Abdominal strength isn’t just important for those who aspire to have washboard abs. Located around the center of your body, your abs and core muscles support your hips, back, and other muscles to help you do various everyday activities — from deadlifting 150kg carrying groceries inside. Having good abdominal strength can help you achieve a better posture, balance, and stability. It also takes some of the pressure off your spine, so it may help reduce back pain.
Having a strong core is important for your performance, yes. But it’s also vital in preventing injury, especially back injuries — many of which stem from a weak core.
More often than not, when people talk about abs, they’re actually referring to a group of muscles called the core. The core includes four muscles:
- Erector spinae: This is a muscle in the back that is in charge of extending your midsection so that you’re able to bend forward and stand back up.
- Rector abdominus: This is what’s popularly referred to as “abs” or a “six-pack.”
- Obliques: This is made up of internal and external obliques, which help you bend and rotate your torso.
- Multifidus: This is a muscle in the back that takes some pressure off your spine.
Whatever level you’re at in your fitness journey, abdominal strengthening exercises should not be missed. Try these seven core-strengthening workouts to help keep your abs and core strong.
7 Abdominal Strength Exercises to Incorporate into Your Programming
The awesome thing about this exercise is that it’s a holistic core muscle workout. To do this, first lay on your back with your legs straight and your arms extended upwards by your head, close to your ears. Tighten your abs to press your lower back into the floor.
Then, squeeze your thighs and glutes as you raise your legs and upper back off the ground. Reach your hands up to meet your feet, making your body form a V-shape. Keep your core tight as you lower back down to the starting pose, under control.
To make this easier, you can bend your legs. To make it more difficult, you can pass a weighted ball back and forth from your hands to your feet.
While this is one of the most popular abdominal strengthening exercises, it’s a full-body workout that also engages the shoulders, arms, back, glutes, and legs. Begin in a tabletop position with your hands on the floor below your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips.
Straighten your legs to lift off your knees while maintaining a hip-width distance between your feet. Hold this position for 10 seconds up to half a minute while keeping your core engaged.
Note: There are countless variations of planks, including side planks, or traditional planks while raising your hands and/or feet in the air, alternating sides. Any way you slice it, you’re going to see massive gains in your abdominal strength.
3. Mountain Climber
This exercise brings together planks and knee movements to help increase balance and overall abdominal strength.
Start in a plank position. Then, engage your ab muscles as you bring your right knee up to your chest. Stay mindful of maintaining a straight back and leveled hips. Hold your knee to your chest for a moment, and then bring it back down to resume your plank position. Do the same for the other side, and alternate between legs for eight to 12 repetitions.
4. Bird Dog
A yoga staple, this challenging exercise targets your abs and back to help improve your balance, stability, and coordination.
Begin in a tabletop position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees supporting your hips. Engage your core as you simultaneously lift your right leg and left arm until they form a straight line with the hips and shoulders respectively. Hold this pose for a moment, and then bring them back down.
Repeat this pose with your other arm and leg, and go for eight to 12 repetitions.
This exercise doesn’t only challenge your abdominal strength but helps to strengthen the lower back as well.
Start by laying down your stomach, using a small pillow or towel just under your hips to keep your back supported. Lift your right arm up as you engage your abdominal muscles. Maintain this pose for three breaths, and then lower your arm to the floor to resume your starting position. Do the same for your left arm.
Then, lift your right leg up, still keeping your core tight. Hold for three breaths, lower, and do the same for the left leg.
As you build strength, work on lifting all four limbs off the ground simultaneously.
6. Panther Shoulder Tap
If you’re looking for something more dynamic that really gets your core working, this is the abdominal strength exercise for you.
Begin on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tighten your core as you raise your knees approximately one to three inches off the floor. Make sure to keep your back flat and your hips down to maximize the strengthening of your core muscles.
Raise your right hand to tap your left shoulder, and your left hand to tap your right shoulder. Repeat this by switching sides.
7. Reverse Crunch
We’re going to take your traditional crunch and kick it up a notch.
Lay flat on your back and place your hands under your bum. Bend your legs slightly and lift your legs so that your feet hover over the floor. Tighten your core and draw your legs in and up. At the top of the movement. Your butt should raise off the floor just slightly.
To make this easier, bend your legs more. To make it harder, straighten your legs more. You can also add in another layer of difficulty by bringing your shoulders off the ground.
Want to keep going? Check out our blog on lower ab exercises that we love!