Crunches and Sit Ups.
Those are probably the first exercises that come to mind when you think of abdominal training.
They are also two exercises that I NEVER include in my training routines.
Unless you have an incredibly strong “core” to begin with, the chances of you performing a sit up or crunch correctly are pretty slim.
I see this almost on a daily basis: the pulling of the neck, the rounding of the lower back – it makes me want to cringe!
The average gym goer performing these exercises is doing very little to strengthen their abdomen, and is actually setting themselves up for a neck and/or back injury.
It’s called your “core” for a reason: it’s designed to keep your spine aligned and generate power and stability throughout the body.
True “core” training works these muscles the way nature intended, as a WHOLE.
Crunches and sit ups do the exact opposite!
They only focus on one muscle, the rectus abdominis, and neglect the rest of the midsection.
So even if you perform these exercises correctly, you’re still setting yourself up for some imbalances.
I haven’t done a crunch or sit up in years, and my abs are stronger than ever.
That’s not to say that I skip “core” training altogether, I just work my abdomen a bit differently than you’d expect.
With that being said, here are my Top 5 Ab Exercises:
They’ve been called “The King of Exercises.”
I have to say that I agree.
Front, Back, Goblet, Single leg, Bulgarian, Pistol, Overhead – I love them all!
Not only do squats build your legs and help sculpt a backside J Lo would be proud of, but they also tax the abdomen as they work to stabilize your torso and prevent your chest from caving in and lower back from rounding.
I recommend adding squats to your routine, ASAP!
Start with your body weight and work your way up to the variations listed above.
If squats are the “King of Exercises”, deadlifts would have to be their “Queen.”
One of the best full body exercises you can perform, deadlifts will put every muscle, including your abs, to the test.
They will help build a solid core, and if done correctly will bullet proof your lower back from injury.
Don’t be that guy who pulls a muscle picking up the laundry basket.
Make sure you include all variations of the deadlift into your training programs.
These include straight bar, trap bar, snatch grip, romanian, sumo and single leg varieties.
I spoke about the hormonal and cardiovascular benefits of sprinting, here.
As far as abs go, have you ever seen an elite sprinter without an 8 pack?
Yea, didn’t think so!
Imagine a sprinter hauling ass down a track:
Their arms and legs are pumping, hip flexors firing, and an enormous amount of force is being generated on either side of the body, pulling and twisting their spine back and forth and side to side.
The only reason their body remains upright is because of the tremendous amount of force elicited by the abdomen.
It is impossible to replicate this amount of force and pressure with ANY kind of crunch or sit up.
Anyone who I have ever taken sprinting for the first time has told me that for the next couple of days they felt like they had done 1000+ sit ups, and this just after 5 or 6 short sprints.
Not only does sprinting work your abs like nothing else, but it is also the best form of exercise for burning fat.
Start sprinting this week and kill to birds with one stone!
4. Loaded Carries
Have you ever watched the Met RX “World’s Strongest Man” competition?
If so, you’ll notice that loaded carries are a staple in these events.
Not only are loaded carries one of the most functional and fundamental lifting patterns, but they are also great exercises for strengthening of the abdominal wall, external obliques, and lower back.
Farmer walks, overhead carries, suitcase carries, and racked kettlbell walks should be staples in every training program.
They build functional total body strength, improve coordination and athleticism, and give you a rock hard slab of abs.
Not to mention, you’ll look way cooler walking around the gym performing these exercises than you will performing crunches on a pink Swiss ball.
This is the only specific “ab exercise” on my list.
Whatever your training program, these should most definitely be included.
The abs are designed to stop, not start, motion.
Planks train the abdomen to do just that, resist the spine from moving.
They work the “core” the way nature intended: isometrically.
They maintain stability and help promote correct posture and alignment of the spine.
Anyone should be able to hold a 2 minute plank.
If you can’t, your abs are weak.
Start with sets of 30 seconds or less, and build up to at least 3 sets of 60 seconds with 1 minute of rest in between each.
Once you have mastered the standard plank, you can move on to more advanced variations.
Incorporate these exercises and their variations into your routine and you’ll never have to worry about performing another crunch or sit up again!
You’ll build “real world” strength, and your “core” will be stronger than ever!
Remember that no matter how strong your abs get, you’ll never be able to see them unless your body fat is low.
Make sure your diet is in check, and once implemented in combination with the exercises listed above, you’ll be on your way to a rock hard midsection and an athletic functional physique!