Rocking a set of shredded six-pack abs tops the list of many people’s fitness goals, but focusing on developing a strong core can do much more for your health, performance, and dream bod than just trying to get washboard abs. In other words, you should strive to have strong abs, not just flat abs.
Oftentimes the two go hand in hand. For most of us this means you don’t need to spend hours doing crunches and planks to rock a tight, lean stomach, since you can switch up your training to incorporate more total body exercises that strengthen your core and support your total physique goals.
Then it's just a matter of dialing in your nutrition to cut calories, burn fat, and reveal the six pack hiding under a layer of extra poundage around your midsection.
Whether your main objective is to feel confident next summer or maximize performance, it starts with building core strength.
So, here’s five killer workouts that target the abs and strengthen the core.
What’s the Difference Between a Six Pack and a Strong Core?
Your total core encompasses much more than your abdominal muscles. It includes your entire midsection - internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis (internal abdominal wall), and rectus abdominis (your abs).
A strong core is the result of proper training to target and strengthen all of these muscle groups. Which leads to a whole host of benefits including improved strength, posture, and reduced risk of injury.
Six pack abs, on the other hand, are the result of a strong core built through strength training and uncovered by proper diet. Essentially your six pack is built in the gym and unleashed in the kitchen.
5 Abdominal Exercises for Your Best Core
For those who tend to focus on the aesthetics of training, like bodybuilders, performing thousands of sit-ups and crunches to get their abs to pop is the answer. But these are well trained individuals who already have abs.
If your only focus is sit-ups or you keep doing the same ab exercises over and over, you're likely missing out on training your total core and you're holding yourself back.
For many athletes, like weightlifters, sprinters, even gymnasts—ab training is usually a small part of their workouts. And that’s because their intense training and healthy diet have done the work for them.
So stop wasting your time in the gym and try these five workouts to build total strength and get you closer to your ultimate goal of six-pack abs.
1. The Non-Abs Abs Routine
Try this full body workout to engage your core and focus on functional motion. Choose a weight amount that is challenging but comfortable to complete the required reps.
A. Barbell Back Squat: 5 x 5 reps.
Perform five sets of five reps.
B. One-arm Dumbbell Overhead Press Superset with Suspension Trainer One-arm Row: 3 x 8-10 reps for both exercises.
Attach a suspension trainer such as a TRX to a pull-up bar and hold one handle. Allow your body to be suspended at a 45-degree angle. Row your sternum up to the handle.
C. Single-leg Deadlift: 3 x 8-10 reps.
Bend one knee 90 degrees so you’re standing on one leg. Bend your hips back and reach toward the floor. Go as low as you can, keeping your back flat.
D. Overhead Plate Carry: 60 seconds.
Hold a heavy weight straight overhead and walk. Rest 30 seconds and repeat until you’ve walked 60 total seconds.
2. The Ab-burning Core Circuit Workout
You’ll do this workout as a circuit, meaning you’ll complete each exercise consecutively without rest. Once you’ve finished all exercises, rest for 30 seconds.
Repeat the entire circuit for 5 to 10 rounds total.
A. Leg Raise with Bench: 10 reps.
B. Mountain Climber: 10 reps.
C. Plank: 30 seconds.
D. Medicine Ball Woodchop: 10 reps
Depending upon your ability, you may shorten or lengthen the rest period. You may also complete more or fewer rounds.
3. Lose Your Love Handles Workout
Move through each superset
A. Sledgehammer Overhead Strike + Deadlift
3 rounds, alternating between the following:
Sledgehammer Overhead Strike: 20 reps.
Stand with legs shoulder width apart with a tire in front of you. Hold the sledgehammer with your dominant hand near the head and your non-dominant hand at the base of the handle. Swing the sledgehammer over your head and down onto the tire.
Deadlift: 10-15 reps.
Start with your feet centered underneath the bar, slightly less than shoulder width. Bend your knees to reach the bar, touching your shins against the bar.
With your shoulder blades centered over your feet and bar, lift. Roll the bar over your shins, knees and thighs as your lift until your knees and hips are locked straight.
B. Plank + Russian Twist
4 rounds, alternating between the following:
Plank: 30 seconds.
