When your aim is a six-pack, a stronger core, and better overall definition for your abs, the term ‘beginner’ is relative when it comes to how much work you are putting in.
If you are starting at square one then you are in the right place to learn some of the top exercises for stronger, more defined abs. But even if you are already regularly working on it, there is a good chance one vital ingredient is missing from your abs training: diversity.
Stomach crunches are the cornerstone of many coaches’ regimen, and while they afford you many benefits, including a stronger core, harder belly and dexterity within that range of movement, it does not necessarily give you a six-pack. Nor does it help strengthen your abs as a whole.
Sure, it’s good to have a jumping off point, a place to start, and crunches will certainly be a decent place to start, but when it comes to bodybuilding you need to learn to look at your body a muscle group at a time. For example, while press ups will develop your chest, inclining and declining presses will work the upper and lower part of your chest, with flies targeting yet another part of your pecs. In other words, it’s not always one size fits all.
Your abs work the same; that is, you need to work them from all angles to ensure you cover them as effectively as possible. That’s how you get a six pack – that and enough cardio to trim the body fat from your midriff.
So what are the best abs exercises to get you started?
You already know how standard crunches work, so let’s take this a step further by using a yoga ball so that you are working auxiliary muscles to balance while you sit up. Your upper abs bear the main brunt of these.
Using either a pull-up bar or dipping bars to elevate yourself, keep your legs straight and slowly raise them until you form an L shape. These will work your lower abs and back. They may also be performed flat on your back on the floor. You might also take them a step further by clenching a yoga ball between your feet while keeping your legs straight when raised.
With your back and legs straight, support yourself on your elbows. If you’re new to planks they can appear deceptively easy but will soon have your arms and core trembling. To advance, once you’re comfortable you may hold the position for longer and rest on a yoga ball, increasing the inclination. You can also use side planks to tone your sides up by leaning on one elbow while keeping your body straight.
These may be performed standing up or lying on a mat. When standing, face forward with your feet apart and twist, reaching to all the way around one side. Return to the middle and repeat on the other side. Lying on the floor (particularly with your legs slightly raised) will provide an extra challenge and really work the muscles on your hips. You will see the best result from these when you add weights, for example by holding a medicine ball, and twist it to each side over your middle.
An ab roller works the abs and improves core strength and definition. It combines qualities of core exercises such as planking while stretching and channelling the arms.
Standing up straight, slowly, intentionally feel your opposite side tighten as you reach the side of the other knee. It should be a sliding motion. These are easily adapted with a weight in each hand to add extra resistance. Better yet, use a Roman chair or an elevated platform while securing your legs. From this position, take a kettlebell in your hand nearest the floor. This will place extra resistance on the opposing side of your abdomen as you extend.
Roman Chair Extensions
Essentially the reverse of crunches, following on from the Roman chair (or similar raised platform that secures your feet) this exercise will work your very important posterior chain. These muscles in your lower back are incredibly important for posture and core strength, and given that many standard abs exercises have you curling upfront ways, it’s likely high time that you thought about your back.
Beginning at a right angle facing down on a Roman chair, raise your back up and extend so that you are straight, channelling your glutes and lower back. Make things a little tougher by holding a kettlebell or by having a weighted lifting sack across your shoulders.
It doesn’t all happen on the mats, you know. Your aim is overall core strength that works all aspects of your abs, and the squat rack can help you. Sure it’s a leg workout to build your quads and hamstrings, but your abs will receive a royal workout in its role of helping you to balance and remain upright.
Leg exercises – especially compound lifts such as squats and deadlifts – will also burn a lot of calories, given the volume of muscle fibres they put to work. Good news if you want to trim some body fat while you are seeking your six pack abs.