At this point, we all know that there are better abs options than situps, but knowing that, planks, paloff presses, and other stability-based tools – great as they are – can seem redundant in the lack of variety. It is important to check the functions of the abs to better equip you with the correct movements for your arsenal. Here is a quick lesson.
The heart of the matter: a better abs workout
Some people think that “core” training is about the good ol ‘six pack abs – the superficial abs that you can see. But in truth, the core encompasses everything between your hipbones and nipples. That means training properly, it involves training from multiple angles in multiple directions. Your abs serve four main purposes:
- Spine Extension: Often used as a stabilization exercise in back rehabilitation, this pattern involves bending the spine backwards. Supermans are a great example of this.
- Spinal Flexion: This is the act of bending forward. A sit-up pattern embodies this movement.
- Lateral flexion: This includes leaning your spine to one side or the other, or propping it up against external forces (think of a contact sport where you fight someone who is trying to knock you over from the side). Standing inclined dips train this movement pattern.
- Rotation: Twisting patterns require a lot of core activation to give you the right range of motion. Dumbbell wood chops and cable core rotations support core stability.
With all of these features, we have a serious range of options. It’s time to dig deep into the archives with some innovative training tools.
1. Side bend in goalkeeping position
What it aims at: lateral flexion
How it goes: Attach a thin tape to the base of a fixed point (machine, post, whatever you have) and place a pad or mat next to it. Play with the distance so that you can kneel (parallel to the anchor) on the leg furthest from the anchor point with the other leg fully extended and foot on (it’s okay if it’s not flat on the floor). Hold the band with both hands, then stretch it over your head. Bend your elbows slightly and keep your arms directly above your head, not forward. Using your core and obliques to slowly decrease the resistance, let the band get shorter and lean against the post. You should feel a deep stretch in the slopes on your other side. At the end of the stretch, straighten up again to a high position. Do 3 x 10-12 repetitions on each side.
2. Pikeups bike
What it aims at: Trunk flexion and antiextension (bonus: this also targets shoulder mobility)
How it goes: Find a rowing machine with a sliding seat. Bring the seat to the center / end of the machine so that it does not restrict your freedom of movement and rest the ball of your foot on it so it does not slide backwards when you lay on your hands to take a plank position (facing) . away from the machine). Bring your other foot onto the seat. Tension your core, then raise your hips to a high pike position. Try to end your head through your shoulders with your hips over your hands. Slowly return to the starting position of the plank. Avoid sinking too deeply and sagging your hips by keeping your core busy all the time and monitoring the pace. Do 3 x 10-12 repetitions on each side.
3. Rollout for supine position
What it aims at: Trunk flexion and antiextension
How it goes: Set up a tilt bench at the height of your choice. Hold a light plate (10 pounds works well) and take a half-sit-up position, keeping the seat at chest level. Next, slowly extend your arms above your head (remember, you are in a sit-up position so that “overhead” really feels like it is behind you, not in front of you like an incline bench press). You shouldn’t be able to see your arms or the plate when in full extension. Hold for a full second, then slowly bring the weight back to your chest. Do 3 x 10-12 repetitions on each side. * This is a great alternative to rollouts as it is challenging for many to maintain a tight core without arching the spine. Flipping from a concealed position to an open position can alleviate some of this stress.
What it aims at: Trunk extension and flexion
How it goes: Sit on the floor with your legs straight and place your hands next to your buttocks. Raise through your hands to lift your core off the floor, and straighten through your hips for a table position, feet flat and knees bent 90 degrees. It’s okay if your spine rounds a little with this movement. Then slowly “swing” your body through your arms down to the starting position with your legs straight. Do 3 x 10-12 reps
5. Angled chops outside the bench
What it aims at: Anti-lateral flexion and anti-rotation
How it goes: Any exercise outside of the bench is sure to break the obliques, but adding work for the arms takes things to a whole new dimension. Not for the faint of heart, this move was placed last because it requires a rock solid core. Find a flat bench and make sure it is stable before taking the classic off-bench position. We recommend weighing the other side down with a couple of stacked plates as shown above. Hook your feet under each side of the bench, making sure there is no support from the hip joint up. Keep your upper body straight and in line with your lower body (don’t sink to the floor or twist, stay straight). Holding a 5 pound plate, bring an extended arm overhead by arching your shoulders, then return to the lower position. Keep this slow. Do 2-3 x 8-10 repetitions on each side.
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