The abs command a lot of attention for exercisers, particularly as the core and functional workouts now are household terms. People should pursue a great ab workout not only for a toned appearance, but for the resulting health benefits.
Having a strong center plays an important role in virtually all movements. It contributes to good posture, helps to reduce the risk of debilitating back pain and improves performance of not only physical activity but everyday tasks as well.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no need to perform hundreds of crunches daily to obtain a tight core. In fact, a great ab workout hits the rectus abdominus (the top layer, otherwise known as the washboard), the internal and external obliques (the sides of the waist) and the transverse abdominus (the deep horizontal band of muscle that functions like a girdle). The rectus abdominus is responsible for spinal flexion (or crunching), the obliques perform lateral flexion (bending to the side) and spinal rotation, and the tranverse abdominus stabilizes the back and pelvis.
Now that we know a great ab workout must hit all these muscles and movements, we can look at which exercises will work these areas. Obviously, there are lots of exercises to choose from, but here are some of the most effective options.
Exercises for a Great Ab Workout
- Plank – Assume a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Retract the shoulder blades, draw the navel to the spine and hold for several breaths. For more challenge, draw your bent knee the elbow, alternating right and left and keeping the hips low without the belly sagging.
- Tuck and Extend – While seated, draw your knees to your chest with your hands behind you on the floor for support. Tuck the knees in toward the upper body, then extend the legs parallel to the floor and lean back. Inhale as you tuck, exhale as you extend.
- Seated Twists – Holding a dumbbell or medicine ball (or no weight) at your chest, sit and lean back 30-45 degrees with knees bent and feet on the floor. Twist slowly to the right and left, rotating from the waist. Lift the feet off the floor to make it harder.
- Teaser – A classic Pilates move, lie on your back with arms extended overhead and legs extended. Contract the abs and raise the torso and right leg to a V-sit, reaching both hands toward the ankle. Hold for a moment and slowly return to lying down; repeat with the opposite leg. Or do the full teaser with both arms extended and both legs lifted each time.
- Double-leg Stretch – Another Pilates favorite, lie on your back and hug your knees to your chest, holding the shins with the hands. Scoop your abs by drawing them in and up (navel to spine), tuck your chin to your chest and lift the head and neck off the floor. Inhale. On the exhale, extend the legs parallel to the floor and the arms up by the ears, as if you are taking off a top hat. Pause. Inhale and hug in again, then repeat.
The key to a great ab workout is not only hitting all the muscle groups and movements, but also consistency and variety. Add these exercises into your workout routine and switch in other moves periodically.