We have a cultural obsession with abs. I’ll save my feelings about that for another day, but with this in mind a common question I get is “what are the best exercises for working my abs?”
Let’s start here.
There is no universally correct way to build core strength. However, there are basic fitness principles that can help you do this effectively.
A few core facts (see what I did there? lolz) that you might find helpful to know.
You can’t spot reduce fat.
I’m going to start here, because if you are doing core work with the desire to flatten your stomach or remove belly fat or whatever those weird fucking internet ads say, you’re going to be really disappointed with the results, because it’s unlikely you’ll see any change aesthetically.
It’s really fucking annoying, but the only way to “tone” your stomach if you’re not already really thin / lean is to lower your bodyfat percentage overall and that requires a caloric deficit, which is obtained from some combination of addressing your strategy around eating and perhaps increasing low grade activity (aka walking).
It’s also worth noting that genetics play a role in this. Some of us are genetically predisposed to having more visible abs at a higher body fat percentage and some of us have to get dangerously low to get there.
I, for example, will never be a member of the super flat abs camp. I have skinny legs and hold more weight in my toros. ::shrug:: Even at a very low body fat percentage, I was rocking a face like a skeleton, but still didn’t have entirely flat abs. It would be truly crazy making for me to chase this.
Your core is responsible for controlling how forces transfer from your lower body to your upper body and vice versa.
What this means is that pretty much everything you do is a core exercise, so while it’s absolutely fine to do core specific exercises, you don’t have to.
Pretty much everything you do will work your core. This includes running, walking, squatting, deadlifting, overhead pressing, ect. So is there a benefit to practicing core targeted exercises? Sure.
If you’ve had an injury or have experienced something like pregnancy, doing more muscle specific exercises can teach you how to better stabilize your spine during movement and can help you generate more power and efficient movement when strength training, running, or simply moving through daily life.
While core “strength” does not correlate directly with less pain or fewer injuries, this ability to sense your body position and stabilize through your torso may reduce the experience of pain for some folks, so it’s definitely not a bad idea to work on this stuff.
Your core also responds to body position and load / weight.
This means that if you struggle to feel your core, you might need to play with different positions or using weights / load (aka a kettlebell, dumbbell, or band) to feel it engage.
Trying not to let the space between your ribs and your hips move (aka don’t put a giant arch in your back) during exercises such as toe taps, dead bugs, or a plank variation where you move your arms are legs.
Feeling how your abs engage when you twist while pulling against a band or cable (e.g. a wood chop or pallof press that moves into rotation.
Adding a kettlebell to ab work when lying on your back, so your core has to work harder to not lose stability in your midsection.
Let’s talk about what this looks like in terms of actual core training!
It’s actually pretty simple.
Practice some exercises where you hold your torso still and your move your arms and legs, so your core has to stabilize your spine.
Some examples of these exercises include anything where you are lying in your back and moving your arms or legs, while your head stays on the ground, any plank variation, pallof presses, and even deadlifts and squats.
And because your core responds to movement, practice some exercises where you move through your spine.
Examples include rotational work, wood chops, side bends, roll-ups / v-ups, anything in the “crunching” family where your head lifts off the ground, and so on.
Which is all to say that you’ve got choices!
Looking for a quick ab workout that includes many elements of what I shared above?
Check this one out. All you need is a light to medium kettlebell and you’ll be on your way to stronger abs. 😉
Kettlebell 5 Minute Ab Workout