The Best Exercises for a Toned Stomach and Strong Core
By Myprotein Writer Sarah Curran
The “Core” Principle
The stomach includes a group of muscles that many trainers refer to as the core. The main muscles of this group include:
– The Rectus abdominis
– Internal and external obliques,
– Transverses abdominis,
– and the hip flexors.
The Benefits of a Strong Core
There are many benefits in training these muscles, and aside from them being a symbol of fitness to many people, training them to be strong has also been shown to help reduce back pain and increase balance and stability.
Reducing Back Pain
For example, in a California university research project it was illustrated that after the study was completed; participants that undertook a 10 week core workout plan actually experienced 30 percent less back pain than they had reported prior to it. Not only this but, a Canadian study that included over 8000 people over a time span of 13 years found that those with the weakest abdominal muscles had more than twice the death rate of the people included in the study with stronger core muscles.
Reducing the Risk of Injury
By taking the time to develop the core muscles, you can highly reduce your risk of injury and enable yourself to lift heavier weights in training. This is due to the fact that your spine is better supported throughout more challenging lifts. Having a strong core is a sure fire way to making improvements in performance alongside appearance.
Exercises For a Strong Core and Toned Stomach
Core and abdominal exercises can be broken down into different groups, and by including some from each group you can ensure you have a well rounded abs programme that will hit the muscles from different angles.
1. Stability Exercises
These exercises improve your body’s ability to stabilise your spine. This essential in all weight lifting exercises, but most importantly in the deadlift, squat and bench press. They are also extremely useful for training the muscles that are most visible such as the ones that create a six-pack.
The plank variation exercises include: the basic plank, side plank, mountain climbers, swiss ball jack knife and also the kneeling stability chop.
How to Perform:
To perform the basic plank, position yourself in a push up position but rest your bodyweight on your forearms instead of your hands. This will take any excessive pressure off your wrists. It is crucial that your body forms a straight line. Squeeze your stomach and glutes tight and hold this position for as long as possible while breathing normally.
Kneeling Stability Chop
To perform a kneeling stability chop, set up the cable machine using the single rope attachment on a high level on the tower. Kneel down so that the right side of your torso is facing the weight stack. Use both hands to grip the rope at each end in an overhand style grip.
Turn your shoulders to the rope, but keep your torso facing forwards. You should remain upright through this exercise, and without moving your torso, pull the rope hard past your hip on the left hand side.
Return to the starting position and repeat the movement for as many reps as necessary. Make sure you swap sides when you finish so you train your obliques evenly.
2. Rotational exercises
Rotational exercises target all the abdominal muscles, with particular emphasis on the obliques.
These exercises also have particular benefits that carry over to sports as they improve performance by increasing power in movements that you need to throw or swing explosively such as tennis and even golf.
Exercises include: weighted Russian twist, hip crossover, kneeling rotational chop.
The Russian Twist
To do the Russian twist, simply sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat and your torso leaning back at a forty five degree angle. Stretch your arms out in front of you, and place your hands together as though you are clapping your hands.
Squeeze your stomach and twist to the right as far as you can. Pause, then return back to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Trunk flexion
Trunk flexion exercises are probably the most commonly performed exercises when anyone is training to get toned abs. These exercises target your rectus abdominis in particular but also your internal and external obliques.
The most popular exercise in this group include: the sit up, but it also includes kneeling cable crunches and medicine ball slams.
Although these exercises target the visible muscles of the stomach specifically, they are not ideal for anyone with lower back problems as they require you to round your lower back constantly. Stability exercises, on the other hand, have been shown to benefit back health and so should provide the main focus of your programme.
How To Perform:
To do a sit up, lie on the ground looking to the ceiling with your knees bent and feet flat. Squeeze your stomach and as you breathe out, lift your torso off the floor in a controlled movement. Reverse the exercise by lowering your torso back to the starting position.
4. Hip Flexion Exercises
This group of exercises targets your hip flexors and also your external oblique’s while still working other muscles including the rectus abdominis.
Movements include: reverse crunches, leg lowering drills and hanging leg raises.
To do a leg lowering drill, simply lie flat on your back with your arms out straight to each side for balance. Raise your legs so that they are perpendicular to the floor while keeping a slight bend in the knees.
Squeeze your stomach tight and without changing your back or knee position, with a controlled movement slowly lower your feet as close to the floor as you can. Push your back into the floor as you perform the exercise.
The movement is complete when your feet touch the floor. Return back to the start of the movement and repeat for the required number of repetitions.
5. Side Flexion
Finally, side flexion exercises place particular emphasis on the muscles that are to the side of your abdominals such as your internal and external obliques.
Exercises include: side crunches and hanging oblique raises.
How To Perform:
To perform a hanging oblique raise hang from a chin-up bar using an overhand grip. Raise your legs until they are bent at a ninety degree angle. Raise your left hip towards your left arm pit, pause, return to the starting position and then raise then your right hip towards your right armpit. Repeat the movement for as many repetitions as needed and ensure to train both sides equally.
A Take Home Message
It is important to be aware that the main factor that determines the visibility of the abdominal muscles is in fact related to body composition, not necessarily the amount of sit ups you perform in the gym. If you have high body fat, no matter what abdominal training you undertake, you won’t reveal a six pack without reducing your body fat levels. Diet is essential here and also cardio in moderation which may be useful for both controlling and lowering body fat as necessary.