture (common in static planks). Really focus on the engagement of your TVA and PF throughout the entirety of this exercise, and know that while there is a crunch component, that is not the focus of this jam.
3. Medicine Ball Rotational Slams
If you’re a power athlete, and you aren’t doing these, you’re missing out. Not only does it develop full body rotational power, but it will build your cardiovascular endurance and develop scapular stability by strengthening your Serratus and Intercostals. As every athlete knows, 3 dimensional strength is critical to performance, and the muscles that are built by such a motion don’t look too shabby on the beach either.
4. Hanging “U” Leg Raise
While stability and engagement are critical during most exercises, it is also beneficial to build strength while being subject to instable conditions. In this case, your TVA and PF should still be engaged, but the traction that gravity will put upon your shoulder joints will force the muscles that stabilize at the point of full extension to work. As a byproduct, this exercise will strengthen hip flexors, however, our target is the lower abdominals, working them from the point of maximal abdominal stretch.
Want more easy to follow exercises to help build overall strength, power and performance? Check out this quick read for some fun and unique exercises that will have you loving fitness again!