Lie on your stomach with your arms at push up position. Lift your torso and knees off the ground with your back and legs in a straight line. Resting on either your palms or forearms, use your core to maintain rigidity in your body.
Make this more challenging by rotating your body open 90 degrees and performing side planks.
Russian Twist: 15 reps.
Sit on the floor with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Holding a medicine ball, reach your arms out in front of you as you recline your back into a 45 degree angle from the floor.
With your core engaged and feet planted, twist your body left to right, moving the medicine ball from side to side.
C. Battle Rope Wave + Box Jumps
4 rounds, alternating between the following:
Battle Rope Wave: 30 seconds.
Stand squarely with your knees and hips bent, your core engaged and your feet hip-width apart. Grab both rope ends with two hands equidistant from the ground.
Crouch into a half squat and blast into the air engaging your leg and core muscles as you swing your hands over your head. Lower your hands and rope as you return to the ground and repeat the motion.
Box Jump: 20 reps.
Stand with a box in front of you. Make sure it is a height you’ve done or have come close to jumping successfully to avoid injury. Standing shoulder width apart, crouch into a quarter squat and explode vertically using your legs and core muscles and swinging your arms for momentum.
D. Kettlebell Swing + Jumping Burpee
4 rounds, alternating between the following:
Two-Handed Kettlebell Swing: 20 reps.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your back straight. Bending your knees and hips, take hold of the kettlebell with two hands.
With your core engaged, drive your hips forward, swinging the kettlebell as close to eye level as possible.
Jumping Burpee: 15 reps.
Stand with your feet together and bend your knees and hips until you can reach the ground with both of your palms. Jump slightly, forcing your feet backwards until you are stretched in a plank position.
Jump again, tucking your feet in until they land where you began the exercise. Stand up straight and in a fluid motion, jump straight into the air, finishing where you started.
4. 10 Minutes to Six-pack Workout
Perform one of these three circuits at the end of your daily workout to train your abs. Complete one set of each exercise in sequence, resting one minute after the last one. Repeat. After two weeks, increase the number of circuits: In Week 3, perform three circuits, and so on.
Hanging Leg Raise: 8-12 reps.
Ab-wheel Rollout: 8-15 reps.
Back Extension: 10-12 reps.
Russian Twist: 8-10 reps.
Bicycle Crunch: 20-30 reps (each side).
Plank: Hold for as long as possible.
Swiss Ball Rollout: 10-12 reps.
Weighted Twist: 8-12 reps.
Weighted Swiss Ball Crunch: 8-12 reps.
5. Six-move Six-pack Shredder
Ok, I know we said don’t waste your time on sit-ups, but any one of these routines or a combination is the perfect way to get your abs muscles going at the beginning or end of a cardio workout.
Reverse Crunch: 3 x 30 reps.
Lay with your back flat on the floor with each leg straight and relaxed. Keep arms pressed down at sides for leverage.
Lift your legs with knees bent to chest to engage your core, then slowly lower your legs until each foot touches the floor.
Flutter Kick: 3 x 30 reps.
Lay on your back flat against the ground. Slightly raise your shoulders and upper back off the ground, stabilizing with your lower back and glute. Alternate lifting right and left leg for 1 rep.
Heel Touch: 3 x 20 reps.
Lay on your back with your feet flat on the ground, knees bent and arms pointing toward your heels. Raise your shoulders off the ground and perform a crunch to the left side engaging your obliques until your left hand touches your left foot.
Return to the starting position and repeat on your right side. Left heel touch and right heel touch equals one rep.
Cross Crunch: 3 x 20 reps (each side).
Lie on your back and keep your left foot flat on the floor with your knee bent and place your right ankle on top of your left knee.
Crunch forward to bring your right elbow up to the left knee for one rep.
Bicycle Crunch: 3 x 20 reps.
Lie on your back and place your hands behind your head. Crunch forward and twist your body left while raising your left knee toward your chest and kicking the right leg out.
Return to the starting position and perform on the other side. Each side counts as 1 rep.
Toe Touch: 3 x 30 reps.
Lay flat on your back and raise your legs to the sky 90 degrees. From the waist up, raise your upper body and reach for your toes with your arms straight.
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