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Abdominal Exercises to Strengthen Your Core

 

by María Simón

The abdominal region, or our core, is our bodies’ powerhouse. Core exercises, which train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work together, can help improve balance, stability and overall fitness.

Four major abdominal muscles

The abdominal muscles are made up of four parts:

  • Rectus abdominis: A long strip of muscles that runs vertically from the lower chest to the front of the pelvis responsible for forward flexion.
  • Transverse abdominis: Sometimes referred to as the lower abs, it runs vertically near the rectus abdominis, protecting the internal organs.
  • External obliques: The external oblique is the largest and most superficial abdominal muscle. It runs diagonally near the ribs and is responsible for rotation of the trunk.
  • Internal obliques: The internal oblique is underneath the external oblique and runs in the opposite direction. It is primarily responsible for lateral flexion of the trunk.

Exercises to work out your abs, core

Abdominal crunches are often the go-to exercise to target the core; however, if done improperly, they can hurt your neck and/ or back. For alternative workout moves to crunches, here are three simple exercises:

In-and-Outs

These affect mostly the rectus abdominis.

  • Start by having a seat on the floor.
  • Bend your knees into your chest, wrapping your arms around them, and lift your feet off the floor.
  • Focus on tightening your core as you open your arms and extend your legs fully in front of you, without letting your feet touch the floor.
  • Bring the knees back into your chest and your arms around your knees to starting position.

Cherry Pickers

These focus mainly on the external obliques.

  • Start in a seated position on the floor with knees bent into the chest and feet off the floor.
  • Clasp both hands together in front of your chest.
  • Keeping your knees where they are, focus on your core and reach your hands to the outside of your right hip and try to touch the floor with your knuckles.
  • Quickly switch to the left side and repeat.
  • Add resistance and intensity by holding a medicine ball, dumbbell or anything heavy but small lying around the house.

Seated Leg Raises

These tend to affect the hard-to-reach transverse abdominis.

  • Again, start in the seated position on the floor, this time with the legs fully extended.
  • Place the hands on the floor besides the hips, being careful not to go too far back behind the hips so as to keep the resistance in the abs and not the back.
  • Now, take a deep breath. Upon exhale, activate your core muscles and lift both legs, being careful not to hold your breath.
  • Slowly lower legs back to starting position (keyword being slowly, without harshly dropping the feet to the floor). As you will soon see, this is a small but significant movement.

You can repeat each move above about 10 to 20 times, then move on to the next exercise, or perform these three moves as part of a 30-minute routine.

30-minute abdominal routine

Try this 30-minute, ab-burning routine.

  • Warm up for about five to 10 minutes alternating between jumping jacks, squats and side-bends.
  • Sit on the floor and do 20 In-and-Outs followed by holding a plank for 30 seconds, then 20 Cherry Pickers followed by a 30-second plank, and 20 Seated Leg Raises followed by another 30-second plan. Rest for one minute.
  • Repeat this set, except you will do 15 reps of each exercise and hold a 45-second plank after each one.
  • The final set will consist of 10 reps of each exercise with one-minute planks after each.
  • Take about five minutes to stretch afterward. If you’re familiar with yoga, you can try a cobra pose or even upward dog. Otherwise, you can simply lay flat on your back with your legs extended straight and your arms reaching over your head. Try pushing your lower back into the floor to avoid hyper-flexing the spine.

 

1 comment

  • Teri Green

    Boy did I learn a lot about stomach exercises. I need to start. Been having back issues and my doctor says I need to strengthen my abs and core. Thanks again.