Best Ab Exercises
One of the things I get asked most as a personal trainer is “what are the best ab exercises to flatten my stomach?” A lot us (myself included) acquire a “pudge” as we get older. There are a lot of reasons for this and it’s the #1 reason for people looking into personal training. First let’s talk about the reasons.
I start with this one because it’s the one we have zero control over. No matter what anyone tells you, you cannot “rewrite” your DNA. Some families are just more prone to storing fat around their stomachs than others. Genetics can also determine if you have certain medical conditions that lead to increased fat gain, such as diabetes.
This is really the number one thing that people can and don’t change. There is a saying that “abs are grown in the gym and shown in the kitchen.” If you have a poor diet, your body will store fat according to your genetics. For most people, most of this fat is stored around the midsection because it helps protect vital organs that are otherwise easy to damage. There are a million diets out there, some more effective than others, to help with this. The important thing to remember is that your body needs three things to function properly: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats. Nutrition is a whole discipline. While your personal trainer can make recommendations, if you really struggle with nutrition you should contact a Registered Dietician. They are specialists in nutrition and licensed to provide detailed meal plans. Personally, I’ve found great success with the Colorado Diet. And no, I’m not biased because I live here.
This ties in with nutrition somewhat. The simple math is that if you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight, generally as fat. Now, weight gain isn’t always bad, such as if you’re a body builder bulking for a competition. However, I’m going to guess that if you’re reading this, that’s not you. Many people don’t get the recommended 150 minutes a week or 30 minutes a day 5 days a week of moderate activity.
What ab exercises should I do?
Resistance training has a ton of proven benefits. But your abs don’t necessarily need heavy weight to work. They spend all day supporting your trunk and pelvis. In that vein, you should work them in a way that stresses the muscles doing their daily job. So what are the best ab exercises?
First, before you perform any exercise plan, you should be cleared by a physician for physical activity. If you’re good there, find a trainer, a buddy, or at least a mirror so you can watch your form and do the exercises correctly. It does you no good to be injured.
My Four Favorite Abdominal Exercises
This classic move is more of a full body exercise. It does involve isometric contraction of the entire lumbar-pelvic-hip-complex. That includes all four main abdominal muscles, the glutes, and spinal stabilizers. It also puts stress (the good kind) on the chest, back, arms, and legs. And that’s not accounting for all the variations.
Start by getting on your knees and forearms. Yoga mats can help with discomfort from pressure on a hard surface. Your elbows should be shoulder width apart, and your feet should be about six inches apart. That makes for a nice stable structure. You can make this harder or easier by narrowing or widening your feet, respectively. Raise up your knees and make a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Make sure to squeeze your glutes to bring up the pelvis and contract your abdominals to straighten the spine. If you’re new to planking, start with short intervals and work your way up.
Stability Ball Crunches
I like these because they allow for a full range of motion. Back extension is important to fire the core muscles properly. Remember, this isn’t a sit up. Sit-ups work the hip flexor complex more than the abdominals. This exercise focuses on just the abdominals and specifically the Rectus Abdominus: the “six-pack” muscle. While this is an important muscle for everyone, it can be really weak in women after pregnancy.
Lay with your back on a stability ball just in the curve of your spine above the hips. With your arms on your chest, lean back. Then pull your chest up with your abdominal muscles. Make sure to keep your glutes squeezed, as this raises the hips and prevents them from rolling back. To make it easier or harder, move the position of your hands, closer to the hips for easier, and further away to make a large lever and tougher exercise.
This exercise targets the obliques, both internal and external. Most single plane abdominal exercises (like the crunch above or sit-ups) completely ignore these critical muscles. By integrating a controlled twisting motion into your workout, you’re engaging in a very functional movement and increasing stabilization of the spine and core.
Sit on a flat surface with your knees extended out in front you bent at 45 degrees. With a straight spine, squeeze your glutes and draw in your abdomen, then slowly turn from one side to the other. Doing this incorrectly can hurt you, so be very careful and go very slowly. Extending your arms, lifting your feet off the floor, and eventually adding light weights are all ways to progress this simple but effective exercise.
This technique has many different names but done correctly it will target an even more forgotten muscle than the obliques: Transverse Abdominus. This mighty muscle being weak is one of the primary reasons for the “pudge” described earlier. It holds in all of the viscera and organs and can really contribute to a flatter stomach if worked properly.
Standing upright, with straight spine and squeezed glutes, put your hands behind your head. Don’t pull your head forward! Then suck in the stomach as far as possible. Keep breathing using your lungs and hold this for 30 – 60 seconds. It doesn’t sound like much, but it does make a difference!
To be honest, there are a ton of abdominal exercises out there, and even more variations of them once you master the basics. There are just a recommendation and the four I use the most for myself and my clients. I think these are the best ab exercises.
Of course, always ask questions! A knowledgeable personal trainer should be able to program a routine for you that works and achieves your goals.