Effective core training is something that people are still trying to master. The desire for flat, strong and functional abs is huge, but many people still resort to the same old-school sit-ups and crunches to achieve the abs they want. The key is activating all the muscles of the core, which include the rectus abdominus or “6-pack” muscles and obliques, but also the internal abdominal muscles of the transverse abdominus and internal obliques. These muscles are responsible for core stabilization and posture and act like a girdle on your entire midsection. Traditional crunches do not target those muscles. Choose exercises that work all areas of the abs for the best results possible.
Sprints are arguably the most underrated abdominal exercise because people do not usually associate them with abs. According to Jade Teta, strength and conditioning specialist, sprints are the best exercise for activating total core. Sprints generate the most force in the abs because your body has to stay rigid and upright while traveling forward as your arms and legs pump hard. A 10-second sprint can activate the internal musculature of the abs greater than 10 minutes of traditional abs exercises. An added bonus is that sprints are a highly intense activity and therefore torch calories long after your sprint is completed, helping to burn body fat to allow your abs muscles to show.
Hanging Leg Lifts
Hanging leg lifts involve holding onto a high bar with your legs suspended off the ground and lifting your knees up to your chest. Dr. Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico explains that hanging exercises are effective because your abs have to stabilize your entire pelvis during the act of lifting your legs. Start with bent knee lifts to reduce pressure on your lower back. As you lift, tilt your pelvis upward to emphasize the abdominal crunch and then slowly and with control, lower your legs back down. Do not do hanging leg lifts if you have-lower back issues, as they can exacerbate them.
Bicycle crunches are a total-core exercise because they involve torso twisting, crunching and leg lifting. In a study conducted by the American Council on Exercise, bicycle crunches were the most effective at activating the rectus abdominus and second only to leg lifts at activating the obliques. Keep the movements slow and controlled. Start by lying on your back with your arms behind your head. Then, twist your body by touching your right elbow to your left knee while extending your right leg completely straight. Slowly switch and repeat for 15 to 25 repetitions or until you feel a good burn.
Standing Medicine Ball Rotations
Since your entire core is involved with posture and upright stability, it makes sense that many great abs exercises be done in the standing position. Medicine ball wood chops, starting with the ball up over your right shoulder and swinging the ball across your body to finish with it by your left knee, and back again, not only activate all the core muscles, but simulate daily activities of living, such as putting away groceries or reaching to grab something. Medicine ball arcs, where you hold the ball by your left knee, then swing it over your head in an arc motion to finish by your right knee, are also an effective movement to stimulate the whole core.
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; National Strength and Conditioning Association; Thomas R. Baechel and Roger W. Earle
- American Council on Exercise: New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Abs Exercises
- University of New Mexico: SuperAbs Resource Manual SuperAbs Resource Manua
- Metabolic Effect.com: The Best Ab Exercise Ever That No One Does
- Photo Credit Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images