Sculpted abs would have to be one of the most lusted-after physical attributes there are. They’re featured all over fitness mags, and all the best movie heroes have a slow-mo moment where their rock hard abs are put on display.
If you’re eager to see your own midsection looking as toned as JLo’s or Chris Hemsworth’s rigs that’s fair enough, but there are a few things we should look at with some transparency, first.
Building strength in your core is incredibly important for your overall fitness. And while it may achieve physical results you like seeing in the mirror, that’s really just an added bonus.
A strong core is going to give your body a solid foundation; stabilising your movements more generally. And, as Kate Kraschnefski, Head of Training at the Australian Institute of Fitness shared with us over email, it’s also “awesome for improving posture and maintaining good back health”.
Rippling abs are fun and all, but they’re not necessarily the only sign of a strong core, Kraschnefski continued.
“…it is important to know that without a reduction in overall body fat, even with rock hard abdominal muscles, you won’t see the definition you are looking for,” she said.
“On top of that, everyone has a unique constitution that predisposes them to storing fat in different parts of their body. Someone may have the most perfect diet and exercise regime, but still carry fat around the midsection. Other people may be naturally lean, with ripped abs but have terrible habits and poor health overall.”
So, if you’re keen to introduce exercises that are best for tightening abs to your workout, it’s important to do so with realistic expectations and an understanding that the goal is strength – not a six-pack.
With that said, here are the 5 best ab exercises to add to your fitness routine, according to Kraschnefski.
5 best ab exercises
“The plank is an awesome staple of core training,” Kraschnefski said.
How to do this core exercise:
“Set up by lying face down on the ground, and come up onto your elbows and toes, maintaining a straight line between shoulders and heels. Your shoulders should sit over your elbows. Activate your core by pulling the belly button towards your lower back.
“People tend to lift their butt up into the air as they fatigue. If you feel yourself doing this, it is better to lower to the knees and maintain the straight line from shoulder to knees. If you feel any discomfort in your lower back, it is possible you need to tilt your pelvis backwards and focus on the core contraction a little more.
“You can also perform a plank on your hands rather than elbows.”
For this ab exercise, Kraschnefski suggested setting a timer to see how long you can hold the position. Test yourself daily and work towards increasing your hold time. “As our core muscles are muscles of endurance, there are lots of benefits in training for duration rather than repetition,” she said.
How to do this ab exercise:
“Sit with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a medicine ball or dumbbell in front of your chest (If you don’t have a weight, grab a compact household item), and with a straight back lean back to around 45 degrees or when you feel your abs really kick in.
“Keeping your hips stable and the weight in front of your chest, rotate your shoulders around and look over your shoulder. When you are twisted as far as you comfortably can, gently lower the weight towards the ground. Keep connected to your body at all times, with a strong core.
“You can limit your range of motion if you have any concerns with your lower back. Quality movements with a strong contraction are better than speed or maximum range.”
For this ab exercise, Kraschnefski shared its best to begin with three sets of 10 reps on each side, then build on your reps or sets as you get stronger. There’s also an option of lifting one or both feet off the ground as a progression.
Single leg stretch
“A classic Pilates move, this is a great exercise for core training and focusing on breathwork,” Kraschnefski said.
How to do this ab exercise:
“Start by lying on your back and activating your core. Bring both knees towards the chest, holding them with your hands and lift your shoulders off the ground.
“As you exhale, release and straighten one leg (the other should stay in the bent position). Get your leg as low to the ground as possible, while maintaining a strong core contraction. Pause for a moment with the leg hovering, and inhale as you pull your knee back towards your chest. Exhale and repeat for the other leg.”
Kraschnefski recommended going for three sets of 10 on each leg when starting out with this exercise. Increase reps or sets as you build strength. She also noted that you can complete the exercise with your shoulders on the ground if you’re worried about your neck.
Double leg stretch
This is a progression of the single-leg stretch, so your set-up is going to begin the same way as above.
How to do this ab exercise:
After you’ve brought both knees towards your chest, you’ll “extend both legs away in a straight line”.
“Return them [your legs] in on the inhale and pull both knees to your chest. You may not be able to get your legs as low on this move, so connect with your core and aim for quality and control through the movement, even if that means legs just straightening up in the air as you get used to the move.
“To make this a little harder, extend your arms overhead as you straighten your legs.”
Kraschnefski shared that similar to single leg stretches, you should aim for three sets of 10 as a starting point. “Once again, this exercise is still effective with your shoulders on the ground”.
Who would have thought your daily lockdown walk is one of the best ab exercises out there?
“A long brisk walk every day brings huge health benefits and is a great way to help keep our body composition healthy. All the ab workouts in the world won’t show changes if you are not reducing the body fat through the mid-section. Aim for 45 – 60 minutes a day,” Kraschnefski said.
“When we walk, we must engage our postural muscles to move, so think about standing tall and strong as you stroll, with an intentional connection through the core. Aim to get your heart rate up to the point where you are huffing and puffing a little.”
Working on your core is super rewarding in that it is brilliant for building strength and for helping you improve your fitness in many different areas. These exercises are some of the best there are for ab strength, but please remember that a six-pack is not the sign of success, here.
Making the choice to look after your body is.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.
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