We have all heard of the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen” and although there is some truth to that, it would be more accurate to change it to “abs are made in the kitchen and the gym”. Having a clean diet will be instrumental in fat loss which will make it possible for your abs to show through, but core exercises are also vital. A strong core will not only give you abs but you will be able to perform all your other workouts as well as your daily activities that much better. Not only this, but a strong core prevents injury, especially those linked to the back.
However, not all ab exercises are created equal. Before we go into the ab exercises that do work, here are some that are, at best, ineffective, and at worst, likely to cause injury and set you back on your fitness progress.
This is often the go to exercise people think of when it comes to abdominal workouts but it is actually not very effective. Additionally, sit ups put too much emphasis on your hip flexors and move the body against the natural curvature of the spine, making you prone to discomfort and injuries.
Straight-legged sit ups
Once again, this is likely to cause back injuries as it puts unnecessary strain on your lower back as you try to jerk yourself up from the ground.
Two-Dumbbell Side bends
The weight of the dumbbell on one side offsets the weight on the other side making this exercise pretty ineffective. Plus, bending your body to the side, especially with a heavy weight, puts your spine in a vulnerable position.
Twisting ab machine
You will find this machine in almost every gym but this does not mean you should use it. The twisting movement you do on this machine is terrible for your lumbar spine (i.e. lower back) which is not designed for excessive twisting.
This is another ab machine at the gym you should avoid. According to a study by the American Council on Exercise, this machine is 80% less effective than a traditional crunch.
Now that you know what to avoid, here are some of the best ab exercises that DO work and target your core from different angles.
- Strengthens your entire core, arms, back, and glutes
- Encourage proper alignment of spine
How to: Supporting yourself with both forearms on the ground and aligned with your shoulders, prop yourself up with your whole body in a straight line. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. If you want to add an extra challenge, slowly extend one arm forward and hold for a few seconds while keeping the rest of your body as still as possible and bring it back to the original position. Repeat with the other arm.
Side Planks Dips
- Targets obliques and transverse abs
- Strengthens the lower back, so it can help with lower back pain
How to: Start with a side plank with one forearm on the ground and legs stacked on top of each other. Lower hips to the ground a couple of inches and bring back up to the original position. Do 10-15 reps on each side.
Modification: Instead of having your legs stacked, place your top leg on the ground slightly in front of you or have the knee closest to the floor on the ground.
- Targets your upper and lower abs
How to: Lay on your back with your legs extended towards the ceiling and a slight bend in your knees. Engaging your core, lift your torso and reach as much as you can towards your toes. Lower back down and repeat. For an extra burn, do not let your shoulder fully touch the ground when you are coming back down. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
- Engages all aspects of your abs including deep abs and obliques
How to: Start laying on your back with your shoulders slightly off the mat and your legs pulled towards your chest. Then straighten your right leg while twisting your upper body to the left and bringing your right elbow to your left knee. Repeat on the other side. Make sure you go slow and not use momentum to get the full benefit. Do for 30-60 seconds.
- Build core strength
- Helps improve cognitive function
How to: Start with your back flat on the ground, your legs in tabletop position, and your arms fully extended perpendicular to the ground. Slowly lower your right arm while simultaneously lowering your left leg, then bring back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Do 10 reps on each side.