Sculpt and shape your core with these workouts that aren’t just plain old crunches.
“Six-pack abs” have been the focus of fitness for decades, with everyone striving to get that thin, sculpted abdominal look. But what do we actually know about this part of the body? Better yet: Other than crunches, what are you doing to earn this chiseled physique?
There’s a lot to learn about this area of the body that will inform your exercise and workout choices, and allow you to get the look you’ve always wanted.
The abs: A quick anatomy lesson
The word “abs” is short for abdominal muscles and the various core muscles that provide stability and strength to everything we do. This area of the body is made up of a number of muscles, all of which are targeted by different exercises and movements.
Here’s a quick breakdown:
External and internal abdominal obliques: These are the ab muscles that run down the sides of your torso. You work this area when doing Russian twists, bicycle crunches or any similar movement that involves rotation of the torso.
Transverse abdominis: This muscle compresses your abdominal cavity and provides stability in your lumbar, or lower back region. Any “drawing in” movement, like pulling your belly button toward your spine in plank position, targets this area.
Rectus abdominis: This is the muscle that shows visibly as a “six pack.” It helps the spine flex and controls the tilting of your pelvis. As such, you can target this area with bent-knee sit-ups, crunches and pelvic tilts.
Bringing variety into your routine
The crunch is just one exercise and it targets just one area of your abdomen. And as you can see, there’s more than one muscle in your abdomen. To create a tight and sculpted look, you need to target every area.
First and foremost, your goal is to choose a variety of exercises that work every major muscle of your abdomen. In one workout, you may want to include an ab circuit with a plank hold, weighted sit-ups, alternating leg drops and Russian twists, targeting all of the major muscle groups in one shot.
You can also use different equipment to increase the resistance and challenge for your abs. For example, stability ball crunches and the ab roller were the second and fourth most effective exercises for targeting your transverse abdominis, with decline bench sit-ups in the number one spot, according to a 2014 American Council on Exercise study.
Introduce more variety into your workouts with the following circuits, each one aimed at targeting every area of your abs.
Beginner Circuit #1: All x 3
- Yoga boat pose – hold for 30 seconds
- Bicycle crunches – 10 reps each side
- Stability ball crunches – 20 reps
- Ab roller, front and back – 10 reps
Intermediate Circuit #2: All x 5
- Stability ball plank pikes – 10 reps
- Hanging knee raises (Captain’s Chair Crunch) – 15 reps
- Russian twists – 10 reps each side
- Double-leg drops – 10 reps
Advanced Circuit #3: All x 8
- Hanging leg raises – 20 reps
- Plank jacks – 20 reps
- Decline bench sit-up – 15 reps
- Ab roller, left and right – 10 reps, each side
With a little anatomy knowledge and a quick workout refresher, your mid-section will be stronger and leaner in no time. Use these circuits to ensure you’re targeting every major muscle group in your core, allowing you to build well-rounded strength and a photo-worthy set of abs.
Want to keep working on your six pack? Try this total-body core routine.
Photo credit: fizkes, Thinkstock