The first things I tell people when they ask me about ab work are: that your abs are used in every exercise and movement that you do, you can work your abs every day (unlike other muscle groups that need recovery time), there are four ab muscle groups – you need to work all of them with different exercises, you cannot get a lean mid-section by crunches alone. This makes it sound like in Nia class there is a free extra ab work out.
Finally (because everybody wants to know how) every body has a six-pack inside them. Unless you are one of the 15% of people who are genetically encoded to show them, you will not get the six-pack abs that you see in magazines.
You see, your body loses weight (or fat) everywhere at the same time. Even if you are down to 11% body fat, it’s still unlikely that the six-pack will show. However, you can have a pretty flat stomach and it can look pretty nice on your body. The rest of your body at this point will also look “shredded.” (That’s bodybuilding jargon for very lean, cut and strong.)
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are my favorite ab exercises. I want to warn you: some of these suck while you are doing them. The pleasure principle does not apply here. It will burn and it will surely make you whine. But it does get better over time and you will truly feel much fitter as your abs get strong.
In no particular order, here they are. I’ve listed reps for one set. Start with that if you are starting from scratch. Add more sets as you get stronger.
- Lie face up on your mat and place your hands behind your head, lightly supporting it with your fingers.
- Bring the knees in to the chest and lift the shoulder blades off the floor without pulling on the neck.
- Rotate to the left, bringing the right elbow towards the left knee as you straighten the other leg.
- Switch sides, bringing the left elbow towards the right knee.
- Continue alternating sides in a ‘pedaling’ motion
- Repeat 25 times counting every other knee in.
- Lie face down on mat resting on the forearms, palms flat on the floor.
- Push off the floor, raising up onto your toes and resting on your elbows.
- Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels.
- Tilt your pelvis and contract your abdominals to prevent your rear end from sticking up in the air or sagging in the middle.
- Breathe a lot and hold for a minute. If you have to come down to rest, go back up until you’ve lasted a whole minute total.
- Lie on the ball, positioning it under the lower back.
- Cross your arms over the chest or place them behind your head.
- Contract your abs to lift your torso off the ball, pulling the bottom of your ribcage down toward your hips.
- As you curl up, keep the ball stable (i.e., the ball shouldn’t roll).
- Lower back down, getting a stretch in the abs.
- Repeat 20 times
- Stand on the chair and grip handholds to stabilize your upper body. You can do this hanging as well.
- Press your back against the pad (or stabilize with your own body control) and contract the abs to raise the legs and lift knees towards your chest.
- Don’t arch the back or swing the legs up.
- Slowly lower back down.
- Repeat 20 times.
- For an advances extra punch to this do a set with straight legs and then a set alternating knees to the right and left.
- Lie on the floor with your knees bent – feet flat on the floor.
- Cross one ankle over the opposite knee.
- Place your hands behind your head.
- Contract your abs and twist toward the knee that’s in the air, pulling the bottom of your ribcage on that side down toward your hips.
- As you curl up, keep your elbows back and keep your chin/head in a neutral position.
- The movement should feel like you are aiming your shoulder for a point past your knee.
- Lower back down.
- Repeat 20 times on each side.
- Lie on the floor with your with your legs straight up to the ceiling.
- Place your hands, palms down at your sides and rest your head on the floor.
- Lower one leg (straight) to the floor and back up to meet the other.
- Repeat on same side 10 times, then switch. A total of 20 in a set.
- Try not to move the air-born leg. It should create the stability while the other leg moves down and up.
Abdominus Rectus and Upper Abs – Roll out on the ball:
- Stand or kneel facing the ball.
- Place your hands on the ball in front of you, arms parallel.
- Pulling your belly button towards your spine and tightening your torso, slowly roll forward onto your forearms (stop at the elbow), rolling the ball out as far as you can without arching or straining the back.
- Push the elbows into the ball and squeeze the abs to pull the body back to start. Hips thrust up toward the ceiling.
- Avoid this move if you have back problems. Repeat for 10-20 reps.
- Facing down in a plank position, place your shins on top of the exercise ball, legs extended
- Extend your arms to lift you up from the floor. Keep your shoulders over your wrists.
- Keeping your weight on your extended arms, roll the ball in by bending your knees and hips. Your body will fold up like child’s yoga pose.
- Extend your legs back after a short pause.
- Breathe out while rolling the ball in and breathe in while returning to starting position.
- Repeat for 10-20 reps.
- Lie on your right side in a loose fetal position.
- Open the chest to the ceiling – leave your legs in starting position.
- Place your left hand behind your head. Right hand on your left side abs.
- Once you are in this set position, begin by moving your left elbow up as you would perform a normal crunch except this time the main emphasis is on your obliques. Lift straight up leading with your heart not your chin or head.
- This will be a small move, but crunch as high as you can, hold the contraction for a second and then slowly return to the starting position.
- Remember to breathe in as you lower down and to breathe out as you lift.
- Concentrate on perfect execution and slow speed. Do 20 on each side.
- Lie with your back flat on the floor, legs extended in front of you.
- Bend your knees and place the souls of your feet together, your outer thighs on the floor.
- Bring the souls of your feet up as near you as possible while you keep the outer thighs on the floor.
- Interlace your fingers and straighten your arms so your fists reach toward your feet. This will be your starting position.
- As you exhale flatten your lower back to the floor while curling the torso upwards. Hold at the top position for a second.
- As you inhale, slowly lower back to the starting position.
- Repeat 20 times.
Commit to these for 45 days and see what you get. Alternate your choices 1-5 on day one and 6-10 on the next and so on. Be warned: Don’t just choose the ones you like. Your body will get used to anything and stop improving.