For most people, toning the abs, getting that elusive 6 pack, and strengthening the “core” is a big goal.
Whether you want to achieve one of these goals, or all three, they each require different things.
First, if you want to tone and define your midsection changing your nutrition needs to be a big priority. If you are not eating whole natural foods, diligently watching calories and portion sizes, and working out at least 3-5 days a week, you will not come close to seeing defined abs.
Secondly, you need to be doing exercises that actually not only work the abs, but are safe, effective, give you multiple benefits at one time, and provide functional strength gains that will prevent injury and improve every other exercise you do.
Here are 10 of the Best Ab/Core exercises to start doing today.
This is the most basic, yet the most effective exercise you can do to work the abs and strengthen the core.
While planking, you must actively plank, and not passively plank. Active planking means engaging every single muscle group as much as you can, and creating as much tension throughout the movement. This means squeezing your abs, glutes, lats, and bracing as hard as you can.
When you are planking, if someone came by and tried to push you off balance, you should be able to remain solid and rigid throughout the movement.
2. Side Plank
The internal and external obliques are an underworked, and neglected muscle group for most people.
Most people are weaker in the obliques compared to the abdominals. The obliques provide stability in the form of minimizing hip rotation, and also assist you in developing rotational strength through the torso/core.
They also assist in keeping the hips/pelvis locked into a neutral position during all movements, which prevents lower back recruitment and compensation.
Side planks are the most basic, yet one of the more effective movements for developing oblique/core strength.
Again, with a side plank, you need to brace and squeeze every single muscle group as hard as you can and create as much tension as possible.
This means engaging your glutes, obliques, traverse abdominal muscles, lats, etc.
You should remain strong and rigid throughout the movement.
3. Stability Ball Leg Raises
This is one of the best overall exercises for developing total core strength. In a stability ball leg raise, there are many moving parts at work.
First, you need to keep your back flat to the ground to prevent any lower back compensation, which involves working the transverse abdominal muscle and internal oblique.
Secondly, you are involving the lower abdominal muscles to lift and lower the stability ball.
Third, if you involve a medicine ball, as seen in the video, this just enhances the intensity of the movement even more.
Fourth, you can add in side chops/rotations with a medicine ball to hit the external obliques.
Do 10-15 reps of this over 2-4 sets, you will feel these for days!
If you are a beginner, start with standard leg raises until you develop the core strength to move to a stability ball.
4. Roll-Outs- Stability Ball or Wheel
Rollouts are an excellent exercise for developing core strength and working the traverse abdominal muscle.
Rollouts are great for developing “real world” and functional strength, as you are holding a plank and moving at the same time, which transfers over to other movement like squats, deadlifts, pushups, lunges, rows, etc.
However a base of core strength, and developing proper muscle recruitment is key before you progress to more dynamic (moving) plank work.
This is why mastering planks and side planks is important before you progress to anything like a rollout.
5. Wood Choppers
Woodchoppers are an amazing way to work your external obliques, and for developing rotational strength.
Woodchoppers can be used with bands, cables, or a medicine ball. The benefit of using bands and cables is that you get consistent resistance throughout the movement, compared a medicine ball.
Start with light resistance to develop the proper form and technique, and watch the video below to learn proper technique.
6. Hanging Knee Raises
Hanging knee raises work the lower abs, as well as the transverse abdominal muscles.
Your lower abs are recruited as you pull your knees up towards your chest, and the transverse is worked as your stabilize the hips and prevent any swaying or swinging, and prevent any compensation through the lower back.
Another residual benefit is you increase upper body strength through the shoulders and upper back, via the hanging position.
This is more of an advanced exercise, so you need to develop a base of core strength before you even attempt this movement
Start with roman chair knee raises (see video below) or leg raises to develop the strength to progress to this motion.
7. Stability Ball Stir The Pot
Stability ball stir the pot is an excellent exercise for developing core strength through the traverse abdominals, and internal obliques.
It is a great, functional exercise that allows you develop dynamic strength and stability, and can be modified by dropping to your knees.
And the strength gains you make will carry over well to other movements much like the stability ball rollouts.
To build a foundation of strength and eventually work this exercise from the toes, focus on developing proper technique on planks and stability ball planks.
We can’t forget about one of the best, and most underappreciated core exercises, the pushup.
When doing pushups, most people don’t think of it as a core exercise, but more of a chest and arm exercise. But if you do pushups correctly, you gain a ton of benefit through the core.
Pushups develop real, functional core strength, as you need to maintain a plank position and move at the same time.
They key to working your core during pushups, is to actively engage the abs, obliques, glutes, lats etc during the movement, and maintain a flat back and neutral pelvis (hips).
Most people forget to do this during a pushup, and never see the true core benefits this exercise gives, often compensating through their lower back and letting the hips sag.
Another plus with pushups is they can be scaled back in different ways, depending on where your fitness level is at.
Start by doing push-ups from your knees, or from your knees with your hands placed on a bench. As you do the movement focus on bracing and squeezing your abs and obliques like you would in a plank and side plank exercise, to get true core strength benefits.
As you get stronger you can eventually progress up to your toes.
9. TRX Jackknifes
This is a very advanced move, and should only be done once you reach a certain level of core strength.
TRX jackknifes are a full body exercise working the shoulders, triceps, lower abdominals, transverse abdominals, internal obliques, etc.
Check out this video to learn proper form.
Before you even attempt jackknifes, you want to get strong at planks, stir the pot, rollouts, and side planks, leg raises, etc.
Once you are ready to get on the TRX, start with trx planks from your hands. And then over the next 3-4 weeks, progressively add in the jackknife as you build strength and awareness on the TRX.
10. TRX Side Crunches
Like the jackknife, the TRX side crunch is a great exercise for the whole body and for total core developing. However, is an advanced move and should only be attempted once you build as good foundation of core strength. First, you need to maintain a proper plank position using the transverse abdominals and internal obliques, and then you develop rotational strength through the external obliques by rotating the hips throughout the movement.
Plus you are strengthening the shoulders, triceps, and upper back as you need to hold the shoulders down and back, and in place.
What you may have noticed is that traditional ab exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and side crunches didn’t make the list. These exercise do very little to build well rounded functional core strength, have no crossover benefit to other exercises. And are very unsafe, especially for unfit and sedentary populations.
At the end of the day, you always want to maximize workout time and that’s where proper exercise selection comes in.
To start implementing some of these exercises today, follow the guidelines we provided, and watch the videos to learn proper form and technique! And always, always, always work within your current fitness level!