Ab workouts are and have been a huge hype in the world of training and fitness for as long as many can remember. Everybody wants to have a “shredded” midsection and it is usually a huge goal of anybody looking to get in shape; however, few actually understand what the true purpose and function of the abdominals is or what the abdominals really even are. Having said that, it is guaranteed that few actually know how to effectively train them. Today, we are going to look at 5 effective but uncommon exercises that can be used to develop strong, functional and great looking abs.
First, a disclaimer. There are some important things that need to be understood before diving into your ab work.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
1. Shredded abs are truly made in the kitchen, not the gym. You can do all of the ab work in the world but if your eating habits are less than desirable and you still carry excessive amounts of fat, I can guarantee you will not see the hard work you put in that is sitting underneath the fat. Everybody has a 6 pack; you just don’t always get to see it.
2. While direct abdominal training has its place and is effective, there is no substitute for performing heavy compound lifts such as squat and deadlift variations. Exercises like this will engage your abs more than any crunch or leg raise ever will.
3. Conditioning needs to be on par. If you are not doing the proper conditioning work, your abs will not show like you want them to.
Also check out these Top 5 myths about getting six pack abs
Now that we have that out of the way, lets look at some brief functional anatomy. After all, if we don’t know what the abs do, its going to be pretty hard to effectively train them.
In general, the abdominals are made up of the rectus abdominis, the external and internal obliques and the transverse abdominis. The rectus is the 6 pack muscle that everybody loves to talk about. It runs from our sternum down to our hips and its main functions are to flex the trunk and stabilize the trunk/prevent unwanted back extension while the legs move.
Though the obliques help with trunk rotation, side bending and some trunk flexion, their true purpose is to provide support and stability for the spine/low back and to stabilize the pelvis while the legs move. They run from our ribs to our pelvis with the external and internal crossing over eachother. The external obliques have multiple compartments and are often underdeveloped in many people while the rectus and internal obliques are often overdeveloped and dominant. The transverse abdominis is a deep muscle that we really don’t see and helps provide support around the spine.
When it comes down to it, the abdominals as a whole provide stability for the spine, ribs and pelvis while we move and generate force through the hips and thorax. Whether we are talking about a heavy squat or throwing a knockout punch, we need them to give us support around our core so that we can generate power, movement and force with our limbs. We also need to them to protect our low back and our spine from injury.
Without further ado, here are
5 exercises that will help you develop a rockin midsection that not only looks good but also works well
1. Standing Cable Hold
Function trained: Anti-Rotation
Ab muscles targeted: External and Internal Obliques
This is a great exercise that gets the abs and hips working together to control rotation. The better we can control rotation, the more effectively we can then produce it. Many people do advanced rotational exercises without ever learning to control it first. These have great carryover to many sporting activities and will work your abs harder than you can imagine.
Stand sideways to a cable machine. Squat down slightly and pull the handle to the center of your chest. Press straight out in front of you and hold for a 5 count while engaging your abs and your glutes. Bring it back in to rest between reps. Perform 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps per side.
2. Offset Carry
Function trained: Side flexion control, pelvic control
Ab muscles trained: External and internal obliques
This exercise will help fix any side to side imbalances you have in your hips or trunk and will make your obliques friggin strong and developed.
Grab a heavy enough dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it in one hand. Level your hips and shoulders out. The tendency is going to be for your hip to sag into your weighted hand. Be sure you have your hip pushed off of this hand so that your hips are level and square.
You should feel your opposite obliques engaging pretty nicely. Maintain this position and walk straight forward; making sure to step straight forward with both feet. The tendency is going to be for the foot opposite the weight to cross over and cave in. Don’t let this happen and step straight forward, pushing over your mid foot then big toe.
Peform 2 to 3 sets of 20-30 yard trips each side. If one side is weaker, do extra sets on that side.
3. Band Dead Bug Breathing
Function trained: Pelvic control with leg movement, bracing the abs while breathing
Ab muscles used: External obliques
This is great exercise to train the external obliques to control the pelvis and protect the low back while the legs move. It also will help develop good breathing patterns and diaphragm function while we use our abs under stress. Not to mention, it will annhialate your abs in a great way.
Lay on your back with your knees up with a band wrapped around a rack. Pull the handles down to the floor at your sides. Lower one leg down until it is straight right above the floor. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, trying to fill the front, sides and back of your trunk from your abomen all the way up to your chest, while you engage your abs as you hold the leg out. Bring the leg back up once all of your air is out. Repeat with the other leg.
Perform for 2-3 sets of 8 to 12 reps total. Be sure that your low back DOES NOT arch up excessively off of the floor while you do these. If it does then it is too hard for your abs to handle right now. Start with just lowering the leg halfway down and gradually work your way up to a point where you can do it straight.
4. Get up part one/turkish sit up
Function: Trunk flexion
Ab muscles trained: rectus abdominis, obliques (especially internal)
This is the first part of a complex and awesome exercise known as the turkish get up. It works great on its own to train and develop the rectus abominis with flexion in a safe way.
Situps and crunches have long been popular in many media circles; however, situps place an unhealthy stress on the low back and spine while crunches promote poor shoulder posture, are negatively stressful to the back and have good potential to torque the neck in a bad way. This exercise is a great way to train the abs in a very similar way to situps and crunches without all of these negative side effects.
Lay on your back with one foot and knee up with the other leg straight on the floor. Press the hand on the bent knee side straight up towards the ceiling. Take a breath and come up onto your down hand and elbow. Keep your trunk aligned in a solid and fairly straight position while pressing the hand up towards the ceiling. If done correctly, you will half come to your side and half straight up. Perform 3 sets of 8 to 20 reps depending on your strength level.
5. Stir the pot
Function- anti extension, overall trunk control
Ab muscles trained- rectus and obliques
This is a great exercise to challenge your abdominal and trunk stability and ability to prevent unwanted low back stress. Place your forearms and fists on an exercise ball and spread your feet apart. You should be on your toes and forearms. Keep your back flat, abs and glutes engaged and move your arms in a circular motion without letting any movement occur in your trunk. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps each way. (Do circles in each direction).
There you have it. 5 ab exercises that will not only shred you up but develop some great functionality at the same time. From controlling your pelvis and protecting your low back to developing ample stability to allow better force generation. Try these out and take your abs to a new level.