Whether you want strength or just a good-looking midsection, these tips will get you there.
The muscles of the core are responsible for much more than just flexion of the spine. When you do situps or crunches, spinal flexion is the only thing you’re training your core muscles to do. But since your core muscles are also responsible for stabilization and rotation of the torso, it stands to reason they should be trained for this as well. Here are five types of exercises you should be doing in every abs workout.
1) Rotation Exercises: These include Russian Twists (Robert recommends these and demonstrates them in his book, Fit Fuel) as well as cable rotations. When doing cable rotations, stand next to a cable station with the weight stack to one side and hold a D handle straight out in front of you. You should stand far enough away from the weight stack so that there is tension in the cable. Keeping your spine straight and your elbows locked out in front of you, turn away from the cable station to lift the weight, then slowly return to the starting position, keeping tension on your core muscles. Do an equal number of reps on each side.
2) Anti-Rotation Exercises: A simple anti-rotation exercise is to set up in the same way as the aforementioned cable rotation exercise and use the pin to select a heavy weight on the weight stack. Step away from the machine so that you have to use core tension to keep from turning toward the weight stack. Hold this position for a period of 30 to 60 seconds (or more). Repeat for equal time on the opposite side. This same exercise can be done with a resistance band; simply loop the band around a stable anchor point and set up in the same way, stepping away from the anchor point until there is significant tension on the band.
3) Planks: The standard plank—both feet and both elbows on the ground—is a staple of exercise routines presented in this magazine, but there is a lot more to the amazing plank than just this one variation. Try these: Reaching one arm out in front of you for 10 seconds, then switching arms every 10 seconds; switching one foot off the ground every 10 seconds; side planks with your top foot raised so that your legs form a V. You can also do planks holding onto a resistance band anchored a few feet away, or with a weight plate on your back.
4) Hyperextension Exercises: Your spinal erectors, or the muscles of your lower back, also constitute the muscles of your core. Make sure you give them equal time. The more you strengthen your lower back now, the fewer problems you are likely to have later in life. Simple hyperextensions include those done on a 45-degree hyperextension bench or on a glute-ham bench. In both variations, you can place your hands behind your head or cross your arms in front of your chest. Keep your head up, your shoulders back, and your upper back flat. Bend at the waist and return to the start by engaging the muscles of your lower back. Squeeze in the top position and slowly return to the start. You can also do the “Superman” exercise: Lie face-down on the floor and raise both arms and both legs off the ground at the same time. You will feel tension in your lower back. Squeeze the muscles in this position and then slowly return to the start. Repeat for 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps.
5) Spinal Flexion Exercises: Situps and crunches you know, so try one of these:
A) Kneeling weighted crunches: Kneel in front of a weight stack with the pulley in the top position and the rope attachment attached. Hold the ends of the rope at either side of your head and bend at the waist, keeping your back flat, to lift the weight.
B) Spread-eagle situps: Lie on the ground and spread your feet as wide as you can, anchoring your feet under a weight bench or a pair of heavy dumbbells. Put your hands behind your head and keeping your back flat, sit up until your body forms a 90-degree angle. This move does a much better job of targeting the lower portion of your abdominals—near your hip flexors—than the standard variation.
WORKOUT OF THE MONTH
This month’s Workout of the Month is going to give you two great options: One is a total-body workout that incorporates several moves that will test your core muscles as a secondary measure. The second option is an all-angles core workout that you can add to the end of any workout. Incorporate both to start building power and developing the musculature of your core. Do these regularly from now until next spring, and, with the right diet, you’ll be ready to show off at the beach. You’ll also be taking the best preventative action there is against a host of potential lower back problems.
DIRECTIONS: Do the Core Power Workout once per week. Do the Ab Workout 3-4 times per week.
CORE POWER WORKOUT
EXERCISE: SETS X REPS
Barbell Squat: 5 X 8-10
Overhead Walking Lunge: 4 X 20
Farmer’s Walk: 4 X 50 yards
Cable Rotation*: 4 X 10 per side
Spread-eagle Situp*: 4 X 10
Weighted Plank*: 3 X 60 sec.
EXERCISE: SETS X REPS
Russian Twist: 4 X 50
Hyperextension*: 4 X 10
Side Plank*: 2 X 60 sec. per side
Superman*: 4 X 10
Cable Rotation*: 4 X 15
Ab Roller: 2 X 10
Plank*: 2 X 60 sec.
*Described in this month’s Pro Tips section, above.
BARBELL SQUAT: Load a barbell with a weight that will be challenging for 8-10 reps. Keep your spine straight and your head up. Brace your core before unracking the weight and keep it braced throughout the move, breathing behind the brace. Squat low to the ground and drive through your heels to stand back up.
OVERHEAD WALKING LUNGE: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand and press it overhead. Keep your elbow locked out and your core braced as you perform walking lunges. Walk 10 steps, then change hands and walk 10 more steps.
FARMER’S WALK: Grab a pair of the heaviest dumbbells you can manage and hold them at your sides. Walk briskly, keeping your core engaged and your torso upright with good posture.
RUSSIAN TWIST: Holding a medicine ball or small weight plate, sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet hovering just above the floor. Keeping your back flat, twist the weight from side to side, reaching for your hip as you do so.
AB ROLLER: Set an ab roller on the floor and kneel down, grasping the handle. Keeping your back flat and your core engaged, press the roller along the floor out in front of you; go as far as you can manage, extending your arms. Squeeze your abs tight as you return to the starting position.