Develop incredible abs with a medicine ball (one of 8-10 pounds is optimal) and this three-exercise circuit. Work up to three circuits.
Lie on your back, with your hips and knees bent and your feet off the floor. Rest your hands lightly on your chest. Position the ball between your knees.
Exhale as you lift your shoulders off the floor and bring your knees toward your chest. Grab the ball with your hands and bring it to your chest as you inhale. Return your shoulders and legs to the starting position. Transfer the ball back to your legs on the next repetition. Alternate ball positions for the entire set. Do eight to 12 repetitions for two sets.
Sit on the floor, your back straight but leaning slightly toward the floor, as if in the “up” position of a situp. Your knees should be bent 90 degrees, your heels about 15 inches apart and resting on the floor. Hold the ball close to your chest, rotate your torso to the left, and place the ball on the floor behind you. Rotate around to the right, pick up the ball, rotate left, and place it behind you. Repeat eight to 12 times, then do eight to 12 more starting with a rotation to your right; that’s one set.
Reverse Crunch with Knee Drops
Lie on your back, hands resting on the floor at your sides, hips and knees bent 90 degrees, and feet off the floor. Position the ball between your knees. Keep your lower back on the floor throughout the exercise. Contract your abdominals and pull your knees to your chest, then return them to the starting position. Lower your knees to the left and return to the starting position. Drop your knees to your right on the next repetition, and alternate sides for each rep. Do two sets of 12 reps.
It’s important to understand that the rationale for abdominal training goes far beyond “looks.” The increased strength and recruitment of the abdominal muscles will carry over into better posture and more body control, both in daily life and in sporting movements. Working the muscles you can’t see — the ones deep inside your core areas — can be a difficult process, but target those areas and your whole body benefits. Not only will you look better, but you’ll also have more strength and suffer fewer injuries.
Here’s a great beginner routine for anyone who doesn’t focus on their abs regularly or who hasn’t exercised this area (or any area) of the body in awhile. Perform this routine at the end of your regular workout or as a stand-alone workout, 3-4 days a week. Start with six repetitions per exercise and build up to 15 reps each (except the plank – you can perform one set and increase your holding time, up to one minute). Complete the routine as a circuit, doing one set of each movement in succession and without resting. If that feels easy, try to perform the circuit a second time after a 90-second rest.
||Single-Leg Abdominal Press: Lying on your back on a floor mat or a padded bench, touch your right palm to the right knee. Raise your right leg off the floor so your knee and hip are bent at 90-degree angles. Rest the right hand on top of your right knee. Push your hand forward while using your abdominal muscles to pull your knee toward your hand. Hold for three deep breaths and return to the start position.
||Repeat this exercise using your left hand and left knee. Keep your arm straight and avoid bending more than 90 degrees at your hip.
||Opposite Hand on Opposite Knee: Push your right hand against your left knee while pulling your knee toward your hand. You’ll be pushing and pulling across the center of your body. Repeat this exercise using your other hand and leg. Hold for three deep breaths and return to the start position.
||Hand on Outside of Knee: Raise your left leg off the floor so your knee and hip are bent at 90-degree angles. Place your left hand along the outside of your left knee. Use your hand to push your leg inward. At the same time, create resistance by pushing your knee away from the center. Keep the back flat. Repeat using your other hand and leg.
||Opposite Hands on Opposite Knees: Place each hand on the opposite knee, toward the inside of each knee. Your arms will cross over each other. Push your hands against your knees and create resistance by pulling your knees in toward your hands. Hold and repeat.
||Hands on Outside of Knees (right hand/right knee): Use your hands to push your legs in toward the center of your body. At the same time, create resistance by pushing your knees out. Hold and repeat.
||Plank: Lie on your stomach. Raise yourself up so you’re resting on your forearms and your knees. Keep your head and back in line and imagine your back as a tabletop. Align your shoulders directly above your elbows. Squeeze your core muscles. Create resistance by pressing your elbows and your knees toward one another. Neither should move from their positions on the floor. Hold for three deep breaths, then return to the start position and repeat.
Talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program if you have an existing health condition that limits movement, or if you haven’t really exercised before (or if it’s been a long time). You want to make sure you’re doing these exercises correctly, so ask your doctor to explain the precise movement if you’re not absolutely sure. Then get started on your perfect abs one repetition at a time!
Thera-Band® exercise balls are used by therapists and trainers around the world for therapy and fitness training. Despite its widespread use, the exercise ball has lacked in research to support its clinical application. Some studies have shown that abdominal exercises performed on exercise balls produce more muscle activation than the same exercise performed on a stable surface (Vera Garcia et al. 2000). In addition to traditional abdominal crunches, the exercise ball offers a variety of exercises aimed at activating the core muscles. With the variety of exercises being performed on exercise balls, more research is needed to prove or disprove the efficacy of specific exercises.
Physical therapy researchers quantified the electromyographic (EMG) activity of the abdominals, latissimus dorsi, lower back, and quadriceps muscles during eight “core” exercises on the exercise ball in 18 healthy subjects. They reported their findings in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy.
They found that the upper and lower rectus abdominus muscle were most activated during the roll-out (63% and 53% of maximum, respectively), and pike exercises (47% and 55%), while the internal and external obliques were most active during the pike (84% and 56% respectively) and skier exercises (73% and 47%). Not surprisingly, the lumbar paravertebral muscles, latissimus dorsi, and rectus femoris only produced low- to-moderate activity (less than 40% maximal activation) in all exercises.
The authors concluded that the roll-out and pike exercises on a Thera-Band exercise ball were the most effective exercises in activating the abdominals while minimizing low back and rectus femoris activation. In addition, these exercises produced more activation of the core muscles than a traditional crunch or sit-up.
REFERENCE: Escamilla R et al. Core muscle activation during swiss ball and traditional abdominal exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010 May;40(5):265-76.
I get this question several times a week. I recently wrote an article about ab exercises for To Your Health magazine that will be published soon. Once it’s published I’ll put it up on the site. But until it is published I’ll share this exercise maneuver with you. Use your kettlebell or dumbbell and hold it over-your-head with your arm locked out. Simply stand tall (think tall spine) and walk around for 60 seconds. To make this movement even more challenging for your core, try holding different weights in each hand–for example, a 5-pound dumbbell in your left hand and a 15-pound kettlebell in your right hand. This exercise loads the abs, core and arms.