Firstly, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I really do hope you get some value from it, whether it’s to educate you on effective exercises to target your abdominal region or put you in the right mind-frame to get a flat and toned tummy for once and for all.
Some of what you may read here may be against what you have been told over and over again in fitness magazines, social media and other marketing portals but I urge you to read through it thoroughly and with an open mind.
Before we get into any exercises, I think it is important to get a grasp of what your abdominals and core region actually do and why certain popular ab exercises do not target it effectively. Let’s face it, out of all muscle groups, the abs are probably the one area that people are most conscious of and want to have looking well. Nobody wants a flabby tummy region right??
The core is made up of a number of different muscle groups including the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominals and oblique’s), pelvic floor and the lower back muscles.
Your core has a number of functions;
Your core region helps stabilize the body during most movements including running, sprinting, squats, deadlifts etc… This is a vital function of the core muscles.
One big flaw I see with core exercises is that people try to target it with flexion and/or extension exercises like crunches. If you think of your core as a powerhouse for generating force you will begin to understand how little you are activating these muscles with these types of exercises.
Think of your core region like a balloon. As you push air into a balloon it expands, stretching the material and making it more firm. Your core acts in pretty much the same way. Once you tighten your core region it creates an area of strength and stability. The problem with flexion exercises like the abdominal crunch and sit-ups is that they are not generating this contractual force that really activates the core region. The core region is designed for stability, not flexion. Now, this does not mean that you cannot flex at your abdominal region, we all know you can, but it is not the most effective way to target these muscles. We probably generate ten times more abdominal force performing stability exercises rather than contemporary flexion/extension exercises.
Our core region is designed to protect the spine and internal organs. This would be very difficult without a strong stable core. Without good motor control (engaging the core effectively at the right time) this region can be left very vulnerable and prone to injury. We are all aware of how to lift properly right?? Get down low, use the legs and hips whilst keeping the back straight. But if we are not engaging our core at the same time we are putting our lower back in a very weak position.
So let’s get onto the good stuff…
To make it into my top 5, all the exercises I have chosen are based around strength and stability of the core region, rather than flexion.
So without further adieu, here are my top 5…..
Number 5: The Plank Hold or Prone Bridge
- The starting position for the prone bridge is similar to the push-up, except the elbows are bent and the forearms are flat on the floor.
- The palms can either rest on the floor or they can be together with the fingers interlaced.
- Next, use your elbows and toes to hold the body up off the floor.
- Once in position, push the chest up and rotate the hips forward to properly engage the abdominal muscles. Tense the abdominal muscles.
- A good hold would be anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds.
- Step the elbows out in front, thereby increasing the distance between the elbows and toes.
- Take one foot off the floor.
- Perform from an exercise ball.
- Place a light weigh on your upper back.
Number 4: Pallof Press
- This exercise can be performed using a power band or cable machine with a single-grip handle.
- For the cable machine, position the cable to either shoulder height or at its lowest setting.
- Grab the handle or power band with both hands and step away from the tower until you can feel tension in the cable or band.
- With your feet positioned hip-width apart and knees slightly bent, hold the cable to the middle of your chest. This will be your starting position.
- Press the cable away from your chest, fully extending both arms. You core should be tight and engaged.
- Hold the repetition for several seconds before returning to the starting position.
- At the conclusion of the set, repeat facing the other direction.
- Step further away, thereby adding more tension to the band.
- Progress to a stronger band.
- Put feet together, thereby reducing stabilization with the feet and putting more emphasis on the abdominals.
- Hold for longer at the fully extended position.
Number 3: Rollouts
This exercise is definitely a step up from the plank hold and should only be introduced once a good level of core stability and strength has been developed.
- Hold the Ab Roller with both hands and kneel on the floor.
- Position the ab roller of front of your body while keeping your arms straight. This will be your starting position.
- Slowly roll the ab roller straight forward, letting the arms lead and the hips follow so that everything is moving in sync. Tip: Go down as far as you can without touching the floor with your body. Breathe in during this portion of the movement.
- After a pause at the stretched position, start pulling yourself back to the starting position as you breathe out through the mouth. Tighten or tense your abdominal muscles throughout the full range of motion.
- This exercise is not advised for people with lower back problems or hernias.
- Move the ab roller to the sides in a diagonal fashion as opposed to straight forward, thereby activating the oblique’s more.
- Perform with a weighted Olympic bar. The more weight on the bar, the tougher it will be to get back in, thereby activating the abdominal muscles more.
- Place a light weigh on your upper back.
Number 2: Deadlifts
Another unconventional core exercise but definitely in my top 5. In my opinion, this is the king of exercises, not just to target your core but as a complete body workout.
A deadlift is what it says, plain and simple, a DEAD LIFT from the floor.
- Walk to the bar. Stand with your mid-foot under the bar. Don’t touch it with your shins yet.
- Grab the bar about shoulder-width apart.
- Arms vertical from the front-view, hanging just outside your legs.
- Bend your knees. Keep going until your shins touch the bar. Don’t move the bar. Keep it over your mid-foot.
- Lift your chest and straighten your back while taking the slack (play) out of the bar.
- Take a deep breath in, tense your core and lift smoothly through the hips.
- Don’t shrug or lean back at the top. You’ve finished your Deadlift when you’ve locked your hip and knees.
- Return the weight to the floor by pushing your hips back first.
- Don’t bounce the weight off the floor, pull each rep from a dead stop.
Number 1: Chin Ups
Yes, you read it right, chip-ups. This, in my opinion is one of the best core exercises you can do, FACT. The amount of contractual pressure generated by your core while performing chin-ups is difficult to match, but one thing is for sure, abdominal crunches and sit-ups don’t come anywhere close.
- Grab the pull-up bar with the palms facing your torso.
- Keep your grip approximately shoulder width apart.
- As you have both arms extended in front of you holding the bar at the chosen grip width, keep your torso as straight as possible while creating a curvature on your lower back and sticking your chest out.
- Place one foot in a power band. The purpose of the band is to help lift you up by taking some of your weight.
- Begin with a lat pulldown machine and gradually progress to assisted chin-ups with a power band.
- Use a dips belt to add more weight.
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