Have a look at the following diagram of our abdominal muscles…
I wonder if you knew the names of all four?
Notice, as an aside, I use the term abdominals whilst the diagram uses the term core… In the real world there are many more muscles that make up our ‘core’ musculature, but for the purpose of this article we are going to focus on our abdominal muscles as shown above.
Having a tight waist with some definition is probably what most people associate with a ‘trained’ physique. As such there are hundreds (if not thousands) of ab products, workouts, and methods in circulation…
The first thing to point out is that the PRIMARY function of the abdominal muscles is STABILITY! It’s not to crunch the trunk, bend it or rotate it. It is to protect the spine and keep it stable against outside forces that want to flex, bend or rotate…
The second thing to point out is that if you spend some time looking closely at our diagram, you’ll see that the muscle fibres in each of the different muscles run in a different direction.
THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT as it indicates that in order for complete abdominal development, a few sets of crunches after a training session is nowhere near enough to do the job. That in fact we are going to have to be much smarter than that and move in all sorts of ways to engage and integrate ALL these muscles.
As the title of this article suggests I have come up with a list of 5 different ab ‘exercises’ to help you get closer to that mythical six-pack we all desire!
#1 – Nutrition:
Yep… you read that right! Why does what you eat come in a list of best ab exercises?
Well think about it for a moment. It doesn’t matter what abdominal exercises you do if your stomach is encased in 25% of the best adipose tissue (body fat) known to humankind!
No amount of stomach crunches and planks is going to burn layers of fat of your midsection, period!
It’s all about your nutrition and fluid intake. If you don’t take steps to reduce the level of current body fat you’ll never see the results of all your hard work.
And before you even think about telling me you are bulking before cutting let me stop you right there. Bulking and cutting is one of those ancient bodybuilding myths that exists to allow all the ‘bro’s’ to feed their ego by looking huge in their sweat tops!
Being lean and muscular all year round is where we are these days home boy so get the nutrition and water intake on point and while we are at it get more sleep – It all plays a massive role in uncovering those abs that undoubtedly reside in there somewhere…
#2 – Gym Ball / Barbell Rollouts:
I have put this at the top of my abdominal exercise list for years. In many ways it is a plank on steroids!
The plank has value as an exercise but in my opinion (and in the physical therapy world also) it has very limited value in the real world. Once you can hold a plank for any length of time where do you go? Longer? Longer again? There is almost no caloric burn whilst holding a plank and not that much muscle building or strength building potential to it.
But… Add some movement and now we are cooking!
With hands resting behind the apex of a gym ball, and our knees on the floor, we can tighten our abs before slowly rolling the ball forward and stretching out, making sure our shine remains in a neutral position and we don’t drop our hips.
I would suggest not going to far out to start and building slowly. To be honest, I don’t really count reps when training abs, I just perform the exercise until a rep or so before my technique deserts me!
#3 – Jackknife’s:
Again I favour using a gym ball for this exercise but you could easily use your feet in just socks on a wooden or tiled floor.
Let’s use the ball as an example though…
Get into a push up position with your feet on the ball. Keeping the abs tight, and spine in neutral, pull your knees in towards your chest. Fight hard not to lift your gluten in an attempt to make this easier.
Again, perform the exercise for as many repetitions as possible with absolutely correct technique.
#4 – Side Plank with Cable/Resistance Band Row:
Earlier i mentioned that one of the primary roles of the abs is to stabilise the spine against forces that want to rotate it.
Here is an excellent exercise that accentuates just that.
Use a cable set up or a resistance band and get into a side plank position.
From here row the cable or band back towards your body whilst maintaining a perfectly straight alignment.
Repeat on both sides.
#5 – Gym Ball Figure 8’s:
Because nutrition is so important, I almost put it in twice but instead (as I think I’ve made my point) I’ve gone with another advanced plank move.
Set up on a gym ball as if you are going to use it for a standard plank. So feet anchored on the floor, nice straight inclined posture, forearms on the gym ball (don’t rest body on your arms) and head nicely aligned with the rest of the spine.
Slowly start to draw out the figure 8 with your arms whist fighting to keep that quality alignment.
Make sure you draw the figure 8 both ways.
So there you have it… A list of my personal favourite abdominal exercises.
As always it’s the effort you put in to the exercise, rather than the exercise itself that is the key ingredient. I cannot tell you the number of people who I put through just one of these movements and have them squirming like a worm in bleach!
Be mindful always of the muscles you are trying to activate, move with purpose and control and let me know how you get on!