With summer just a few weeks away, your six pack is on the cusp of making their big reveal. Have you been diligently working out and training your abs? We sure hope so, but if you’re not there yet, the key to revealing washboard abs may lie in training your entire core, instead of just your abs. Not sure what your core is? The core is the “centerpiece for any muscular physique” that consists of four different parts in and around your abdominal area that can be trained to give you a strong, toned midsection.
Core exercises are an essential part of a well-rounded fitness program and they’re quite often neglected. When trained, your core, those muscles in and around your trunk and pelvis, helps your pelvic muscles, lower back, and abdomen to work in harmony, leading to better balance and stability, which translates to a stronger midsection (those beach abs!)
Here are the four different parts of your core that you need to engage, as part of your abdominals: rectus abdominus, which is the area that covers the sternum all the way to the pelvis bone; obliques (internal obliques, transverse obliques, and external obliques), which are located on the sides of the waist; intercostals, located between the sides of the rib cage, which you’ll notice if you flex your torso and twist it from side to side; and finally the serratus, which are located between the front abs and lats.
The key is do exercises that engage and stimulate all of those muscles individually or together as part of a well-rounded exercise routine. Here are 4 great core exercises to try to get you those washboard abs for the beach season ahead.
1. Spiderman Plank Crunch
This core exercise, courtesy of Men’s Fitness, is called the Spiderman Plank Crunch. Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and author, explains to Men’s Fitness that, “[t]he plank is pretty much one of the only exercises where you’re getting your entire core. You’re working the front and back of your abdominal area at the same time without any equipment. You’re getting your rectus abdominis, your obliques, and your lower back. It’s so simple and effective that you can do it anywhere.”
Simply begin in a traditional plank position with your forearms on the ground and your body perfectly aligned. Bring your right knee forward and towards your right elbow, returning next to plank position. Repeat on the other side bringing your left knee in towards your left elbow. That completes one rep. Alternate sides and complete 10 reps.
2. Seated Leg Lifts
Consider this one an oldie but goodie that’s tried and true. Even the most advanced will start to feel the burn with this one after a few reps. This exercise, courtesy of Daily Burn, targets not only your abs and core, but your hamstrings. Begin by simply sitting on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Lean back slightly, keeping your core engaged, enough so that you’re able to place your hands on either side of your glutes. Take a deep breath and lift one of your legs six inches off the ground. Hold for five seconds, and then put it back down. Repeat on the other leg. Continue to alternate for one-minute straight, then take a 20 second break. Repeat this five times.
If you’re interested in modifying it (and making it slightly easier) lift one leg at a time without stopping to hold each one extended for five seconds. However, if you need more of a challenge, after you lift your heel, bring your knee into your chest then extend your heel back out and lower down. Repeat on the opposite side.
3. Bicycle Crunch
Another tried and true oldie but goodie is the Bicycle Crunch. This core exercise, also courtesy of Men’s Fitness, is one that you’ve surely done before, and it just so happens to be an excellent core workout that targets all the three key abdominal areas at the same time. “It combines a regular crunch, the side-to-side motion that targets the obliques, and the reverse crunch that hits the lower abs,” says Holland.
Simply lie on you back with your hands behind your head and your legs raised and bent at 90 degrees. Begin by alternating sides, bringing your right elbow towards your left knee and your left elbow towards your right knee, building up to 60 seconds. Try and hold the crunch for a two-count on each side, which will force a slower more concentrated movement.
4. The Dragon Flag
If you’re up for a real challenge, The Dragon Flag, which is considered an advanced bodyweight exercise, helps to build great overall core strength and get you to those washboard abs you’re working so hard towards. This exercise, courtesy of Very Well, should only be attempted if you’re more of an advanced exerciser with a high level of body strength, as this exercise is very difficult and comes with a high risk of injury without the proper amount of strength and technique.
For The Dragon Flag, you’re going to need to place your arms and shoulders in a fixed position on a hard surface. Get yourself over to a bench and get into proper position by locking your arms in an overhead position, with your hands next to your head and gripping the sides of the bench. (Using a bench is more practical and stable).
As you drive you legs up, contract your torso, as if you were performing a reverse crunch, but keeping your body rigid from your shoulders to your feet. Be sure to avoid bending your hips. Once both your legs are lifted all the way up, slowly lower your legs in a controlled and easy motion without letting any part of your body touch the bench other than your upper back and shoulder. Lower your body until it’s hovering just over the bench. Lower and repeat as many as possible.
Once you break your form (if you drop your hips or arch your back), stop doing the exercise.