What are the best ab exercises to flatten your abs and improve tone? Is it crunches, plank, Pilates, oblique curls, stability board, ab cradle … the list goes on. In fact, there’s no one “best” exercise to work the abs. The abdominal muscles consist of several layers, which all carry out different roles in movement and stability. The more variety in your choice of ab exercises, therefore, the more thoroughly you will work all of these layers. This circuit is designed to make sure all the muscle layers are worked.
Different types of ab exercises for the different layers
This 10 minute circuit has 6 different exercises so that all the layers get worked:
Crunch and reverse crunch for the top layer (6 pack)
The top layer of abdominal muscles carries out movements which bring the upper and lower body together. If you lie on the floor and do crunches, then you make them work against gravity. The ordinary crunch works the top half of the “6 pack” and the reverse crunch works the bottom half.
Oblique curls and Russian twist for the middle layers
The internal and external oblique muscles are the ones we use for bending and twisting movements. Although not as obvious as the 6-pack, definition in these muscles does show. The obliques also play a part in pelvic stability and therefore contribute to flat abs.
Plank hold and single leg stretch for the deepest layer
The deepest of the 4 layers, the transverse abdominis (TA), is the muscle that plays the biggest part in pulling the abdominal area in flat and stabilising the pelvis. Ab exercises which work this layer are ones in which the TA has to work hard at keeping the pelvis stable.
Ideally, you should use an exercise mat for this workout. If you don’t have a mat, make sure you are lying on something that will cushion your spine – a folded blanket or quilt for example.
Make sure you follow all the technique points below, because technique is important to get good results from core training. Also, please see these general exercise guidelines.
Complete 3 full circuits – that is, do all 6 exercises for the number of reps given, then start again and repeat twice more.
#1 Standard crunch – x 30 reps
- Lay with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip distance apart. Put your hands behind your head to prevent neck strain. Tuck your chin in slightly.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and curl your spine smoothly away from the floor.
- Stop when your shoulder blades have left the floor and start to reverse the movement.
#2 Reverse crunch x 30 reps
- This time, start by extending your legs so that they are vertical.
- Engage your lower abs as you curl your lower spine off the mat. Again, it should be a smooth curling movement.
- When your lower back has left the floor, start to reverse the movement – curl your spine back down under control.
#3 Elbow to knee – x 15 reps each side
- Lie on the floor with your legs together, bent to 90° at the hips and knees.
- Rotate your left elbow towards your right knee. It doesn’t matter if you can’t lift your shoulder high enough for your elbow to touch your knee, just get it as close as you can.
- Lower your left shoulder blade back to the floor and swap sides.
#4 Russian twist – x 15 reps each side
This exercise will be more effective if you do it with a weight. You can use a single dumbbell or a kettlebell. A weight between 2-5lb (1-2kg) is a good level to start at. Alternatively, if you don’t have any weights, you can improvise with a bottle of water.
- Start by sitting with a straight back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, about hip distance apart. If you’re using a weight of any sort, hold it in both hands.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and lower your back towards the floor, until it is at about 45° to the floor. Hold this position. You will feel your abs working.
- Keep your head facing forwards as you rotate in your upper back to reach your arms to one side.
- Now rotate your back to reach the arms to the other side.
#5 single leg stretch – x 30 reps
- Lay on the floor and bring both knees in towards your chest, then extend your left leg as shown. You need to use your core muscles to hold onto the netural pelvis position. Your back shouldn’t arch.
- Now reverse the movement – bring your left knee in towards your chest and you extend your right leg.
#6 Elbow plank – hold for 30 seconds
- Kneel on the floor.
- Lean forwards and put your forearms on the floor, making sure your shoulders are directly above your elbows.
- Straighten one leg out behind you, with your toes on the floor.
- Engage your core strongly and extend the other leg behind.
- Now hold this position for a count of 30.
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