Even if you have no aspirations of sculpting a perfect six-pack, you should be giving your abs plenty of attention in the gym. Strong abs are a key part of a rock-solid core, which in turn provides the foundation of good mobility and posture.
To help with ideas for abs workouts, Coach enlisted Fitness First personal trainer Luke Chamberlain and Carl Martin, personal training manager at Equinox, for a selection of their favourite exercises for beginner, intermediate and advanced gym-goers.
Beginner Abs Exercises
An all-time core classic. Hold a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles while supporting yourself on your forearms and toes.
“The plank is great for beginners and there is minimal movement so less chance of getting it wrong,” says Chamberlain.
“It’s also easy to scale – start at 20-second holds and work up towards 60 seconds. Make sure you engage your core by tilting your pelvis back slightly to flatten your lower back – a curved lower back is to be avoided.”
Lie down flat on your back on the ground. Keeping your legs as straight as possible, raise them until they’re vertical or as close as you can get. Lower them and repeat.
“This engages your lower abs, and you engage your core by flattening your lower back on the floor,” says Chamberlain.
“To make it easier, tuck your knees in and start with your legs raised, then slowly lower them towards the floor. Once you master this, start keeping your legs straight when returning to the top position.
“If you feel a niggle in your lower back then place your hands under your buttocks to help keep your lower back flat. Start with sets of five raises and work towards 15.”
Hand Slide Crunch
Lie down with your feet flat on the ground and knees bent. Place your hands on your thighs and slowly slide them up towards your knees as you sit up.
“This does not have to be a large movement,” says Chamberlain. “Focus on closing the distance between your ribs and hips by lifting your shoulders off the floor while maintaining contact between the ground and your lower back.
“Moving the top half up puts more emphasis on your upper abs. Start with sets of five and work towards 15.”
Intermediate Abs Exercises
“Start in a straight arm press-up position with one knee up between your elbows and only the back foot on the floor,” says Chamberlain. “Jump the back foot off the floor and swap it with the front foot.
“Focus on pulling your stomach muscles in throughout the movement to protect your spine and add more intensity. This is a great exercise for burning calories as well as developing your abs. Start with 30 seconds of mountain climbers and work towards 60 seconds.”
Get on all fours and place sliders or a towel under your feet, then brace your core and walk your hands forwards, pulling your body along while twisting your hips as little as possible.
“The intensity ramps up quickly so start at 30 seconds and work towards 60 seconds,” says Chamberlain.
“Using an abs roller or a barbell with weight plates on, kneel on a soft surface and grab the roller with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart,” says Chamberlain.
“Start by just slowly rolling the barbell or roller away from your knees. It’s important to have your hips forward so your knees, hips and shoulders all align. Once you have control when rolling away, try to maintain hip and spine position while rolling the weights back in. Try to avoid pushing your hips in the air on the way back because this defeats the purpose of the exercise (although it’s OK to do it when starting out). This is great for improving the strength of your core quickly. Start with five reps and work towards 15.”
Advanced Abs Exercises
“There are four main functions of the core: flexion, lateral flexion, isometric contraction and anti-rotation,” says Martin. “There are others – those are just the big four.”
“We tend to cover the first three with various forms of crunches (flexion), side bends (lateral flexion) and planks (isometric contraction). The Pallof press sits in the anti-rotation bracket, with a touch of isometric contraction.
“Set up a cable machine with a D-handle at about chest height. Stand side-on to the cable machine and hold the handle with both hands, fingers interlocked. The start position is holding the handle by the centre of your rib cage. Bend your knees slightly and extend the cable out until your arms are straight. Pause for a count of two – the objective here is not to let the weight on the machine pull you around, so you resist the rotation using your core. Bring the handle back to your chest and repeat for ten reps.”
Hollow body rock
“We often neglect the muscles we can’t see, especially with midsection training,” says Martin. “This exercise works the inner core muscles.
“Start lying on your back – the goal is to flatten your back or push it into the floor. Maintain this position throughout the whole movement. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Begin by lifting your shoulders off the floor, and at the same time lift your knees and feet off the floor to a 90° angle. While maintaining this position with your back pressed into the ground, start to rock back and forth. Start with 20 seconds to begin with. To make the exercise more challenging, you can extend the time, and also try increasing the lever length by straightening your legs and extending your arms overhead.”
Hanging Leg Raise With Split
“This is great for lower abs development,” says Chamberlain. “Start by hanging off a bar or putting your elbows in abs stirrups. Keeping your legs locked straight, slowly raise your feet until they are at hip height. Pause for a second, then split your legs as wide as possible. Hold this position for a second, then close your legs and slowly lower them to the starting position. Start with ten reps and work towards 20.”
“Start in a straight arm press-up position with sliders or a towel under your feet. Both of your feet should be slightly to one side.
“Draw your knees in to your chest without raising your hips, then push your feet away to the other side. The slower you move, the harder this drill is. Start with ten reps and work up to 20.”
Dual Weighted Crunch
“Start in a tensed bowl position with your heels and shoulders off the floor,” says Chamberlain. “Balance a 5kg plate on your shins and hold a 5kg plate in your hands, arms extended overhead. Pull your knees in to your chest while sitting up until the two plates are aligned one over the other, then slowly return to the tensed bowl position with your arms extended overhead.
“You have to move slowly so as not to drop the balanced plate, which adds to the intensity of the exercise. Start at ten reps and work towards 20. Once you hit 20 increase the weight. This is a very tough exercise but it’s really gratifying when you can hit 20 at a time, plus it’s easy to scale to make it harder.”