Despite what you may have heard, everyone has abs (or abdominal muscles for the uninitiated) – they play a vital role in maintaining balance and transferring force as you move and especially when you train in the gym. If you want them to be visible like the guys and girls you see in the movies then you need to have a low enough body-fat percentage and a little help from your genetics!
Unfortunately, you can’t just do hundreds of crunches every day and expect to have really awesome abdominal muscles. If you’re looking to strengthen your core then compound movements like squats, deadlifts and even the bench press (yes, really) require you to engage your core to correctly perform the movement.
If you’re looking to incorporate a little isolation training at the end of your workout, then the following core exercises are the best ones you can perform for your body!
The plank is a fantastic and beginner-friendly exercise for your abs that, when modified, can work every single abdominal muscle. Once you’ve progressed onto and are comfortable with a traditional plank, variations like side planks work the often-neglected external and internal obliques.
2. Cable Crunch
Exercising in the gym is built around the idea of progressive overload, where over time you lift heavier, run further or simply do more reps. It can be difficult to overload your abdominal muscles, primarily because they’re used to supporting your bodyweight all day long! This is where the cable crunch comes in – by adding weight you’re able to overload the muscles, resulting in growth.
3. Ab Wheel Rollout
Ab wheel rollouts are another exercise that has progressions from beginner all the way to advanced levels and can work all abdominal muscle groups through variations. Although this exercise can be a little demanding, if you stick with it you’ll gain additional benefits like stronger shoulders and increased lower body flexibility.
4. Bicycle Crunch
Aside from being one of the most effective core exercises in hitting your abs from all angles, it’s also one of the easiest to perform. People spend a lot of time sitting with hunched shoulders, which a basic crunch exaggerates. Alternatively, bicycle crunches require you to keep your lower back and shoulder blades on the floor, taking pressure off your back whilst still working your core!
Although they appear relatively easy, the l-sit requires strength, flexibility and control making them no walk in the park. This classic gymnastic move is considered by many to be the only core exercise you’ll ever need – and for good reason. Despite being a static hold, l-sits place a huge demand on your lower abs as well as strengthening your triceps and your shoulders.
With the exception of the bicycle crunch, all of the above core exercises have multiple progressions if you can’t perform the movement straight away. It might take a bit of grit and determination to get there, but in the end you know it’ll be worth it!
Andrew Pallett is a qualified personal trainer and fitness author. You can find more of his health and fitness articles on his website, Sometimes I Train.