Discover the best ab exercises to build your core strength, protect your back and provide you with a trim waistline.
If you are like most people a washer board abs appeals, especially the closer summer looms, and ab exercises seem the obvious answer to getting there. Truth is – there’s more to the story.
Yup, trimming the fat off the midsection is one. Second – there’s more to best ab exercises than a sleek trim midsection. What – there’s more?
Well when we train the outer layer of muscles for the six pack only, we may miss exercises for other parts of our midsection. I’ve seen people with quite a reasonable looking mid section who’ve complained of back problems. You know the kind of thing where they go to pick something light off the floor and ouch they put their back out. That may be because the deeper layers of the abdominals that are vitally important for our posture, and the strength and stability of our pelvis, spine, and abdomen, have not been engaged in their training.
A Little Anatomy Lesson
- First – here’s a little anatomy of the muscles of our trunk. Imagine “a 3 dimensional cylinder, at the top of the cylinder is the diaphragm muscle, the front side is the abdominal muscle, the bottom side is the pelvic floor muscle, and the back side of the cylinder is the back muscle” (Richardson, Jull, Hodges and Hide, 1998).
- So the best ab exercises will focus on all the layers of the trunk, abdominal and pelvic muscles which include:The transverse abdominis – the deepest layer of muscle, which wraps around the lower abdomen like a corset attaching to the lumbar spine and providing support and stability for the lower back.
- The internal and external obliques – the next two layers of muscle run from the pelvis in the center and fan out on a diagonal to the lower ribs. These are involved in stabilizing, spinal and lateral flexing (forward shortening and side bending), and rotating the trunk.
- The rectus abdominis (six pack) – the most superficial layer, originating from the pubis and attaching to the ribs are involved in spinal and lateral movement of the trunk
- The pelvic floor – these muscles run from the pubic bone to the tail bone and form a hammock-like sling that keep all the organs of the lower abdomen supported.
A Balanced Approach Is Needed To Perform The Best Ab Exercises
The best ab exercises program will work all these muscles in a balanced way spending 50% of the time on back and stabilizer exercises and 50% on front abdominal work and will include exercises that involve spinal rotation and pelvic floor work.
Because the transverse abdominis, which is the deepest layer of the abdominals, is the most crucial for stabilization of the back, and because it is the most difficult for the brain to fire and maintain, working the transverse abdominis first in the sequence of exercises is important.
This kind of program can strengthen your trunk, correct muscle imbalances, improve your posture, improve performance of any type of exercise especially lifting and minimize your chances of injuries, (e.g ruptures discs, abdominal hernias).
My Top Ab exercises
In a study on the best ab exercises the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University investigated thirteen of the more common abdominal exercises. In the program below I have made bold seven of the exercises that these researchers found to be the most effective.
Choose one abdominal exercise from each of the five categories below:
- Stabilisation –
- Supine single or double knee raise
- Supine single leg slide
- Fitness Ball Plank
- Spinal flexion –
- Ab Crunch on an Exercise Ball
- Long Arm Crunch
- Reverse Crunch
- Vertical Leg Crunch
- Machine L Sit or Hanging Leg Raises
- Rotation –
- Bicycle Exercise
- Seated Oblique Twists with Medicine Ball
- Lateral Flexion –
- Crossover Crunch
- Standing Side Bends
- Pelvic Floor Contraction –
- Various Kegel Exercises
- Perform 10 repetitions of each exercise and move to the next exercise.
- Change your routine every 2 to 3 weeks.
- Maintain good form with each muscle contraction.
- Contract your abs and pull your belly button in toward your spine with each contraction. Think about narrowing your waist or tightening ” the belt” each time
- Maintain a slow and controlled two count cadence.
- Support your head when you need to, but don’t pull on your head or pull your chin to your chest. (Placing your hands on your temple will ensure you won’t unintentionally put pressure on your neck)
- Rest for 90-120 seconds between exercises.
- Train abs at least twice and no more than three times a week.
Ab Exercises To Avoid:
To work the abdominals effectively you need to isolate them and minimize the involvement of the hip flexors which are powerful muscles that that can overtake the abdominals in some variations of ab exercises. The full sit up with the legs held down and the supine lying straight leg raise mainly work the hip flexors and can cause the back to arch. This risks back injury. So avoid these unless you have superior abdominal strength and your back never arches through the entire move.
Will Performing Best Ab Exercises Ensure A Six Pack?
Here’s where trimming the fat off the mid riff comes in. Since the popular notion that doing hundreds of crunches or the equivalent on the latest infomercial gadget ab machine will spot reduce fat off the abdomen gets promoted routinely in the media you may be forgiven for believing this is true. It is not.
The truth is, six-pack abs are difficult to get. Many very fit and healthy men and women who have been exercising for years don’t have a six-pack and never will. Some people have the right genes for it, some use various substances that help them achieve it, for most of us a trim waist will be the closest we get.
Here then is the formula to achieve a trim waist (and if you are genetically gifted, a six pack):
- Perform cardio exercises 30 minutes 2-3 per week
- Perform strength training for your whole body which include compound exercises for the larger muscles like squats, for example, twice a week
- Consume a healthy whole foods diet
And of course…
- Perform a Best Ab Exercises program to strengthen and build the muscles of your core 2 – 3 times each week