So it would appear summer is here once again and that means it’s time to hit the beach and show off the 6 pack!
Or at least that’s what all the ads for losing belly fat will tell you, sure it’s nice to look good and show off a bit, but more importantly, if you have low enough body fat to have visible ab muscles it most likely means you are healthy and in good shape, and that is what truly matters.
I’m going to be straight with you, you can’t target “belly fat”! Hard to believe considering all of the products you see out there that promise they can. Insteda, each and every person has a body fat percentage, how you carry that fat on your body is based on genetics. If you want visible abs you need to get your diet in check and get your body fat percentage down.(Tweet this) It is that simple.
So now that we have got that out of the way let’s talk about what is really the essential topic, and that is being healthy and having a strong core. Strengthening your core will improve your overall performance in the gym or playing sports, it provides balance, stability and strength. Think of your core as your bodies own weight belt.
- Transverse abdominis (located on each side of the naval)
- Internal and external obliques (extending diagonally from ribs to pelvis)
- Rectus abdominis (known as the six-pack)
- Sarratus anterior (what most people mistakenly call the obliques)
- Multifidus and erector spinae (located along the spine from head to pelvis)
First a couple of exercises you need to stop doing:
- Conventional leg lifts, they work your hip flexors and not your core muscles. These are the ones where you lay flat on your back with your legs straight and you raise them up to perpindicular to the floor and then lower them back to the floor.
- Planks, static hold planks do more for your posterior chain; your butt and lower back, then they do for your abs.
With all of these exercises do what you are capable of, if you have to modify it a bit to ensure you are using proper form, that is okay. We all start somewhere and if you stick with it you will be doing the advanced versions one day.
Hanging Leg Raises
This exercise works the lower abs, probably one of the most overlooked areas of the core. So many exercises are top down exercises so the lower abs are never the main focus. I know I said don’t do leg lifts, but we are going to learn to do them properly so they actually achieve the results we are looking for.
Hang from a pull up bar with your legs hanging straight down, now squeeze your core muscles and pull your legs up, but as you are pulling the legs up roll your pelvis up as well, think of it like trying to moon anyone standing in front of you. Now lower your legs and pelvis back to the starting position but do it in a slow controlled manner. Let the core relax and stretch completely and do your next rep.
To make this a little easier you can bend your knees to 90 degrees, just remember to roll the pelvis up.
If you don’t have a pull up bar or you want a beginner version you can do this on the ground but start with your legs at a 45 degree angle and remember as you lift your legs pull with your lower abs and roll your butt up off the ground.
The russian twist is one of the best all around core exercises, I love everything about it except that nobody can explain where the name came from (Tweet this), feel free to hit the comments and let’s come up with our own theory.
To perfrom this exercise sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet on the ground, holding a weight of some sort (kettlebell, dumbbell, medicine ball), now lean back a bit and lift your feet off the ground. Twist to your left with the weight and touch it to your left hip, now twist back across your body to touch the right hip, return to center, thats one rep.
To make this a little easier you can put your heels on the ground rather than holding them up or you could do it without a weight.
Ab Wheel Rollout
The ab wheel rollout focuses on the rectus abdominis, and boy does it do a good job of that. The advanced version is to do it standing and for us normal humans we do it working off of our knees. If you don’t have an ab wheel you can pick one up here.
Start kneeling with your toes touching the ground, hold the ab wheel in both hands on the floor in front of you and your arms straight. Now slowly roll the ab wheel away from yourself reaching away from you with your arms but keeping them straight. Go as far as you can manage, now when you roll back in toward yourself pull with your abs and almost round your back a bit allowing your ab muscles to contract as much as possible.
Resistance Band Wood Chop
This is great for your obliques, make sure to plant your feet and hips and twist with your core. Attach a resistance band to something above head height. Now stand away from the anchor point so the band is just getting resistance, holding it with both hands and arms straight in a high position on your right side twist down to your left, slowly and controlled twist back up to the right side, this is one rep. When you are done this side face the other direction and work the other side of your body.
To make it easier or harder change the distance you stand from the anchor point or change the strength of resistance band.
If you need a set of resistance bands check out these Kbands, I absolutely love mine and will be doing a review on them once I’ve had some more time using them.
Swiss Ball Pike Rollout
The swiss ball pike rollout is like a reverse ab wheel, you will need a Swiss Ball (Physio Ball) to do this one. This will target your rectus abdominis, obliques and transverse abdomonis, as well as having some added work on the shoulders, chest, legs and arms.
To execute the swiss ball pike get in to a plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders, next place your shins on top of the swiss ball, toes pointed. Now as you squeeze with your core muscles, drive your hips toward the ceiling and roll the ball toward you with your legs until you are on your toes on the ball. Then slowly roll the ball back until your shins are on the ball again and your body is parellel to the floor.
To complete a cable crunch you need to have a resistance band or a cable attachment, the rotational pulley kit from Human Trainer is a cheap alternative to a full cable macine.
Kneel on the floor with the cable above your head, reach up and grab the cable with both hands and pull it down so your hands are just above your head. Lock your arms in this position so that you are pulling the cable with your core and not your arms. Next use your ab muscles to pull your head down and try to get it toward your knees, squeeze your abs in this position before slowly going back up to the start position. At the end of the movement sit all the way straight to get maximum stretch on your core.
As a beginner use as much weight as you can to complete 8-12 repetitions.
Weighted Seated Knee Tuck
The weighted knee tuck will require a medicine ball or dumbbell that you can hold with your feet. Sit on the edge of a bench with your hands behind you on either side to stabilize yourself. Now lift the weight up with your feet straight out in front of you, then pull your knees toward your chest while squeezing your abs, hold for a second and put your feet back out in front of you, do not lower your feet to the ground between reps.
Swiss Ball V-Up
For the swiss ball v-up you don’t require a swiss bal but it does add a dgree of difficulty as well as give you someting to grab. Lay flat on your back with your arms stretched out above your head and your legs straight. Grab the swiss ball between your feet and as you raise it up with your legs sit up with your upper bodyso your body forms a V, grab the ball with your hands and lower back down so you are flat. On the next rep pass the ball back to your feet.
If you want to make this one a little more challenging use a medicine ball instead of a swiss ball.
Single Arm Overhead Carry
The single arm overhead carry is a static core exercise, meaning your core is stabilizing and preventing movement versus creating the movement. Static strength of the core musculature is necessary to stabilize and hold a particular body position during sport and weight lifting activities. Save these for the end of your core workout and really feel the burn.
To perfrom this exercise grab a dumbbell in one hand and press it overhead, now while holding it there and keeping your core tight walk for 30 seconds, walk in circles if your space doesn’t allow straight line travel. After 30 seconds press the weight overhead in the other hand and repeat for 30 seconds. Do as many of these as you can.
Everyone should be working out their core no matter how competitive you are in sports or how heavy you lift in the gym. If you are a beginner and are looking for some tips on where to start your fitness journey check out my other post here that is geared toward prepping and getting started on the path to fit.
Let me know in the comments what your favourite core exercise is or if there are certain areas of the core you would like to target and need some tips.