With summer just around the corner, clothes are going to get tighter and smaller, and trips to the beach will be planned.
Hands down, the one aspect of everyone’s physique they want to flaunt is their abs.
Nothing says fit like a flat, defined mid-section, and to help you achieve your summer goal, we want to help you get there with five killer ab moves.
Building a strong core will ensure you’ve got the muscles to show off. To do so, you’ll want to target the different muscle groups found in the abdominal region.
There are four main groups located on the front of the body – the internal and external obliques which run down the sides of your body and perform twisting movements, the rectus abdominis which are the famous six-pack muscles, and the transverse abdominis which is the deepest layer of muscle found under the rectus abdominis.
While some of these muscles are visible and some are deeper, they should all be trained for strength, stability, and postural support.
Incorporating the following five exercises will provide a complete abdominal workout for both aesthetics and function.
1. Russian Twists
The Russian twist targets both the internal and external obliques, the muscles responsible for rotating, or twisting, the spine.
Many people neglect training the obliques in an effort to avoid creating a thicker waist, but strong obliques help provide support to the torso, relieving some of the pressure from the abdomen and lower back.
Set-up: Start in a seated position with your knees bent. Grasp a medicine ball with both hands, then raise your feet up off the floor slightly. Lower your upper body by 45 degrees to create a V shape at your hips.
Move: Bracing through your abs, twist from side to side with the ball, keeping your upper body straight. One full rep would involve rotating to the right, left, and returning to the center.
Tip: The obliques are a fast twitch muscle, so don’t be afraid to use explosive speed if you’re able to do so while maintaining a full range of motion and control.
2. Exercise Ball Crunch
The basic crunch has gotten some bad press due to the strain people can put on their neck.
By performing ab crunches on an exercise ball, you can support the lower back to effectively target the upper rectus abdominis without needing to pull on your neck.
Set-up: Sit on a large exercise ball and walk your feet out in front of you, until your lower back is supported on the ball. Lower your upper body to be parallel with the floor. You can either cross your hands over your chest, or extend them out alongside the body.
Move: By contracting the abdominals, lift your upper body while keeping your hips stationary. To get the most out of the contraction, exhale as you crunch up. Inhale as you lower your body back to the starting position to complete one rep.
Tip: Make sure your lower back always maintains contact with the exercise ball.
3. Exercise Ball Knee Tuck
This exercise does double duty as it works the entire rectus abdominis, as well as recruiting the obliques as stabilizers.
You will also feel the burn in your shoulders and upper back as you use these muscles to support your weight.
Set-up: From a kneeling position on the floor, with the exercise ball in front of you, walk your hands out in front and allow the ball to work its way down your body. You will end with your body in a push-up position, hands under your shoulders and your feet on the ball.
Move: Keeping your back flat and hips low, bring your knees toward your chest, allowing your feet to roll along the ball. Extend your legs back out to return to the starting position. Exhale as you bring your knees in, and inhale as you return your legs to the extended position.
Tip: If you have access to a TRX suspension training system, you can execute this move with a less challenging set-up, placing your feet in the stirrups.
4. Hanging Knee Raise
The hanging knee raise is one of the few exercises which specifically target the lower portion of the rectus abdominis – a difficult muscle group to isolate.
The upper abdominals will also be activated, but the primary focus will be the lower half of the group.
Set-up: Hang from a chin-up bar with your hands approximately shoulder-width apart and arms fully extended. Let your legs hang down, so your body is a straight line.
Move: Contract through the abdominals and raise your legs toward your chest, keeping knees bent. With control, lower your legs to return to the starting position. With this exercise, exhale as your bring your legs up, and inhale as you lower them.
Tip: You can alter the difficulty of this move a few different ways. You can make it harder by keeping your legs straight, raising them until they are parallel with your hips. If you want even more of a challenge, keep your legs straight and bring your toes all the way up to meet the bar you’re hanging from.
5. Cable Woodchop
Another exercise which targets the obliques, the cable woodchop requires the use of a cable with a basic D-handle attachment, or similar.
Set-up: Stand with the right side of your body facing the cable stack. Reach your left hand across your body to grab the handle and step away from the cable so the weight is lifted from the rack. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bring your right hand up to hold the handle with both hands, extending your arms fully in front of you.
Move: In a smooth movement, bring the handle across your body and down toward your left hip, rotating through the torso. Your right foot will pivot as you twist, but be sure to keep your back straight and your entire core tight. Keeping your arms straight, return to your starting position by bringing the handle across and up your body toward the right shoulder.
Exhale when you bring the cable across and down, inhale as you bring it back up to the starting position. Execute all your reps on one side, then turn around and perform the same number of reps on the other side to complete one full set.
These five moves will help strengthen your core which is beneficial when executing your heavy lifts such as squats and deadlifts, helping to protect you from injury. Additionally, having a strong core will help you maintain strong and confident posture.
However, no matter how frequently you train your abs, if you want to see them, you need to ensure your body fat level is low enough for them to show.
This is best done by having your diet in check and strategically using cardio to increase your energy output to put you in a calorie deficit. You can also add a quality fat loss supplement into the mix to support your efforts in the gym and kitchen.
Keeping your body fat level down will allow you to see your firm, sculpted midsection that you worked hard for.