If there is one body part that you should not be struggling to train at home — it is the abdominals. Yet the abs are one of the most neglected body parts of any training programme.
Traditionally, ab training is done using little to no equipment with an emphasis on burning out the muscle rather than the quality of each rep and exercise. This was driven by the belief that you could lose fat by targetting a specific area of the body and constantly working that area. Therefore, according to spot reduction, the key to a tight and aesthetic waist was a liberal supply of sit-ups and crunches whilst heavy weighted core exercises would make you bulky and square.
Thanks to modern sports science, we now know that this is not the case. You cannot spot reduce fat. But this is not to say we can’t learn anything from our fitness mistakes. These bodyweight ab exercises are great for developing the core muscles and can be done at home with no equipment whatsoever.
The crunch remains the best-known exercise for your abs, and with good reason. They work the entire abdominal area and achieve a great contraction with every rep.
- Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You can cross your arms across your chest or keep your hands up by your forehead.
- Contracting your abdominal muscles, bring your ribcage closer to your hips. Your extreme lower back should remain on the floor.
- Squeeze tight and return to the start position with your back flat on the ground.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 – 20 reps to start, increase the reps as you progress.
Remember, this is not a sit-up. You should only be contracting your abdominal muscles, not bringing your entire torso into your knees.
2. Heel taps
- Lie flat on your back with your feet flat on the ground.
- Your feet and knees should be together and tucked high close to your glutes.
- With your hands at your sides, contract your left obliques to touch your left heel with your left hand and then immediately contract your right obliques to touch your right heel with your right hand. This counts as one rep.
- Keep repeating this movement for the desired sets and reps.
- Perform 3 sets of 30 (each heel) to start, and progress as you get better
This works best if you lightly contract your abdominals as well as your obliques so that your upper body is an inch or so off the ground and not causing undue friction.
A little different than the previous examples, the plank uses all the core muscles in the way we use them the most, as stabilisers for the rest of the body. It can be a real mental battle as it’s you against the clock on this one.
- Assume a press-up position, except place your forearms on the ground with clenched fists at about the same position as your shoulders.
- Brace the body and hold this position.
- Hold for 3 sets of 30 seconds to start with, increase the times as you get better. Rest for the same amount of time that you worked.
You can make these harder with your elbows slightly forward or weight on your back. A backpack is most easily accessible for this purpose.
4. Mountain climbers
Mountain climbers utilise both contraction and stabilisation. They can be used as conditioning to increase work capacity and function as a great dynamic exercise.
- Assume the press-up position.
- Keeping your torso stable, bring your right knee up to your chest. You may touch the ground with the ball of your right foot or keep your foot suspended.
- Repeat the motion with your left leg whilst simultaneously bringing your right leg to the starting position.
- Perform 20 on each leg to start with, for 4 sets each.
Perform these fast but controlled and this becomes a great work capacity finisher to any ab session.
5. Leg Raises
- An excellent exercise for the hard-to-hit lower abdominals.
- Lay flat on your back with your legs outstretched and toes pointed. You may place your hands under your glutes for extra support.
- Slowly raise your feet to a foot off the ground and slowly lower them back down.
- Do not touch your feet to the ground again until you finish the exercise.
- Can be done against the clock or through reps. Start with 15 controlled reps for 2 – 4 sets.
These can be really tough on the lower abs but the reward after is worth the pain.
6. Bicycle crunch
A dynamic variation of the crunch, this exercise keeps things interesting and targets the obliques and serratus anterior as well as the abdominals
- Start in the crunch position, with your hands at your forehead so that your elbows are bent. Bend both your knees slightly and keep your feet elevated.
- Contract your abs as you bring your left elbow and right knee in so that they nearly touch.
- Repeat for the other side whilst simultaneously returning your right knee to the start position
- 30 reps for each side is good – 3 sets
Best performed quickly but, as always, maintain full control over the movements.
7. Pike Crunch
- Whilst lying on your back with your legs straight and above your hips, slowly lower your legs stopping just before you feel you lose pressure between your lower back and the floor
- With extended arms peel your spine off the floor starting with your shoulders and upper back reaching your fingers towards your toes
- Return to your starting position whilst maintaining control
- 4 sets of 10 reps
This exercise is going to be great for the lower portion of the abs and make for a great finisher to any ab workout.
8. Reverse Crunch
- Lay on your back with your arms by your side and legs extended above hips
- Lower your legs whilst maintaining control of your lower back
- Return your legs and without using momentum lift your hips from the floor just enough to feel your abs contracting
- 3 sets of 15 reps
Take your time with this movement and if done correctly don’t expect to complete high reps straight away
9. Hollow Holds
These can be brutal when done properly. Hollow holds use the whole core against the clock and you can feel it from the first second.
- Lay flat on your back, with your feet, pointed. Your arms should be outstretched vertically over your head
- Contract your core to raise both your feet and arms around 8 inches or so off the ground. Hold this position.
- Hold for 20 seconds to start with – complete 3 sets.
Increase the time as you get better work to a work-rest ratio of 1:1.
There isn’t an excuse to train your abdominals now you are armed with the best ab exercises you can do at home. The abs are not just an aesthetic fixture to the body, and they are often overlooked because they are not often on the show – but always remember that the trunk of the tree is always stronger than its branches. No matter what your fitness goals are, the core is king when it comes to achieving them.