There is no magic exercise that will give you an hourglass figure or rock-hard, six-pack abs. There is, however, a combination of exercises that, when combined with a healthy diet and an adequate calorie-torching cardio routine, will trim your waist and allow those abs to peek through. Strengthening and tightening your oblique muscles can contribute to a smaller waist, stronger core and better shape to your entire midsection.
- If your goal is to strengthen and tone your midsection, for weighted exercises, choose a weight that fatigues your muscles in about 12 to 20 repetitions. You don’t need to do 50 to 100 repetitions of abdominal exercises. Save time, improve strength and pick up a weight!
- Train the abdominals two to three times per week on non-consecutive days. Like any other muscle group, they need rest and recovery to repair and become stronger.
- Consult your doctor, especially with twisting and leg-lifting exercises if you have low back pain, as these exercises may be contraindicated.
The Ab Circuit Workout
Each circuit involves some sort of plank variation, because they are great at activating your whole core; a crunch or leg lift exercise, because they place extra emphasis on the rectus abdominus and obliques; and a dynamic exercise for calorie and fat burn. Complete each circuit two to four times, depending on your level of training and time allotted.
Ab Circuit 1
BOSU Spiderman Planks
Place a BOSU on the floor, dome side up. Position your elbows and forearms on the top of the ball and your feet behind you about shoulder-width apart. Perform a plank, keeping the glutes, abs, back, obliques and legs tight. With minimal movement, lift your right leg slowly and bring your right knee to the BOSU on the outside of your right elbow, keeping your foot off the ground. Contract your obliques and keep the hips low and facing the ground to try and make contact with the BOSU. Hold for a moment, return to plank and repeat on the left side. Do 10 per side.
Modifications – If you are a beginner, try this movement from a push-up position on the floor or weight bench, or from an elbow plank on a weight bench.
I love bicycle crunches because you can do them anywhere, and they activate the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominis and obliques, so they are basically a total-abdominal exercise. Lie on your back and place your hands behind your neck, lightly supporting your head. Twist to bring your right elbow to your left knee, keeping the right leg elevated off theground. With control, twist and switch legs. Keep this movement controlled and pause during each twist to emphasize oblique involvement. Do 20 repetitions per side.
This is a high-intensity exercise to boost your heart rate while activating your abs, helping to burn calories and blast through fat. Start in push-up position on your hands and with your feet together. Jump your feet up toward your torso and finish with your feet in between your hands, chest up and heels on the ground, in a tuck position. Jump back out and return to push-up position. Squeeze your abs on the tuck jump in to effectively pull your knees to your chest, and brace your entire core when you land back in push-up position so you avoid arching and straining your lower back. Repeat exercise for 30 seconds.
Ab Circuit 2
BOSU Side Plank with Reach
Perform a side plank, placing your right elbow on the dome side of a BOSU. You can either place your left foot on top of your right foot, or place the heel of your left foot against the toe of your right foot, directly on the floor. Reach your left arm straight into the air, then bring it down and reach under your body, through to the other side. As you reach through, twist your shoulders to face the floor, keeping your core tight so your entire body moves as one.
Modification – Try this exercise on the floor or on a weight bench before progressing to the BOSU.
Bench Leg Lifts
Using a flat bench, lie on your back with your shoulders, back and hips in contact with the bench; bend the knees about 90 degrees with feet flat on the floor. Grab the bench overhead. Bring your knees up until your thighs are perpendicular to the bench and lift your hips up off the bench at the top of the movement. Target the obliques by lifting your knees and alternate twisting them toward your left and right. For more of a challenge, try this exercise with straight legs, but be careful not to strain your lower back. Lift the hips when the legs are vertical. If you are advanced, try dropping your feet, with legs straight, below the level of the bench for an added abdominal stretch, then proceed to lift them up.
Suspended Mountain Climbers
Most people are familiar with mountain climbers, but this variation places more of an emphasis on the core. Get into push-up position as you would do for a normal mountain climber; however, when you bring your right knee toward your chest, keep your right foot off the ground, so your weight is all on your left leg behind you. Jump and switch legs, now holding the left leg up. Repeat this exercise for 30 seconds, moving quickly but with control. For added difficulty, perform this exercise holding onto the black handles of a BOSU, or with your feet suspended in a TRX or similar suspension trainer.
Ab Circuit 3
TRX (or ball) Tuck-In
Place your toes in a TRX or other suspension trainer and face the floor on your hands and knees. Lift your knees off the floor so that you are in a perfect plank position on your hands, with your core tight and stable. Do not let your hips drop or lower back arch. Once stable, draw your knees slowly to your chest. Pause and return to the starting position. Try doing 10 to 12 repetitions. For an advanced move, try doing this exercise with straight legs, lifting your hips over your shoulders in a pike position. If you do not have access to a suspension trainer, try doing this exercise with your feet on a stability ball.
Stability Ball Crunch With Twist
According to an ACE-sponsored study, stability ball crunches elicited a significant amount of muscle activation from the rectus abdominus, which makes sense because you are on an unstable surface. Take the crunch a step further and try to add a slight twist of the upper body at the top of the crunch to activate your obliques. For advanced exercisers, try lifting your opposite leg off the ground to meet your elbow at the peak of the crunch. Careful, because this is challenging! Try performing 10 crunches per side.
Dynamic Ball Throws
Grab a 5- to 10-pound medicine ball. Lie on the floor with knees bent and do crunches, but throw the ball slightly in the air on the way up, then catch it on the way down. If you have access to a stable wall, assume crunch position perpendicular to the wall, with toes about a foot away. Hold the ball overhead, crunch up and throw it high against the wall. Try to catch the ball in the same position from which you threw it and lower yourself back down, tapping the ball to the ground behind your head. You also can activate the obliques by sitting with your right side parallel with the wall and leaning back about 45 degrees. Hold the ball to your left, twist to your right and throw the ball against the wall. Catch it and twist back to the left and tap the ball on the ground. Repeat 10 to 15 times per side.