I’ve been in the fitness industry a 10+ years and one thing that every single person wants is better abs (or a better “core,” as I would define it). It is really not that difficult to train your abs – they have a very basic, but important, function in our every day movements and posture. In fact, targeting the abs is simple.
If you want strong abs you have to look at it from 5 different angles: trunk flexion, trunk extension, trunk rotation, bracing and back extension. Don’t worry, I will explain what all of these things mean!
But the first take home point is that crunches (or only doing one movement) are going to do next-to-nothing for your abs. It will only make you stronger in ONE movement pattern. And anytime you move out of this particular pattern you’ll be relying on weak and imbalanced muscles.
To have strong, balanced abs, here are 5 ways to work your core most effectively:
1. Trunk Flexion
These are your basic crunches (the exercise in which people are the most familiar). Crunches target mostly the upper abs. Examples are:
- crunches on a mat, bosu, or stability ball. Varying your hand position will also make these more or less challenging. Hands folded across chest is easiest, hands on your ears is second and arms straight with hands above head is the most challenging.
2. Trunk Extension
These are exercises where you’re bringing your legs towards your midline (or waist), thus targeting the lower abs. Examples are:
- reverse crunches on the floor or a bench, hanging leg raises or seated knee-ups. Because you’re moving your legs and the lower abs are always weaker than the upper abs, these exercises are more challenging than Trunk Flexion exercises.
3. Trunk Rotation
Anything where you’re twisting qualifies as trunk rotation. These exercises target the obliques (i.e., the love handles). Examples are:
- twisting crunches, med ball rotations, or Russian twists.
(side note – don’t grab a weight and do side bends. It’s a worthless exercise that will do nothing for you. Sorry…just being honest 😉 )
The most fundamental function of your abs are to brace you during movement. Think about if someone is going to punch you in the stomach – you have to brace yourself or it is going to hurt! Thus, bracing exercises are about holding a particular position for a distinct period of time. Examples are:
- front planks, side planks, dead bugs or transverse activation.
5. Back Extension
Yes, this is not technically abs but no core program is complete without balancing the front and sides of the body with the back of the body. Otherwise, you’re an injury waiting to happen. Back extensions target the lower back. Examples are:
- cobra, skydivers, supermans and bridging.
And there you have it. As long as you perform some exercises from each of these 5 categories, you’ll have a strong, functional core. You’ll look and feel better, have better posture and suffer less injuries.
However, I do need to share the blunt truth with you: if you notice during this article I always said “strong” core, not “defined” core. The only way you’ll ever be able to see your abs is if you get your body fat % low enough to be able to see them. Otherwise, you’re just going to have really strong abs underneath a layer of fat. And most people have better abs than they think…if only they could bring them out.
If you’re interested in shedding unwanted body fat (or clarification of the exercises), please contact me and we’ll discuss how to make it happen. You may also want to look into the AdvoCare 24 Day Challenge. It is a fantastic way to lean up and kick start you in the right direction.
Wishing you ABSolute success!