An endless amount of crunches aren’t the best way to sculpt a whittled middle. Focusing solely on your abs and skipping the other muscles when you’re trying to get that six-pack to pop could cause you to be out of balance or worse yet, a candidate for injury.
What’s more, a strong core also means better results—and not just a wow-worthy body. Movement doesn’t come from your limbs alone—it comes from your center. So whether you’re lifting weights or running on the treadmill, a strong core translates into more power, which ultimately means better performance and efficiency.
If your core is weak, you’re also much more likely to hurt yourself doing basic things outside the gym. The stronger all of your core muscles are, the less likely it is that you’ll suffer from common injuries, like low back pain and shoulder tension. But the key there is strengthening your entire core.
THE CORE TRUTH
Can’t name all the muscles that make up your middle? Here’s a cheat sheet:
- RECTUS ABDOMINIS. This muscle runs down the front of your abdomen and is typically the most developed core muscle
- INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL OBLIQUES. These are the muscles located on the side and front of the abdomen.
- TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS. This muscle wraps around the spine, underneath the obliques. It’s the weakest muscle for most people, particularly those who sit for hours every day.
- ERECTOR SPINAE. This is a group of three muscles that run along your neck to your lower back and help extend and rotate the spine.
- THE PSOAS MAJOR. Better known as the hip flexors, these are located in front of the pelvis and upper thigh.
BEYOND THE PLANK
Planks and side planks are like the holy grail of core exercises because they target your whole core. But to take your core workout to the next level, add exercises that challenge your balance and build rotational strength. Along with the plank and side plank, here are five moves that’ll help you manage your middle:
- PLANK ADD-ONS
- While holding a plank, slowly lower your knees so they’re about 2 inches above the floor, hold for a second and then lift them back up. Repeat for 30 seconds to a minute.
- While holding a side plank, slowly drop your bottom hip so it’s 2 inches above the floor, hold for a second and then raise it back up. Repeat for 30 seconds to a minute. Switch sides.
- BOSU BALL STABILIZER
Get into a push-up position with your hands balancing on a Bosu ball. Balance and hold a plank until your muscles are fatigued (or up to 3 minutes). When this doesn’t challenge your balance, flip the Bosu over or replace it with a small exercise ball.
- REVERSE CRUNCHES
Lay flat on your back with your hands under your butt. With your back flat against the floor, pull your knees toward your chest, then kick your legs straight out in front of you, keeping your heels about 6 inches from the ground. Bring your knees back towards your chest and repeat for 1 minute or until your muscles are fatigued.
- THE V-SIT
Sit on the floor. Keeping your hands gently on the ground, lean back so your upper body is at a 45-degree angle from the floor. Keeping your legs straight, raise them until they’re also at a 45-degree angle from the floor. Hold for 15 seconds (or longer, up to a minute), rest and repeat five times.
- THE SUPERMAN
Lay on your stomach with your arms extended over your head. Pull your belly button toward your spine, squeeze your butt and pinch your shoulder blades together. Lift your chest, arms and legs an inch or two off the floor, hold for 15 seconds and then relax. Repeat five times.