Stomach workouts are great for building core muscles, but they’re also great for improving posture, supporting your spine and back, and offering a wider range of motion.
The problem is that many people never succeed in carving out the core of their dreams. For some people, the problem lies in their approach to working out, while others have got their nutrition wrong. Either way, there’s a remedy, and you can commence your journey to an impressive six pack starting today!
In this article, we’ll go over the non-sexy reasons for having a strong core. I’ll also be sharing some proven stomach workouts and core exercises that’ll help you carve out an impressive ab.
Table of Contents
- Why You Need Rock-Solid Abs
- 5 Effective Stomach Workouts
- Bonus Tip: Your Other Muscle Groups
- The Bottom Line
Why You Need Rock-Solid Abs
Believe it or not, there’s actually more to having a strong core than just good looks. Core muscles are required for just about everything we do on a daily basis, from sitting, to walking, running and throwing things around.
Before we go any further, though, you should probably know that there’s more to the core than just the abdominal muscles (abs). It also includes hip and pelvic muscles, as well as mid and lower back muscles. All these muscles work together to support movement and maintain stability.
Here are some benefits of having a strong core:
1. Helps Your Posture
When you engage in core-strengthening stomach exercises, the thorough working of the torso helps to maintain a balanced posture. The posture balance, in turn, helps to reduce the risk of vertebrae degeneration and disc herniation.
2. Reduces Back Pain
Having a strong core also helps to alleviate back pain by providing adequate support for the spine. Research has also revealed that having strong core muscles reduces the risk of back injury during workouts.
3. Improves Athletic Performance
You’re going to have a hard time finding a sport that doesn’t rely heavily on core muscles for effective performance. From running, to rowing, baseball, football, and tennis, every sport you could possibly think of engages the core in one way or another.
So, if you’re planning to become an athlete, then strengthening your core is absolutely indispensable.
4. Makes Life Easier on the Job
Life will become a whole lot easier for you on the job if you can manage to strengthen your core. The reason is simple—just about every activity you engage in at work engages your core, from standing to lifting, twisting and even sitting.
Therefore, if you’d like to be a bit more comfortable and energetic at work, then strengthening your abs and back muscles would be a great place to start.
Now let’s get to those stomach workouts that will help strengthen the all-important core.
5 Effective Stomach Workouts
Before diving into the specific workouts that will finally send your abs out of hiding, there are a couple of anatomical jargon you need to be familiar with. These are just fancy names for the muscles that make up the abs, and they are:
- Rectus abdominis (front abs, commonly known as six-packs)
- Internal and external obliques (side abs, found around the waist).
Got it? Great! Keep those in mind because I’ll be mentioning them a lot in the coming paragraphs.
Now, let’s move on to the actual workouts.
Regardless of the negative media crunches may have received over the years, one thing is for certain—they work…when done correctly!
Crunches are great for eliciting muscle activity in the rectus abdominis, and this helps greatly in strengthening those muscles.
How to Do Perfect Crunches
- Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet closely together and flat on the floor. You may want to hold on to something with your toes to make it easier.
- Place your hands behind your head (without interlocking them) or across your chest.
- Keep your elbows open to the sides.
- Gently tighten and pull in your abs.
- Curl forward, lifting your head and shoulder blades off the floor towards your knee.
- Hold it for a moment and lower back down slowly.
Several variations of the traditional crunch have been developed to focus on other core muscles ignored by regular crunches. One of these is the bicycle crunch or bicycle kicks. The bicycle crunch impacts the external obliques (on the side of the waist), in addition to the rectus abdominis, and this helps to work the torso.
How to Do Bicycle Crunches
- Start in the same position as a traditional crunch.
- Lift your right knee off the floor, toward the left side of your chest, and simultaneously lift your left elbow to meet your right knee.
- Repeat this process for the left knee and right elbow, and keep up this cycle until your abs are thoroughly worked.
- Be sure to completely lift your shoulder blades off the floor to keep the action concentrated on your core.
Check out this video on how to do the bicycle crunch:
There’s a good reason why the plank has gained so much attention in the fitness industry—it works. Not only does it crush the rectus abdominis, but it also greatly impacts the external obliques and transverse abdominis, making it one of the best stomach workouts.
In simple terms, it rocks your abs in a way regular crunches don’t and also doesn’t give you back pain, no matter how long you hold out doing it.
Planks aren’t just a great workout for abs, though. It also does a great job strengthening the arms, shoulders, and glutes.
Just like the crunch, there are several variations of the plank, each adapted to focus on specific muscle groups that may have been ignored by others. Here, I’ll be discussing just two of them: the front plank and the side plank.
How to Do a Front Plank
The front plank is the basic plank position, and it targets your rectus abdominis. Here’s how to do it:
- Start in the pushup position with your arms placed shoulder-width apart, and place your feet shoulder-width apart or together.
- Rest your weight on your forearms, with your palms facing the ground, and maintain a 90-degree angle between your shoulders and forearm.
- Raise your hips slightly, and form a straight line from your head to your feet.
- Hold the position for as long as you can before your form collapses.
