My Secret Recipe For Six Pack Abs: Part 2
As we discussed last week, proper nutrition is the first, and arguably most important, ingredient in building a defined core.
When it comes to building a strong core, however, proper exercise is king.
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) 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! While I love a good plank (pictured below), sometimes the best movements for strengthening your core are not what you picture when you think "ab routine." 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:
Can you tell which picture is using proper form and which is not? More importantly, which picture does YOUR plank look like?
The picture on the left is what a plank should look like if you are actively engaging your core musculature. In this photo, you can physically see that my core is more engaged, I am maintaining a tight hollow hold, and I am keeping my back safe by rounding out through my shoulders and pulling my belly button into my spine.
Contrarily, in the picture on the left, I am planking how I was taught to plank growing up. I am creating a "straight line" with my shoulders and hips, and keeping my "hips down." Do you see my core working in that picture? Yeah, me neither! And not only is my core disengaged, I am pinching my scapulae together and endangering my thoracic and lumbar spine. (P.S. check out that neck strain...not comfortable!)
2. 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 tricep 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. Aka not an efficient (or fully effective) pushup.
A true pushup is a movement initiated and dominated by the core muscles. Which makes total sense considering that you are starting from plank position (the real plank position, people). 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.
That is a real pushup. Don't believe me? Give it a try. Do three sets of ten real pushups. Then let me know which muscles are most sore the next day. Ten bucks says it's your abs, not your triceps.
4. Overhead Squat
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 without injuring your back, 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.
If you aren't comfortable with squatting under a heavy load, try simply holding something overhead from a squat-stance position (read where you start a squat from stand). Remember to brace your core (pull your belly button into your spine, pull your rib cage down, and breathe), and keep your arms locked out so that your biceps are up by your ears. Try holding that position for :30 to :45 seconds at a time and I promise you, you will feel it in your core.
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 a rig or bar. Performing an L-sit between two boxes (pictured above) 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 (if you are eating well, of course), 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. If you're serious about strengthening and toning your core, I have something for you!
Subscribe to this blog and I will send you 3 unique core and cardio workouts from my FigureFIT class!
These workouts are no joke, y'all! Paired with proper nutrition, they are sure to help you on your way to strengthening and toning your core.
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!
Have a great weekend!