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- Crunches and sit-ups aren’t the only way to build strong abs.
- Underrated exercises like planks and floating kicks are effective, low-impact alternatives.
- Doing different core exercises also helps add variety to your workout routine.
- For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
If you want to build strong abs, focusing on underrated exercises that use anti-moves may be a more effective option than doing hundreds of crunches daily.
“A common belief in strength training is that performing a movement that uses the major muscle is the best way to train it,” says Alex Rothstein, strength and conditioning coach and program coordinator for the exercise science program at NYIT. “But when training the abs, the main function of the muscle is to prevent movement, [so] anti-movement exercises tend to provide the greatest benefit.”
Rothstein recommends focusing on exercises that represent anti-extension (planks), anti-flexion (deadlift), and anti-rotation (Pallof press). Fortunately, most of these abdominal exercises require little to no equipment, minimal space, and are low impact.
Below are six of the best underrated exercises for building strong abs, as recommended by Rothstein, along with trainer Nico Gonzalez of Vital Online Wellness.
The plank is a solid core exercise that relies on your anterior (the front of your body) to help keep your posteriors (the back of your body) from undue stress. “It works the muscles from the shoulders to the feet,” says Rothstein.
1. Start on your knees with your hands planted on the floor in front of you, creating a table with your back.
2. Extend your legs behind you to create a straight plane from your shoulders to your feet.
3. Try to keep your hips in this same plane; if your hips drop too low, it automatically defeats the purpose of the exercise because your back is under more stress than your front.
4. While holding, lean your weight forward toward your arms; make sure to avoid shifting your weight onto your feet and having your legs do most of the work (which can happen when you’re tired, says Rothstein)
5. As you engage the core, imagine gently contracting your stomach and pushing your shoulders forward so that your shoulder blades separate.
Number of sets and reps: Try to hold the plank for as many seconds as possible while maintaining solid form, and make the total number of sets you do add up to one minute. Work on holding a plank for a minute at a time.
Forearm Plank Hip Graduations
This plank variation is one of Gonzalez’s go-tos because it effectively works your core muscles, obliques, and lower back. Try to keep an engaged core so your torso doesn’t sag toward the floor or arch too high.
1. Start by kneeling on the floor, then bring your forearms to the floor shoulder-width apart.
2. Extend both legs behind you and assume a plank position; be careful to strengthen your core and not arch your back.
3. Rotate your hips slightly to dip one side of your body toward the floor. Rotate everything from your navel to your legs, but keep the upper half of your body steady and strong.
4. Bring your hips level with the floor and back into the original forearm plank position.
5. Rotate your hips the other way and dip that hip in the same motion.
6. Return to plank position on your forearms.
Number of sets and reps: Perform 10 repetitions on each side.
Hollow floating kicks
Floating kicks are an underrated abdominal exercise because they not only work your stabilizer muscles (upper, lower, and obliques), but they also engage your glutes, hip flexors, and quads.
Here’s how to do them correctly:
1. Start on your back with your arms above your head and your legs stretched out on the floor. Focus on keeping your abs engaged and allowing your breath to expand and expand your ribs.
2. On your exhale, lift your upper body off the floor, extend your arms out to the side of your hips (as in a crunch), and lift your legs slightly off the floor.
3. Inhale and exhale but stay firmly in your abdomen. Start kicking your legs up and down at a pace that slightly shakes your balance. Work on keeping your hips and back stable.
4. Flutter kick for a count of 10, then slowly lower your upper body and legs toward the floor.
Number of sets and reps: Perform 10 sets of 10 kicks.
Side plank twist
The side plank can be tricky to master as it requires both strength and balance, but you can modify it to stay on your forearms and knees for added stability. This exercise works your abs, obliques, shoulders, and hips. Plus, it puts little strain on your back and helps improve balance and coordination.
1. Start in a plank or forearm plank position.
2. Rotate your whole body to the left, stack your legs on top of each other and support yourself with one hand or forearm
- You can choose to keep your lower leg straight or drop your lower knee to the ground for support.
3. Extend your upper arm toward the ceiling. Assume a straight line from the top of your head to your feet.
4. While keeping your hips stacked on top of each other, reach your top hand down to the floor in front of your body, while allowing your chest to rotate.
- You will feel your oblique work as you twist and remember to keep your hips and legs steady. Turn only as far as you can stay balanced.
5. Return your arm to the ceiling and return to your side plank to complete the rep.
Number of sets and reps: Perform 10 repetitions on each side of your body.
The Pallof Press helps strengthen your leg muscles through your torso and arms, providing a true full body workout. Rothstein recommends using a cable station if you have access to one for this move. If you don’t, a variation of the Pallof Press can be done using a resistance band attached to an anchor point at chest height.
1. Hold the handle attached to the cable station and instead of facing the cable, turn 90 degrees left or right.
2. Hold the cable with both hands and against your chest and assume a stable position with your legs slightly apart.
3. Slowly press the handle away from your chest; the weight will seem to get much heavier as you do this, and your torso will start to turn naturally.
4. Engage your abdominal muscles when turning to maintain good form; this is a form of anti-rotation training that strengthens your leg, torso, and arm muscles.
5. Return to your starting position and repeat the movement.
Number of sets and reps: Aim for three sets of eight to 12 reps.
Hanging leg or knee raise
Rothstein likes this workout because the hanging stretches the abdominal muscles and weakens them slightly, and when you do the lifting movement, the muscles are challenged more.
You will need access to a pull-up bar or captain’s chair to do this exercise.
1. Start by bending your knees and lifting them towards your elbows.
- Rothstein recommends bringing your knees up to your elbows. You will contract your abs and even tilt your hips slightly to raise your knees as high.
2. Then lower your legs back to the starting position, straightening your legs and knees as you go.
3. Repeat this movement at a medium pace.
For a hard alternative: Perform a version of this movement by straightening your legs and keeping them straight while raising them in front of you.
Number of sets and reps: Perform eight to 10 reps.
Ditch the crunches to add variety and more benefits to your ab workouts. Focus on movements that work all your abdominal muscles, and even some hip or back muscles.
Your entire body will thank you for a stronger torso, as you’ll benefit from better balance, stability, and posture.
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