If you think 1,000 crunches a day will help you achieve those six pack abs you see on magazine covers, listen up. There are a variety of core exercises you’re missing out on by limiting your ab workout to a crunch-only routine. In fact, recent studies suggest that too many crunches will eventually lead to lower back pain due to the stress it places on the spinal cord.
Before we get into which exercises you should be focusing on, let’s discuss the most important part of building a toned midsection: what you eat. Gym rats throw around the adage, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” So if you are serious about blasting away belly fat, start with a healthy diet that is balanced with the right amount of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat). Once you’ve got your diet squared away, work these exercises into your next trip to the gym:
To build six pack abs we have to target both sets of muscles in the our midsection, which includes rectus abdominis muscles, the muscle group extending through the front of the abdomen, and external abdominal oblique muscles, the muscle group extending along the sides of the abdomen. Planks are not only good for targeting both abdominal muscle groups, but they are also a great way to develop strength in our shoulders, arms, and glutes.
Start in the pushup position before resting all of your weight on your forearms. Keep your arms at a 90-degree angle with your shoulders directly above your elbows while forming a straight line from head to feet. Hold the plank position as long as you can with the goal of eventually reaching two minutes.
2. Alternating Heel Touches
While many people associate alternating heel touches with obliques, they are actually perfect for both sets of our midsection’s muscle groups. The best part of alternating heel touches is that they require very little space so feel free to bust out a set in your living room, bedroom, or at the gym. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent to make a 45 degree angle with your upper and lower legs.
Raise your shoulders off of the ground while keeping your feet flat on the ground and shoulder width apart. Keep your arms flat at your sides and touch your right heel with your right hand followed by your left heel with your left hand for one repetition. Remember to keep your abdominal muscles tight and contacted during each set. Start with a comfortable amount of reps while aiming to eventually complete three sets of 15 reps.
3. Bicycle Kicks/Crunches
Bicycle kicks, also referred to as bicycle crunches, are a great way to incorporate the essential motion of standard crunches without that back-breaking motion that often leads to lower back pain. While doing bicycle kicks correctly can hit both the rectus abdominis and external obliques, they are especially beneficial for the top muscles of the rectus abdominis muscles.
Start off by lying on your back with legs extended, fingers on your temple (do not grasp head with both hands, since it may cause neck pain), and elbows flared out. Bring your right leg to your left elbow while performing the basic crossover crunch motion with abs tightened. To establish a rhythm between alternating from right leg to left elbow and left leg to right elbow, start off slowly with just your legs doing the motion before adding your elbows and the crossover motion.
4. Russian Twists
Russian twists are an ab shredding core exercise that are perfect for sculpting our obliques. Just like most of the workouts on this list, they require very little space and can be performed in the comfort of your own home. Sit on the ground with you upper and lower legs bent at a 90-degree angle. The most important but difficult part of this exercise will be keeping your back as straight as possible while performing each rep. With your arms held straight out in front of you, twist as far as you can to one side your body before twisting as far as you can to the other side for one rep. Aim for three sets of 12 reps while eventually working up to hold a dumbbell or kettlebell out in front of you.
5. Captain’s Chair
Although captain’s chair leg raises will require a trip to the gym, they are an essential ab workout and were even ranked one of the most effective abdominal exercises by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Targeting both rectus abdominis and external oblique muscle groups, the captain’s chair is great for building abdominal muscle and tightening the midsection. After finding the captain’s chair at your local gym, keep your hands tightly around the grip of the chair with elbows at a 90-degree angle.
The next step is where you can add a little variation to your captain’s chair leg raise depending on which area of the rectus abdominis you’re looking to target. With your legs together and extended below your body, either lift your legs up while keeping them straight to target the entirety of your rectus abdominis or bend your legs while raising your knees to their highest possible position to target the lower muscles of your rectus abdominis. Alternate between each variation for a full abdominal workout while remembering to perform the exercise in a controled motion with ab muscles tightened.
6. Flutter Kicks
Flutter kicks are a great way to reach your lower rectus abdominis muscles, which are often neglected during most core exercises. To perform flutter kicks, lie on your back while lifting the upper part of your back off of the floor and stabilizing your body with your lower back and buttocks. Alternate lifting your right and left leg in a fluttering motion. Start with 30-second intervals before working up to a minute and beyond. Flutter kicks are a great way to end a challenging abdominal workout.