Selecting the correct Core and Ab exercises doesn’t have to be difficult. The days of Sit-Ups and Crunches are over unless you want to destroy your posture and ruin your lower back. The Core and Abs need to be targeted in a scientific way, from all directions, and in a way they are designed to function.
With all this in mind here are my selection of top 10 Core and Ab exercises:
1. Slow Mountain Climbers
The core is primarily designed to prevent movement of the spine, this protects your spine from sudden movements or impacts that may threaten you. Slow Mountain Climbers place the spine in a stable position with gravity pushing down on it. By alternatively drawing the knees to the elbows you challenge your spines stability as well as activating the obliques.
2. Side Plank with Rotation
A lateral spinal stability drill but with an added movement. Like the slow mountain climbers the core works hard to prevent the spine from collapsing. By rotating and threading the arm underneath the body you challenge your spinal stability further and at the same time work your thoracic rotation. Limitations in the thoracic spine are responsible for issues in the lower back so this additional movement is an added bonus.
3. Cable Chop
The core can be attacked in four directions from the cable chop: top right to bottom left, top left to bottom right, bottom right to top left and bottom left to top right. Here the main objective is to prevent rotation of the spine. Reset the weight stack after each rep and learn to re-engage the core each time. It is interesting to note which of the 4 quadrants listed above you struggle with most and then progress this quadrant to balance out your core.
4. Roll Outs
Remember the old AB wheels, well they are back! Rolling out forwards with your hands on the wheel requires a huge amount of core strength and activation as the body tries extremely hard to avoid collapsing at the lower back. This can be a very hard exercise for the beginner but can be made easier by using a stability ball and starting from the knees.
5. Side Plank with Leg Raise
Similar principles to the “Side Plank with Rotation” above but this time you include some hip ABduction. For this exercise you stay in the side plank position and raise the top leg slowly. Avoid external rotation or opening of the hips, stay in line. This exercise is not only intense on the lateral workings of the core but also strengthens the Glute Medius, an important muscle for hip stability and often weak in today’s society.
6. Bird Dog with Rotation
A fundamental exercise that concentrates on the sling systems that connect shoulder to opposite hip. From all fours the opposite arm and leg are extended activating the back extensors. The elbow is then brought towards the knee and then extended out again. Notice how this movement pattern emulates our basic walking and running cross pattern. Strength in this pattern is paramount for general movement and function in daily life.
7. Dirty Dogs
A great number of the core muscles are designed to prevent the back from being over extended. Simple Up and Down Dogs as performed in Yoga will leave you with sore abs as your core works hard to prevent you from over extending your back in the Upwards Facing Dog position. You can take this traditional yoga movement and make it slightly more demanding by reaching back towards the opposite toe in the down dog position.
8. Push Ups
We are all familiar with the regular push up but did you know that they are a great core strengthener too? Push Ups are difficult for many people, not because they have weak upper body strength but because they have weak core strength. You can think of the push up as a moving plank. Clap Push Ups and Push Ups off a Swiss Ball just add more of a core challenge as the demand to stay rigid increases. Ever wondered why some guys can bench press hundreds of pounds but can’t do many push ups? Well now you know, strong chest but weak core!
9. Diaphragm Breathing
The Core and Abs can be divided into Inner and Outer. The Outer consists of all the famous muscles: 6 pack abs, obliques etc. The Inner core is what braces and provides a compression chamber to support the spine. No need to wear a weight lifters belt when you can strengthen your own inner corset and provide your own as nature intended. Simple deep diaphragm breathing from all fours drawing in the naval towards the spine on the Out breath and pushing it out on the In breath, will strengthen your inner corset and take inches off your waist.
10. Interval Sprints
Not only great for fat loss and cardiovascular conditioning but intensive on the core muscles too. Fast and explosive cross diagonal engagement of the core is as nature intended. You don’t have to sprint from a wild animal just try 5-8 sprints of 20-30 seconds resting until your heart rate comes back down to 60-75 % of you max heart rate before repeating. Ensure you have a good level of Cardio health before trying this one!
These are my top core exercise recommendations. With the addition of a good clean nutrition plan, and a reduction in stress levels and you are well on your way to the body of your dreams.
Have you tried any of these Exercises? Let me know how you got on below…