- Rest for a few minutes and repeat.
- If this isn’t challenging enough, raise an arm and a leg to increase the difficulty level.
How to Do a Side Plank
Apart from strengthening the front abs, the side plank also works the external obliques and transverse abdominis, helping you to carve out that dreamy physique in your midsection. Here’s how to do it:
- Lie on your right side, supporting your body by placing your right forearm on the floor.
- Place your left leg on the right leg while maintaining this position.
- Lift your hip off the ground, maintaining a straight line from your shoulder to your feet.
- Lift your left arm into the air to maintain balance.
- Hold this position for as long as you can (one or two minutes is fine).
- Rest for a few minutes and repeat for the other side.
- To increase the difficulty level, you can raise the top leg.
3. Russian Twists
The Russian twist is an amazing workout for just about every muscle in your core as you twist from side to side. The obliques are the more obvious beneficiaries, though, as the side-to-side motion really impacts the torso and helps to carve out an impressive side.
And just like the other stomach workouts listed so far, no serious gym equipment is required. All you need is some floor space and the will to keep going!
How to Do Russian Twists
- Sit on the ground, and bend your knees to create a 90-degree angle between your upper and lower legs.
- You may place your feet under something immovable or lift them slightly off the floor.
- Tilt your back towards the ground at an approximate angle of 45-degrees with the ground.
- Hold your arms straight before you and twist as far as possible to one side before doing the same thing on the other side.
- To kick things up a notch, hold a mildly heavy object in your hands as you twist from side to side.
- Aim for 10-12 reps on each side, rest, and repeat the process 3-5 times.
4. Hanging Leg Raise or Knee Raise
This is another exercise that will rev up your core and leave your abs strengthened for days. The most beautiful thing about this workout is its scalability. You can start off with bent knee raises, and then you can move on to straight leg raises, and ultimately to toe-to-bar raises.
How to Do the Hanging Leg Raise or Knee Raise
- Grab the pull-up bar, ensuring that your arms are straight and your feet are totally off the ground.
- Keep your legs straight and firmly together.
- Tighten your abs, and use your core to extend your legs forward until they form an angle of 90-degrees with your midsection.
- Hold this position for a few seconds and slowly return to the starting position.
- For the knee raise, bend your knees before raising them to a 90-degree angle with your midsection.
- For either movement, make sure you get your legs up using only your core. Avoid swinging them up with momentum.
- To make things a bit more challenging, try placing a medicine ball between your ankles or knees.
- Aim for 3-5 sets in the 10-15 rep range, and you midsection should be burning for days to come.
5. Ab-Wheel Rollouts
Alright, this one of the stomach workouts that may require a trip to the gym, but trust me, it’ll be worth every minute of your time.
If there’s one thing those infomercials got right, it’s the fact that ab wheels produce better muscle activation than crunches and leg raises.
As you roll out on the wheel, your trunk fires up in order to maintain spine neutrality and prevent collapsing. In other words, it does a great job of crushing your abs and carving out those much-desired six packs.
How to Do Ab-Wheel Rollouts
- Get into a tabletop position, and place some pads under your knees for protection.
- Place your hands on the ab wheel, and take a deep breath.
- Push your belly backward to prevent it from sagging as you roll out.
- Roll out the wheel as far as you comfortably can, and keep your core tight.
- Hold the position for a few seconds, and roll back in, fully engaging your abs as you do so.
- To kick things up a notch, strap on a backpack containing some weight as you roll in and out.
- Aim for 2-5 sets in the 10-15 rep range, and you’ll definitely feel it in your abs for days to come.
Bonus Tip: Your Other Muscle Groups
Before you dash off, don’t ignore other muscle groups!
Here’s a little fact you need to wrap your head around—doing only ab exercises won’t give you six pack! Here’s why:
Your abs are invisible because they’re covered by a layer of abdominal fat.
Excessive body fat results from a calorie surplus, which means you take in more calories than you burn. And the abdomen is just one of the several fat-storage spots in the body.
Lowering your total body fat should be the first course of action, and that requires a full body workout.
Contrary to what some marketers would have you believe, you can’t directly target abdominal fat for elimination; there’s simply no scientific evidence behind this hocus pocus.
Although research has revealed that training a particular muscle group does increase lipolysis (conversion of fat into energy) and blood flow in that area, the effect is usually too negligible to matter.
So, training a particular muscle group doesn’t make them cannibalize the fat covering them, although it does help those muscles to consume more energy as they get bigger.
You may do hundreds of crunches and leg raises, but you still won’t see those abs if you don’t reduce the percentage of your total body fat 15% or more. Fat loss is a full-body process, and that means you need to stick to a calorie deficit and train all muscle groups to achieve it.
The Bottom Line
There are no magic tricks to carving out an impressive core with stomach workouts! If you want great abs, you need to do three things—eat right, train right, and burn fat!
Here’s the thing, though—you can do it!
Start today, take it one day at a time, and a few months from now you’ll look in the mirror and love what you see. Stop sitting around; get out there and get it done!
Featured photo credit: Anastase Maragos via unsplash.com
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