If your core workout consists of 50 sit-ups and two 30-second planks, rinse and repeat, you’re missing out on some fun — and better results. “There are so many creative ways to strengthen your abdominals and the surrounding muscles,” says Derek Holmes, a personal trainer based in Chicago. “The more you mix up your moves, the stronger your core gets because you are working different muscles each time.” In other words, it’s not about working out more, but having a smarter ab workout.
But first, you need to understand your anatomy: Your core is made up of five major muscle groups, according to the American Council on Exercise. You’ve got your rectus abdominis (muscles that engage when you bend forward or sit back up); erector spinae (muscles you use to arch back and reach behind your head); internal and external obliques (muscles that twist you side to side); transverse abdominis (helps you suck in your gut); and multifidi (muscles that stabilize your spine). In order to get the strongest core possible, you need to mix up your moves to activate all of these muscle groups.
You also need patience. Killer abs don’t happen overnight (and they don’t happen at all unless you also ditch the drive-thru and drop the spare pounds you’ve been lugging around).
The five moves here take about 10 minutes to complete and will work your core from every angle, while providing enough entertainment that you just might not notice the burn (but, yeah, you probably will). Aim for three to four core sessions a week, along with your regular weight training and cardio, for best results.
What it works: Transverse abdominis and multifidi muscles
How to do it: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet raised off the floor at 90 degrees. Raise both arms directly above your head. Press your lower back into the floor and extend your right leg until it is straight and your right foot hovers just above the floor; at the same time, reach your left arm straight back behind your head until your left hand almost touches the floor. Exhale and bring both arm and leg back to the starting position. Switch sides and repeat for one rep. Do two sets of 10 reps.
What it works: Rectus abdominis and erector spinae
How to do it: Lie flat on the floor. Hike your legs over your head and curl your lower back off the floor. Keep reaching with your legs until your toes touch the floor behind your head. Start a timer and take 60 seconds to uncurl your body back to the prone position in one slow and steady move, keeping legs straight.
Kettlebell Figure 8
What it works: Pecs, traps, and obliques
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold a medium-weight kettlebell with both hands in front of you. Engage your core muscles and begin to swing the kettlebell in front of you in the shape of a figure 8, keeping your arms straight and allowing your torso to twist as you go. Make 10 big figure 8’s, then reverse direction for another 10.
Ball-and Chain Plank Walk
What it works: Obliques, erector spinae, biceps, triceps, lattisimus dorsi (mid-back muscles)
How to do it: Attach a kettlebell to a short rope and hang the rope around your neck like a necklace (the kettlebell should rest on the floor when you are in an extended plank position). Start in a plank position, arms straight, head, back, and legs in a long straight line. Lift you right hand and move it forward, then left. Repeat with right and left legs, As you walk yourself forward in the plank, drag the weight with you. Walk 60 seconds, rest 15 seconds, then walk back 60 seconds.
What it works: Rectus abdominis, obliques
How to do it: Lie prone on the floor, arms by your sides, legs straight. Engage your abs and roll up as you would with a sit-up, but raise and bend your right knee and left elbow tightly to your chest as you do, assuming a fast sprinter pose. Release and repeat on opposite side. That’s one rep. Do 20 reps total.
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