Abdominals play a significant role in athletic and functional movements that we encounter daily. The exercises presented here are some of my favorite exercises for the abs and core and to develop abdominals that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional.
Wheel Outs: Abs, Lower Back, Obliques, Intercostals, Lats, and Shoulders
This exercise is by far my favorite to incorporate into my workout between sets. I can take the wheel with me anywhere and I don’t need a lot of space to do the exercise. Although I am showing a larger wheel in the video, a smaller single ab wheel works, too.
Wheel outs can be done no matter your level of fitness. If you are a beginner, you can start by only rolling forward 10-12 inches while maintaining a rigid core with your abdominals pulled in tightly. Remember to move your body forward. Do not reach forward with your arms because the idea is to get your body in a straight plane from your knees to your shoulders with your shoulders positioned directly above your hands on the wheel. Once you have mastered being able to do this “rolling plank” position for 5 sets of 10, you can begin to challenge how far you can reach your arms after you have achieved the straight plane position as listed above. Advanced exercises should aim for sets of 15-20 full-range reps.
This exercise incorporates the abs, lower back, obliques, intercostals, lats, and shoulders. I love this exercise for so many reasons. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that as you move further from the body, the tension increases and causes the workload on the muscles to be increased. This is how the stresses of real life and athletics actually happen—we need movement, not static holds.
Beginners can do 2-3 sets, and advanced athletes can work up to 5 sets, or more.
Side Plank Raises: Trim Your Sides
This is another favorite if you want to trim your sides and kidney areas. This exercise will make those areas strong and activated. Having a strong core plays a huge role in posture and range of motion body awareness, along with muscle integrity.
Start out with your elbow on the ground (use a mat or towel to soften the pressure), and with your elbow and forearm on the ground, and your hand bracing against the ground, you will align your body on its side with your hip resting on the ground and your feet stacked on top of each other, with your ankles flexed. From this position, use pressure from your forearm/elbow and your feet to push your top hip towards the ceiling as high as you can then return to the ground, tapping your hip and repeating the movement.
It is important to stay aligned and not to roll over and point your navel towards the ground. This exercise mimics a real world motion that you might encounter and strengthens the muscles through a full range of motion. Beginners do sets of 5 reps, intermediate up to advanced can work up to sets of 15 or reps on each set. Do 2-3 sets for beginners and up to 5 sets for those who are advanced.
Reverse Crunch: The One Exercise You Should Do
This exercise is great because it approaches training the abdominals in the order of the weakest to the strongest range of motion. The lower abdominal is a thinner muscle and has less range of motion than does the upper part of the abdominal. As a result, the upper ab tends to be the area most concentrated on in conventional exercises like the sit up or crunch. While both of those exercises are great, they leave out the lower ab. By inverting this exercise, we can train the entire abdominal chain, thereby actually teaching the abdominals to support the lower core and lumbar movement of the spine. If you can only do one exercise for your abs, this is the one to do.
Start out with 2 sets of 10 for beginners, and try increasing your sets before increasing your reps. Begin by trying to do very small movements (as illustrated in the video) where you just focus on raising your hips and tucking, but keeping your lower back in contact with the board. Eventually, the advanced user is going to do 4-5 sets of 15-20 reps in a full range of motion while fully engaging the lower ab and crunching the lower body into the upper body.