Top 5 Ab Exercises that target Upper Abs, Lower Abs, Obliques, and Core Stability

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You want to squat heavier? Run faster? Lift more? Be more stable during yoga? It all starts with a strong core. We’ve all heard the saying, “consistency is key” and it couldn’t ring more true when it comes to training your abs. Your abdominal muscles, unlike many of the other larger muscle groups in the body, can be trained multiple times per week, as they don’t need as long to recover. I know, I know, you can barely contain your excitement. You acquire abs through a balanced combination of exercise and diet. Hence the saying, “abs are made in the kitchen”.

Now, I’m not saying to sit there and just do crunches and sit-ups for an hour either. There are countless ab workouts, many of which put much less strain on your spine over the years than constant crunches and sit-ups will.  Today I’m going to share five ab exercises with you that you don’t need ANY equipment for, just your body! You can do these exercises at home, at a park, anywhere you want!

1)  THE PLANK

Planks are a great core stability exercise! They even incorporate your lower back, hip and arm muscles. The crucial and most important part of planks is focusing on squeezing your entire body; quads, glutes, core, back, and fists, as tight as possible while taking deep breathes throughout the hold. If you really want to challenge yourself, you can put a 5-10lb plate on the lower part of your back while doing the exercise.

 If training abs is difficult due to lower back pain planks are a great exercise for strengthening your core without putting strain on your lower back here are some great core stability exercises that won’t put strain on your lower back with addition of planks.

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  • How to do it: Start by laying on your stomach, then prop yourself up into a forearm plank position. Make sure that your elbows are aligned right under your shoulders and are parallel to each other.  Keep your neck in a neutral position and make sure your spine stays straight. Do not let your hips dip down. Hold the pose for 30-90 seconds, and repeat 2-4 times.

  • For an extra challenge you can also perform walking crunches. Very similar to planks however, instead of supporting yourself with your elbows and forearms the whole time, you push yourself up one arm at a time, and lower yourself back down into a regular plank the same way.

 

2)   BICYCLE CRUNCHES

Another great ab exercise, that I personally love, is bicycle crunches. These really get the burn going! They target your rectus abdominis, otherwise known as the paired muscle running vertically down your abdomen, and obliques.

 

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  • How to do it: Start by lying flat on the floor, with your lower back pressed to the ground. Place your hands softly behind your head. Do not lock your fingers. Lift one leg a few inches off the ground and extend it, then bring the other leg up and bend your knee towards your chest. As you do that, twist your core so that your opposite arm comes towards your raised knee. Mirror the movement with the opposite arm and leg you were previously using. Complete 2-4 sets of 8-15 repetitions. Rest 30 seconds between sets.

  • For an additional challenge, add ankle weights.

 

3) LEG RAISES

Leg raises are a great exercise for the lower abdomen as well as your lower-back muscles, which are important core muscles along with your abdomen.

  •       How to do them: Lie on your back, legs straight and together. Keep your legs straight and lift them all the way up so that your toes face the ceiling. Slowly lower your legs back down till they are just above the floor. Pause for a moment, and then bring them back up to a vertical position. Repeat.

  • For an additional challenge, you can also do hanging leg raises. Hanging from a chin-up bar, lock your shoulders in place and remember to breathe through your belly. Raise your legs to a horizontal position, and lower them back down slowly. Remember not to swing!   

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If your lower abs are one of your problem areas (like many of us) here are 28 lower ab exercises to try that require no equipment.


4) REVERSE CRUNCHES

Reverse Crunches are a great abdominal exercise if you’re looking for a challenge. They put less stress on your neck and spine than regular crunches do.

 

  • How to do it: Lie face up on the floor, with your legs straight and in a vertical position. Slowly press hips and legs upwards then lower them down, and repeat. Neck should remain in a neutral position and your shoulders should stay flat on the floor. Complete 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions, resting 30-60 seconds between sets. 

  • For an extra challenge, you can throw toe touches into the set between the crunches. To do this, instead of pressing your hips up, keep your legs vertical, lift up with your abs and try to touch your toes. Combining these two movements we have created a ‘compound’ exercise. This one will really make you sweat, good luck! 


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5)   RUSSIAN TWISTS

Last but not least, we have Russian twists. This exercise is extremely good at targeting your obliques. Whether you’re trying to knock off those “love handles” from Thanksgiving or define your V-cut, Russian twists can help.

 

  • How to do them: Lie on the floor in a sit-up position. Elevate your upper body so that it creates an imaginary V-shape with your thighs. Lift your feet just a few inches off the ground and while holding that position begin to twist your torso as far as you can to the right. Return to the starting position. Then do the same twist but to the left side. Complete 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions, resting 30-60 seconds between sets. 

  • For an extra challenge, you can also hold a medicine ball or weight while performing the exercise!

           

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All in all, for any of these exercises the most important thing is to make sure you’re taking deep breaths and focusing on utilizing your core muscles. Incorporate these exercises into your regular routine or if you’re feeling ambitious, take all five and enjoy an intense ab workout circuit. With these exercises and a healthy diet you’ll have that 6-pack in no time! Good luck!

Daniella Passwaters