Having well-defined, six-pack abs is the goal for many men and women. Flaunting six-pack abs at the beach in a bikini is a well-deserved reward for all the hard work it took to create them. But developing abdominal strength and endurance is so much more than simply looking your best in a swimsuit! The abs are part of your core, which includes your pelvic muscles, muscles that support the spine, and your hips. When your core is strong you have better stability and balance, improved sports performance, and better overall physical health.
Removing the Abdominal Blanket
The thing about abs is – you could have the strongest abs in all of the world but if they’re covered in a blanket of body fat, you’ll never see them! Before you can define and show off six-pack abs, you have to first concentrate on removing any extra body fat around your midsection. Unfortunately, you can’t target or spot-reduce the belly fat with ab exercises like sit-ups. Removing the “abdominal blanket” requires the same cardio exercises you use to reduce fat over the rest of your body.
Before concentrating on your abs you may need to set up a cardio exercise routine. Try including running, jogging, elliptical machines, biking, or the Stairmaster to your routine three to four days a week. The extra calories you burn during intense cardiovascular exercises can generate a calorie deficit which you need to melt fat off your entire body, including your abdominal area. Cardio works to create a calorie deficit if you don’t pig out, that is.
Don’t Eat More After Exercise
Eating more after working out is a common mistake people make that sabotage their results. I know what you’re thinking… “But, working out makes me hungry!” If you want to get rid of that extra blanket of fat that’s hiding your six-pack abs, you need to focus on nutrition just as much as you do your workouts. If you’re consuming extra calories because you’ve “earned them” from your workouts, you’re not going to have the calorie deficit your body needs to get rid of fat. You have to burn more calories than you consume.
One of the scientifically proven methods for getting the right nutrition and calories to lose weight is through eating five or six small and well-balanced meals throughout the day. The goal is to eat something small and healthy every three or four hours to avoid getting hungry and accidentally overeating.
Four Health Benefits of a Stronger Core
Once you have your cardio in place and you’re melting away that belly blanket, you can return your focus to developing your abs and getting a stronger core. There are many health benefits to strengthening the core of your body:
- Prevent or Reduce Lower-Back Pain
Are you one of the millions of people who walk around with low-back pain all the time? Strengthening your abs, hips, thighs, glutes, and back will relieve existing pain while preventing lower-back pain from returning. A stronger core makes it possible to use better posture when sitting at your desk or standing for long periods of time, and you become more mindful of how you lift heavy objects to engage your core muscles and avoid strain and pain.
A great exercise that will both increase the strength of your core and help relieve back pain is performed with an ab wheel. You can lie on your back with your feet in the wheel. Then, pull the wheel up to your butt with your legs and left your hips off the ground. Perform this exercise for 10-20 reps, three to four times each week and you’ll reduce pain and even completely eliminate back pain.
- Improve Your Posture
Good posture reduces compression on your back and the wear and tear on your spine. Redistributing your weight evenly throughout your body requires a strong core. As you strengthen your abs and core muscles, you will naturally sit and stand with improved posture.
- Better Sports Performance
Just about every sport relies on your core muscles. To produce force in your arms and legs, the energy starts in your core. To build ab strength and stabilize your core, do exercises that involve Bosu Balls or balance boards, or use weight machines that target core muscles. Anything that puts your body into an environment that requires both the upper and lower abs to engage together and requires balance will strengthen the core and give you improved sports performance for running, jumping, throwing, or swinging movements.
- Reduce Your Waist Circumference
Having a large waist circumference is a known marker of long-term health risks. As you strengthen your abs and core to develop the six-pack abs, your waistline will also shrink reducing health risks and improving appearance.
Best Ab Exercises Using Simple Equipment
If you’re a gym rat or have a bunch of exercise equipment in your home, the following list of 9 ab workouts will help you develop those dreamy six-pack abs and experience the health benefits of a stronger core:
Ab Wheel Roll
Using an ab wheel is a simple and effective way to target your abdominal muscles. Hold the ab wheel in your hands and get down on the floor on your knees. Place one hand on either side of the wheel. Push forward so your wheel rolls and keep your abdominals tight. Move forward until you can’t hold the form any longer. Then roll back to the starting position. Repeat this move as many times as you can while maintaining perfect form, and stop when you can’t hold that form any longer.
Don’t have an ab wheel? You can perform the same move with a barbell. Put 5 to 10-pound plates on the bar. Get into position just like you would with the ab wheel, knees on the floor and sitting behind the bar. Push the bar forward and keep your ab muscles engaged and tight while you reach forward until your hips start to sag and you lose form. Then roll back to the starting position. Repeat until you can’t hold perfect form any longer.
