One of the great things about ab work is that it's really not as complicated as people make it. You don't need to invest in all the fancy gadgets. You don't need to obsess over the latest ab exercises that trainers invent to keep people interested. If you like doing that, great, go for it, but sometimes the best workouts are the most simple workouts. Here are five things you need to remember when working your abs:
- Target every abdominal muscle group. Your "abs" aren't a single muscle - they consist of multiple muscle groups that work together to help with everything from respiration and posture to bending, twisting and, well, really every single movement that you do. It's important that when you do ab work, you target each of the muscle groups that make up your core. Mix up your routine so that you're including bending, twisting, extending and static exercises so that you hit your rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis and erector spinae.
- Don't always save ab work for the end. It's a fairly common practice to save abdominal exercises for the end of a workout routine, after you've completed cardio or other strength training exercises. While there's nothing overtly wrong with this practice, it's a good idea to mix it up occasionally and add your ab work to the beginning of your program or in between sets of other exercises. This way you won't be as fatigued when you target your core which will allow you to really focus on proper form and enhancing abdominal strength.
- Add weight. If you want stronger abs, you should add weight to your exercises! Your abdominals are muscles just like your quads, hamstrings and biceps, and they respond to strength training the same way...they grow! This doesn't mean you'll get out-of-control-huge abs, it just means that you'll have a better chance of enhancing definition in your core. So, grab dumbbells, plate weights or medicine balls to amp up your routine. Just remember, form is more important than the number of exercises you can do! If you find yourself becoming fatigued after you add weight to an exercise, go ahead and do fewer reps, just slow them down and make sure they're done correctly.
- Make over your diet. Everyone wants awesome abs, but they're certainly not easy to come by. It takes hard work in the gym and in the kitchen in order to be successful. If you want to start seeing your six pack, you need to make sure you're giving your body the fuel it needs to burn fat and calories. Do a three day food diary to get a good feel for how much you're eating and where you could make some changes. You'd be surprised how much this can help!
- Keep 'em tight all the time. While it's important to specifically target your abs at least a couple days a week, you can actually help strengthen and tone your core by remaining focused on proper posture at all times, particularly during other exercises. For instance, if you're a runner, make sure you keep your abs pulled in toward your spine as you run. If you like hitting the weights, make sure you engage your abs and core during every exercise you perform. Without even realizing it, your abdominals are always at work, so by remaining focused on your abs, you can help prevent injury and enhance your overall performance.
6 Best exercises for abs at home
If you like working your abs from the comfort of your own home, you're best served by keeping things simple. These five tummy exercises will target every abdominal muscle group without requiring much equipment. Here's all you'll need:
- Bench or step (if you don't have either of these, you can perform the exercise on the floor instead)
- Medicine ball, plate weight or dumbbell weighing between two and 12 pounds (depending on your strength)
- Yoga mat or fitness mat (purely for comfort reasons)
>> See the exercises in action here:
Perform the V-up while sitting on a bench, aerobic step or while sitting on the floor. The benefit of using a bench or step is that you can grasp the edges of the bench just behind your butt to help keep you stable. With your feet together, draw your knees into your chest and lean your torso back slightly. From this position, extend your knees, keeping your feet off the ground, tightening your torso and leaning back slightly to help maintain balance. Draw your knees back into your chest to complete a single repetition. Aim to perform between 15 and 20 repetitions to complete a single set. Be sure to keep your back straight throughout the movement and avoid supporting your weight too much on your arms.
Medicine ball twist
Sit on a mat with a medicine ball or other weight in your hands, your knees bent and your heels on the ground. Lean your torso back slightly, but keep your back straight. Keeping your hips stationary, twist your torso to one side, touching the weight to the ground before twisting back to center and continuing to twist to the opposite side. When you have touched the medicine ball to the ground on each side of your body and returned to center, you've completed a single repetition. Aim to perform 12 to 20 repetitions to complete a single set.
Balancing on your forearms and toes, create a straight line with your body from your heels to your head. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds to complete a single set.
Contrary to popular belief, the leg lift doesn't work your "lower abs," it just works your rectus abdominis muscles from a different angle, which you'll feel more in the lower half of your abdominals and into your hip flexors. Lie on your back and place your hands underneath your hips to help support your lower back. Raise your legs so that they form a 90 degree angle with the ground. Keeping your abs engaged and your lower back in contact with the ground, lower your legs to within six inches of the ground, then reverse the movement and raise them back up to the starting position. Repeat 10 to 20 times to complete a single set. If your back begins to arch, and you can't seem to keep it in contact with the ground, that's a clear sign that you should rest before trying to perform another set.
The situp works your rectus abdominis all the way from your sternum to your hips. While you may have heard that situps are "bad," that really just depends on a person's strength and form. If situps are uncomfortable, do crunches instead! You can also perform situps on a fitness ball to make the exercise more difficult.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, your heels in contact with the floor. Don't hook your feet under equipment for support and don't have anyone hold your feet in place - that will cause you to use your hip flexors more than your abdominals to perform the exercise. Place your hands next to your head or across your chest, just be sure that you aren't pulling on your neck or your ears, or using your arms to help you perform the exercise. Roll your body upward, starting with your shoulders and continuing until your lower back lifts off the ground. If you can't roll up all the way, just do what you can. From the seated position, reverse the movement and roll back to start in a controlled fashion to complete a single repetition. Aim to perform 15 to 30 to perform a single set. If you can perform 30 situps easily with perfect form, consider adding weight to the movement.
Lie on your left side with your left forearm on the ground and your upper arm extended directly under your shoulder, supporting your torso off the ground. Stack your right foot on top of your left foot. When you're ready, lift your hips off the ground so that your body forms a straight, angled line from your feet to your forehead. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds before switching sides. When you have performed the exercise on each side, you've performed a single set.