Welcome to the 2nd ingredient in my recipe for six pack abs: exercise!
(And no, I am not talking about crunches!)
I am a recovered crunchaholic. Crunches (in all their various forms) were my jam growing up. Eat too much at lunch and feel bloated? 100 crunches. Important date party coming up? Drop and give me 100. Spring break in a few weeks? Honey, cancel your plans ‘cuz you’re busy doing crunches!
Can you relate? I think most people, at some point in their lives, have resorted to doing hundreds of crunches in the hopes of building washboard abs.
The issue with crunches is that they typically only target the rectus abdominis and external obliques. The deeper, more powerful core muscles (like your transverse abdominis and internal obliques) are much harder to strengthen. So while it is important to build the rectus abdominis in your quest for a defined six pack, the key to achieving success is strengthening your core as a whole. This requires more than your average crunch sequence!
This week I am giving away some of my favorite exercises for strengthening your core and some of them might surprise you! Continue reading for my 5 go-to core exercises.
One of the greatest exercises you can do to strengthen AND define your core is the plank. HOWEVER, and this is a big however, most people have learned how to plank with improper form. Check it out:
In a proper plank, you should maintain a hollow position, pushing your belly button into your spine, squeezing your butt, and allowing your shoulders to round and push through the ceiling. This engages your core muscles instead of making your spinal erectors (in the low back) do the heavy lifting.
Hollow Body Hold
A hollow body hold is the foundational position for all gymnastic movements, including the plank and pushup. Prior to starting CrossFit, I had never heard of a “hollow hold” in my life and the first time I had to do one, I was in for a rude awakening! A hollow body hold is one of the best core strengthening exercises you can do because it forces you to elongate your body, keep it tight, and engage through your deep core to keep both your shoulders and feet above the ground.
Remember how we talked about the transverse abdominis? Yeah…hollow body holds will strengthen that puppy up real quick!
For added challenge, engage your core muscles to rock your body back and forth and maintain the hollow position the entire time, keeping your arms overhead and your legs extended. If you weren’t shaking before, you will be now!
While pushups are often categorized as a chest or triceps movement that you should perform on push-pull day at the gym, at their foundation they are a core movement. I learned this one the hard way…
Like most gym-goers, I was doing “bro pushups.” You know the ones I’m talking about…my chest was stopping well above the floor, my shoulders and arms were doing all the work, and my posterior chain was not engaged.
A true pushup is a movement initiated and dominated by the core muscles. Which makes total sense considering that you are starting from a plank. As you shift forward to press your chest down to the ground, your core should push back into your spine and your glutes, hamstrings, and quads should be tight. As your chest reaches the ground (I know it’s a long way to go, but you gotta get there), you should not lose any tension in your core or posterior chain. When you push back up to the starting position, your core muscles should initiate that movement, pulling into the spine and driving your abdomen upward.
I know what you’re thinking, y’all.
“How is a squat a core exercise?” Let me enlighten you.
An air squat is a leg exercise, yes, but it is also a core exercise. In order to squat safely, it is crucial to keep your ribs pulled down and core tight.
When you add a weight overhead, now your core is working triple-time to stabilize your body under the load. You can have super strong shoulders and legs, but if your core is weak, you will not be able to support significant weight overhead in this movement.
L-sit’s in their various forms are incredible core exercises. There are many progressions to an L-sit, working from the floor all the way up to rings or a bar. Performing an L-sit between two boxes is a challenging option right smack dab in the middle.
Just like in the hollow hold, an L-sit requires you to keep your core pulled into your spine, your shoulders protracted and your legs elongated and tight.
Try holding these for :30 seconds at a time, and by round 3 or 4, you are going to be struggling not to drop.
There is a big difference between defining and strengthening your core.
Definition is great, but not at the expense of true strength. Ditch the crunches and focus on exercises that develop strength throughout your entire core musculature. Not only will this ultimately lead to great definition (provided your nutrition is dialed in), it will improve every area of your fitness. Your lifts will improve, your balance will improve, your body mechanics will improve, and the list goes on!
The fun doesn’t stop with these five exercises though, y’all. Stay tuned for next week’s blog where I will be dishing out the third ingredient in my recipe for killer abs…I’ll give you a little hint: this one is sure to make you sweat!