Crunches with a Swiss Ball
Lie over a swiss ball so your lower back is supported with the ball. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor in front of the ball. Place your hands behind your ears and tuck your chin down. Do a crunch; curl your body upward using your abdominals until you’re sitting up, then lower yourself back down and repeat for as many reps as you can.
Medicine Ball with a Russian Twist
Sit on the floor with knees bent and hold a medicine ball with both hands. Extend your arms out in front of you, then twist your body quickly to the right, then twist back to the center, then twist to the left.
Mountain Climbers with a Medicine Ball
Bring yourself into a push up position on the floor, and hold a medicine ball between your hands. Balance yourself on the ball with your hands, and drive one knee up to your chest and return it. Alternate knees back and forth while holding yourself in the push up position with your hands on the medicine ball.
Sit-ups with Weights
Get into a sit-up position on the floor, lying on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Hold a weight plate at your chest. Tuck your chin to your chest and sit up while holding the weight.
Pull Up Bar Hanging Leg Circles
Use a bar that is high enough to hang from with your legs extended, so your feet do not hit the ground. Grip the pull up bar with your palms parallel and arms fully extended. Use your abdominal and core to keep your legs straight and draw a big circle in the air with your feet. Don’t let your body swing back and forth by engaging your ab muscles. A circle in one direction is equal to one rep, do 8 to 10 reps making circles in one direction and then reverse the circle for another 8 to 10 reps.
If this exercise is too hard for you, do the circles while sitting in a chair first to strengthen your core until you are able to do this hanging from a pull up bar.
Pull Up Bar Hanging Side to Side Knees
Hold the pull up bar with both palms and hang with arms and legs extended. Engage your abdominals and lift your knees to the right side, bending naturally. Bring your knees to as close to the right side of your chest as you can, then lower back to the starting position in a controlled motion. Bring your knees to your left side and lower to the starting position. Do 8 to 10 reps, alternating sides.
If this exercise is a bit too hard for you at first, bring your knees up to your center rather than to the sides.
Cable Machine Oblique Crunches
Place a medium weight on the cable machine and set the carriage close to the ground. Stand perpendicular to the machine with your right side, and hold the cable handle with your right hand while placing your left hand behind your head. Lean to the left, engaging your oblique muscles, pulling away from the machine in a standing-side crunch motion. Return to the starting position. Repeat the oblique crunches with the weight 10 to 15 times, then repeat standing with your left side perpendicular to the machine and your left hand holding the cable handle.
Ab Exercises with No Equipment Necessary
If you prefer to do your workouts at home without equipment, the following list of 6 ab exercises will get you to your six-pack abs.
Partial Sit Up, Arms Up
Lie on your back in the sit up position with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet flat on the floor. Raise your arms straight over your head so they are pointing up away from your body and the floor. Sit up halfway, then slowly return to the floor position. One rep is up and down.
Lie on the floor on your back with your legs straight and your arms extended out at your sides. Lift both heels up off the floor about six inches and then quickly kick them in a scissor motion up and down. Do for one minute, rest for thirty seconds, and repeat.
Lie down on the floor in a push up position. Bend your elbows and place your forearms on the floor. You can clasp your hands together in the middle or keep them straight. Hold the position for as long as you can, keeping your abdominals engaged.
Start on your left side with your forearm on the floor and your legs straight out, the right leg over your left. Raise your hips to form a straight line from your forearms to your feet, placing the weight on your left forearm and edge of your left foot. Tighten and hold your abdominals to maintain this position for as long as possible, then reverse sides.
Get into a push up position on your hands and feet. Spread your arms and feet as wide as you can (like a star shape!) and then hold the position with your abdominals tightly engaged for thirty seconds.
Lie on your back and extend your arms over your head on the floor and legs straight out in the opposite direction. Tighten your core muscles and push your lower back against the floor or exercise mat. Raise your knees above your hip and extend legs straight while crunching upwards and reaching toward your toes. Lower yourself back down in a controlled motion, keeping arms and legs straight and hovering above the floor just before touching and then repeat the motion. Repeat the motion for a specific number of reps or set a timer and repeat until the timer runs out.
Other Activities to Strengthen Your Abs
If the thought of adding additional ab exercises to your existing workout routine is just a little too much to take on, there are some activities you could participate in that will also lead to strengthening your core.
Both yoga and pilates are ideal practices to work on your core muscles. The postures that you find yourself in will target the core muscles, including the abdominals. If you’ve never participated in either yoga or pilates, you’ll probably wake up the following day with a very sore abdominal and back area as it tends to target the areas that aren’t always hit during your gym sessions.
Swimming and bicycling and boxing are also activities that strengthen your abdominals. So if the gym bores you or you just want to add some variety to your workouts, try some of these activities for a fun and effective ab workout!