Let's face it, crunches are overrated. When it comes to working your abs, there are plenty of exercises that work your abdominals and back together. When the front and back of your torso work together, it's a win-win situation for the core. This variation of the quadruped (named such since you're on all fours — get it?) also targets the obliques. Do 15 reps on each side to make a set. Aim to do at least two sets, but three is even better. You can even add a light dumbbell to increase the difficulty.
We all know that the elbow plank is a great core exercise. But this move, like any other, can get a bit stale. And if you're bored with an exercise, chances are high your body has become accustomed to the move and you're no longer benefiting from it.
If you're ready to add variation to your core routine, here are five moves to strengthen your mid-section courtesy of Core Performance Women. These exercises target the back, glutes, abs, and inner thighs. Add two to three of these exercises to your strength training sessions and you will notice a more toned middle and stronger core in all your activities.
Photos courtesy of Core Performance Women (Penguin)
When you think ab work, the first move that comes to mind is often the classic crunch. This move might tone your middle but it's not so good for your back. Repeatedly rounding the spine in a crunch sets the stage for a disk injury, and the crunch doesn't help your posture either. Neither are crunches functional movements, meaning this movement will not help anywhere but the gym. Have I convinced you yet to try some new moves to tone your tummy?
When talking safety and effectiveness, the best way to work your abs is stabilize your torso against motions. Here are some of my fave ways to work my entire core — front, back and sides.
- The elbow plank is the perfect beginner ab exercise, since it works the extensor muscles, which line and stabilize the spine, in combination with the abs. Adding leg lifts to your plank, while keeping the pelvis and ribs stable, will take the plank to the next level. Keeping your torso stable is all about the abs.
- Free Weights: Working with free weights, moving from a squat into an overhead press, will work your abs too. Work one-armed to force your obliques to kick into action. Basically, anytime you're working with free weights (dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, etc.), you should pay attention to your abs and they will help keep your form solid.
- Medicine Ball: Keeping your torso stable while moving the weighted medicine ball is great for building an integrated core. I like to "write" the alphabet with a four- or six-pound medicine ball while focusing on keep my rib cage centered over my pelvis.
- Bridging: You might think of this exercise as strictly a lower body exercise, but once you add a leg lift with your pelvis in the air you start to challenge your abs and core. To keep the pelvis level while raising your knee in glute bridging with knee raise you must work your abs in tandem with your back.
How do you work your abs?
The woodchopper is a fave exercise among trainers everywhere — Gunnar Peterson calls it his fave core exercise — and my Equinox trainer is a fan of the move too. Woodchoppers really work the abs but target the obliques, helping you to tone your muffin top. But unlike the static plank, woodchoppers target your middle while your middle is in motion, making this move a serious function fitness maneuver. Grab a five to 10 pound medicine ball and get ready to learn the basics.
- Start with the feet a little wider than hip distance apart, keeping the knees slightly bent.
- Bend your elbows bringing the ball to your left shoulder.
- Pull your abs into your spine to stabilize your center.
- On an exhale, bring the ball down diagonally across your body toward your right knee. Imagine you're chopping some wood at this angle and the ball is your axe — the move is a bit percussive.
- Don't twist through your knees, but really rotate through the trunk.
- Control the ball back up to the starting position. This completes one rep.
- Remember you are moving with force, but control. Don't give into the momentum of swinging the ball around.
Do 15 reps each side to complete a set. Lauren always makes me do three sets, so I think you should do that too.
No matter how you slice it or dice it, the BOSU makes everything harder — and I mean that in a good way. Take your basic plank, add the BOSU into the equation and your core is working overtime. Here's a progression of plank exercises for this devilish piece of equipment that I learned from my Equinox trainer Lauren.
- Basic Plank: You start in a basic plank with the ball side of the BOSU facing down. This can be quite a challenge and an exercise unto itself. If just doing this plank variation, hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds, and repeat three times.
- Knee Up: For an added challenge, while holding the plank pull your right knee to your chest and hold there for two or three seconds. Return to the plank, and switch legs for one complete rep. Do 10 reps altogether. You need to keep the BOSU stable throughout the exercise — that's what makes it tough.
- Add a Twist: Start in plank, pull your right knee toward your chest, twist to the left, and kick your right leg out to straight. Reverse the action, untwist, bring knee to chest, then return to plank. Do 10 times on each side. This one is tough, but it makes more sense to your body on the second set. Do two to three sets of this move while keeping the BOSU stable.
As if holding your body a few inches above the ground in Four-Limbed Staff wasn't challenging enough, here's a variation to make your upper body, abs, and booty work even harder.
|Sanskrit Name: Eka Pada Chaturanga Dandasana|
English Translation: One-Legged Four-Limbed Staff Pose
Also Called: One-Legged Chaturanga
Curious to know how to get into this pose?
If the thought of baring your belly in a bikini sends shivers up your spine, try this full-body move sure to tone your center. This balancing exercise will work your muscles more effectively, giving you faster results with fewer reps (read: less time at the gym, more time at the beach). Similar to the core exercise opposite limb extensions with a band, this variation is more challenging since you're in the plank position rather than on your hands and knees.
Grab a dumbbell (I use a 6-pounder) and keep reading.
If you're looking for exercises to do using a kettlebell, you can strengthen your thighs and tush by doing swinging kettlebell squats or swinging kettlebell squat lunge. Here's another move to add to your routine that will not only target your thighs, but will also give you a killer workout for your core. I'm using a five-pound kettlebell, but if you want more of a challenge, I'd go for a 10- or 15-pounder.
To learn how to do this move, read more
Using a kettlebell when strength training has been proven to build endurance, balance, and flexibility, and of course it tones and strengthens your muscles. Using these old-school fitness tools also gets your heart rate up since many of the exercises involve big movements like swinging. If you want a more intense workout, give kettlebells a try. Here's an exercise that will sculpt your upper back and shoulders, work your core, and tone your tush and thighs. Talk about bang for your buck!
To learn how to do this move, read more
Using an exercise ball when strength training is a great way to add a little bit more challenge to basic exercises. Since you have to work hard to keep the ball in place, you end up using more muscle groups. This exercise will tone your thighs, especially your inner thighs and also your core.
For instruction read more