We know that performing crunches, which involves flexion of the spine, is one way to fire the rectus abdominis, but when designing abdominal sequences it is important to consider all segments of the abdominals and how they move or stabilize the spine. Here are five exercises that target all of the abdominal muscles by flexing, rotating, stabilizing and laterally flexing the spine.
1. Rolling Like a Ball
This Pilates-based move targets the rectus abdominis.
Start seated on a mat, with you feet elevated off the floor. Place your hands behind your head and tuck your chin down as you connect elbows to knees. Hold this position as you roll back, just touching your shoulder blades to the floor. Keep your abs engaged and your spine flexed as you roll back up and pause in the balanced positioned. Perform 10-15 repetitions and remember to keep your elbows and knees glued together the whole time.
2. Plank With Reach and Pull
This exercise targets the transverse abdominis (TVA) and the obliques.
Start in a high plank position. The first portion of this exercise is all about stabilizing the spine and hips. Brace your abdominals as you extend your right arm forward. Next, as you begin to pull your arm back, rotate your torso to the right. While holding the side plank, extend your right arm up. Retrace the sequence back down and repeat on this side for 10-15 reps before switching to the left side.
3. Side Plank With Star Crunch
This exercise targets the obliques while laterally flexing the spine.
Begin in a side-plank position on your forearm. Your legs can be extended, or you can take a modified plank by placing your bottom knee on the floor. Lift your top leg as you extend your arm over your head. Begin to laterally flex your spine as you pull your elbow toward your knee, rotating your knee upward as you bend sideways. Once they touch, slowly extend the arm and leg back to the starting position. Complete 10-15 repetitions on each side.
4. Dolphin Plank
The exercise targets the TVA and rectus abdominis.
Start in a forearm-plank position. While keeping your neck in a neutral position, fold your body like a tent, using your abs to lift your hips up. Keep your shoulder blades depressed and retracted. Hold at the top for 1-2 seconds and then slowly release back to plank. Complete 10-15 repetitions.
5. Two-legged Fire Hydrant
Although this exercise is typically considered a glute exercise, lifting one hand off the floor fires the entire core to stabilize the spine.
From a quadruped position on the floor, begin a fire hydrant on your right side (hip abduction). Complete about five repetitions and then slowly lift your left hand 1 inch off the floor. Maintain a squared-off position in the shoulders and keep your hips level as you continue to move the right leg. For a bigger challenge, close your eyes. Complete 10-15 repetitions before switching sides.
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