There are a ton of different ways out there to build a strong and dynamic core, and not all ab workouts are created equal. To build a strong core and achieve the six-pack abs you've always dreamed of, you need to be strategic with your ab workouts. It's no longer enough to simply hit some crunches and call it a day if your goal is building a strong core.
For a truly bulletproof core, we need to have variety in our ab workouts. Selecting ab exercises that build every aspect of the core is a must. So, using ab exercises that hit the core as a whole and target muscles like the obliques, transverse abdominals, rectus abdominis, erectors, glutes, and all of the other smaller muscles that make up the core is essential for long-term gains.
By building the full core, we can improve across the board in other lifts, sports, and day-to-day life. Far too often, we think of the core as just "one thing" (a.k.a. the abs, your classic six-pack muscles), but it's so much more. MH fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. says this means inviting your lower back extensors and glutes to the party, too. “Just training your abs only does so much,” he says. “You want a nice balanced core to stabilize your entire body, and make you more athletic, too.”
Let's break down our absolute favorite ab exercises to include in your ab workouts. These ab exercises will help you build the bulletproof, dynamic core you've always wanted, and make you better at just about everything you do.
The Ab-Strengthening Exercises
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.
You'll start out this movement just like the plank above, but that's only the beginning.
After you assume the perfect plank position (with your hands placed flat on the floor with your wrists directly beneath your shoulders instead of your elbows here), you'll add another challenging element to the exercise. Drive your knees, alternating between both legs, while keeping your butt down, your spine straight, and your neck in a neutral position. Keep your strides intentional, as if you were sprinting.
Start with 3 to 4 reps of 30 seconds of work to start. For more tips, check out this guide.
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.
This deceptively tough ab exercise is all about focus. You might think of this as just a stretch, but you'll have to work harder than you'd expect to make it worth your while.
Get into a four point stance, with both hands and feet on the ground. Make sure your spine is straight, with your shoulders stacked directly over your wrists and your knees in the same plane as your wrists. Keep your neck neutral.
Squeeze your abs, then raise your opposite arm and leg straight up. Move slowly to prevent yourself from falling over and keep your shoulders and hips facing the ground. If that's too much of a challenge, try to work through your limbs individually to master the balance.
Try 3 to 4 sets of 8 reps. Check here for more.
This exercise is more than just an ab-burner—but it can be an effective and fun way to smash your core while you blow off steam.
Make sure to use your whole body for the movement. Pick up the ball with a deadlift position, then raise the ball up with both hands as high as you can and lift up on your toes, allowing your feet to raise into triple-extension.
Once you've reached the highest point, drive down into your heels, sit back into a squat, then swing your arms down to slam the ball into the ground.
Mix up the way you use the slam, for time or reps. Check out more details here.
The Off-Center Ab Series
Grab one light dumbbell and go to work with this core blitz from Ebenezer Samuel and Women's Health editor-in-chief Liz Plosser. The series takes advantage of the idea of "offset load" to make the hollow body position that much more challenging. With a dumbbell in only one hand, the uneven resistance will constantly try to pull you out of hollow body position, but your abs and obliques must lock in to keep that from happening.
Learn more about the series here.
The Corkscrew Hollow Rock
Push your abs to another level with this corkscrew hollow rock series. This level-up to the hollow body position pushes you to keep your obliques tightly contracted as you rock; that's the only way to keep your opposite elbow and knee linked. It's pushing you to use your abs to rotate your torso, a different feeling than many other ab exercises, which often push you to battle against rotation.
The Superman plank adds challenge to your standard plank by introducing a resistance band that tries to pull you off-center. Can you lock in your core and battle that band, while also balancing your plank on just one forearm? That's your challenge, and it'll build strong obliques and abs, while challenging your lower back muscles, too.
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.
Partner Hollow Body Pallof Game
Core work doesn't have to be all monotonous workout fun. Spice up your ab training by grabbing a friend and a resistance band for this game. Your entire goal: Pull your partner off-center with the resistance band, challenging them to own the hollow body position and fight against that resistance. It's a fun way to get some ab work with a partner.
Kettlebell Decline Core Crush
Add a pair of kettlebells to a standard decline situp to take it to another level. First of all, you're loading more in this decline situp variation, which will help add serious muscle to your midsection. Secondly, by elevating a single dumbbell but keeping the other at your chest, you're adding an anti-rotational element to every rep.
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.
The Decline Dumbbell Ab Fryer
This move from Samuel puts you on the decline bench, then asks your core, in tandem with your obliques and lower back muscles, to keep you perfectly balanced despite as you hold a weight out to one side. That weight creates a long lever that tries to rotate your torso down to its side; can you prevent that from happening? That's the challenge as you do situps throughout.
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.
Get into a hollow body position in front of the anchor with the band attached, with your legs up and your arms extended behind you.
Grab the band with your right hand and perform 8 straight arm pull down reps. Squeeze your lat to pull the band all the way down to your waist.
After 8 reps, hold your arm with the band straight up, so that your arm is perpendicular to your torso. Hold for 8 seconds.
After you hold for 8 seconds, maintain your position, and perform 8 flutter kicks.
Repeat the series on the left side.
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.
The Russian twist is a classic core move that pushes your abs to create rotation, and it's a move you can do anywhere. Do it correctly, and, even with just bodyweight, your abs will get a solid workout. It's commonly done with some resistance, like a medball or a dumbbell, although you can also get more creative. Don't have weights? Grab a gallon jug of water and use that; you'll still get a solid workout.
The Dragon Flag Medball Challenge
This isn't just an ab move; it's a fitness challenge. The dragon flag is one of the finest ways to train your core because it trains your core as an integrated unit, abs, lower back muscles and glutes having to work in complete and perfect unison to hold a position that is, essentially, the body in perfect posture.
Add a medball to that, and all those core muscles have to fire even more flawlessly to sustain the added resistance. This one isn't easy, but it is a fun way to mix up core training.
Single-Arm, Double-Explode Incline Press
When is a bench press an ab exercise? When your entire core has to be completely locked in to keep your torso from rotating off the bench. That's what happens in this single-arm incline press: Your abs battle to keep your torso steady on the bench, but the weight tries to rotate you downwards.
Do this without precision, and your abs won't feel it much. Focus on keeping your hips and shoulders square, and you have a nasty core challenge that you can eventually load up with plenty of weight.
TRX Reach Row to Perfect Row
Among your core's key functions are these two ideas: It's supposed to create torso rotation, and resist rotation. You'll do both in this TRX move, a back move that'll fire up your abs too. When you're doing the reps that push you to reach up as far as possible, your core has to create rotation. When you're doing the "perfect" reps, your core is battling rotation. The best part: It's constantly switching between the two ideas. "It's forcing you to not just work your abs, but build stronger mind-muscle connection and think about how you're using them," says Samuel, who created the move.
No squat variation challenges your abs quite as much as the front squat, which forces you to lock in your core to stabilize the bar held just in front of you. Add front squats to your workout and you've instantly turned that session into an ab session, while also hammering your quads and hamstrings, too.
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