For years, being “fit” has been directly correlated to having abs. Everyone wants to be able to see them, and if you can’t it’s deemed that you are “unfit” or “overweight”. Well let me tell you, CUT THE CRAP. We all have abs. Some people’s are more visual because of their overall body fat, but just because you can’t see yours doesn’t mean they are nonexistent. And just because you can’t see yours doesn’t mean you aren’t healthy. Health has no visual appearance. Skinny doesn’t mean healthy. Abs doesn’t mean healthy. Biceps doesn’t mean healthy. It is all relative. So first step, stop comparing yourself to others. Building abs is still necessary for overall health – posture, stability, etc. I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite core exercises and you can build your own core workout from there!
Benefits of Core Strengthening
Core strengthening is more than just doing 100 crunches after your workout. It’s about actually creating the stability you need to be strong in all planes of motion. Things like standing on one leg, bending over and reaching overhead all use some time of core engagement. So crunches really are a thing of the past, or they should be at least.
I like lists – so let’s make it simple here with some bullet points about the benefits of core strengthening:
• Every day tasks – core strength helps with things like bending down, carrying items (laundry/groceries), reaching overhead, etc.
• Posture – your core/trunk literally help you stay upright
• Prevent low back pain – a weak core leads to poor posture and therefore the low back starts to ache.
• Balance & Stability – having the ability to walk (yes, one foot in front of the other)
Now, these are the practical benefits of core strengthening. But let me remind you, if you are doing core workouts because you want to see abs or lose belly fat…don’t get your hopes up. While training abs can, and will, make them stronger – it isn’t going to make the muscles visible. In order to see a 6 pack, you need to have a relatively low body fat percentage. And we know that only happens with overall exercise and diet in check so that you are in a caloric deficit.
Abs are only visible at a specific body fat, and that is attained by losing overall body fat. You cannot crunch your way to a visible 6 pack.
If you haven’t already read my blog about proper breathing and core engagement during exercise, go do that now and then come back.
Best Core Workout
Planks are a great movement for overall core strengthening. This exercise not only helps strengthen your abs, but also your low back and trunk as a whole. There are so many different variations and anyone can perform this exercise.
Different variations include: elbows & toes, hands & toes, knees & elbows, knees & hands, hands elevated on wall/bench/chair and I am sure there are more variations as well!
A great plank variation for the obliques (side abs). Obliques help us to rotate and turn – and strengthening them allows us to grab things from the back seat.
A side plank can be performed on the sides of your feet and elbow. You can also modify it by going from your knee instead of your foot.
Dead Bug (with variations)
This is by far my favorite core exercise! There are so many different variations and this one specifically can be extremely hard without changing too much. The key for this exercise is really pressing the low back to the floor and engaging the deep abdominal muscles. Focus is also a very key part of this because you want to keep proper alignment and think about the muscle contraction.
Below are a few variations of the deadbug. You can do it without any weight, holding a weight overhead for stability, holding a band to engage the upper body and I am sure many more.
Remember, low back pressed to the floor and slow/controlled movements.
This is a great place for beginners to start. This movement teaches you to move slow, and feel the muscle contractions. So many people think that core workouts or crunches means squeezing them together as hard and as fast as they can. But that isn’t necessarily true. When doing these exercises you don’t want to see any bulging or coning of your core – so if you do you need to slow down and scale the exercise back.
The best way to perform these is by placing your hands on your core. Place your thumbs on the bottom of your rib cage and your middle finger on your hip bones. This will allow you to feel the air coming into your diaphragm and and then the air leaving and the lower abdominals activating.
Another great oblique exercise! Sometimes holding a static position can be hard, uncomfortable or just too much for the mind to get past. The hip touches allow you to focus on a movement and feel a contraction.
This exercise can be performed on the side of the foot or the side of the knee. Slowly drop the hip towards the floor and then engage your obliques and lift your hips back up!
Hip Bridge March
You will get a big bang for your buck here working multiple muscle groups. This movement is a great stability exercise and works both your core and your glutes.
Laying on your back with your feet shoulder width apart & weight in your heels – pick your hips up and squeeze your glutes. Keeping your core engaged alternate one at a time you pulling your knee to your chest in a marching motion. Another great beginner exercise to start with!
The definition of small, controlled movements making a big difference. The pallof press has been used for years to build stability by limiting the rotation factor. I love this movement because you can concentrate on the obliques while feeling the burn and not feeling like form is going to be compromised.
You just want to be sure that you keep your chest up, hips square and do not rotate!
These are a few of my staple exercises that I do regularly. All of them have great modifications to make them easier, but can also be made more difficult as well. Nothing is fast movements or high reps – it is all about control and concentration.
I will say it again – training abs and doing crunches won’t give you a visible 6 pack. It will help to build up those muscles and exercise does burn calories, you need to have your diet and training in check and decrease overall body fat before your abs are visible.
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