Everyone is crazy about abs. Frequently voted the sexiest body part, abs are somewhat of a cultural obsession.
A lot of the way our bodies are shaped and developed is genetic, so I wouldn’t get too caught up in chasing a six-pack. However, abs and your core are extremely important to your well-being. Why? Because those muscles in your core help support and stabilize the spine, which needs to be protected in every movement you do. Here are five of my favorite core exercises that keep my core strong and rock solid. Perform as many repetitions as you safely can in one minute, and remember, do not begin any exercise program without first consulting your doctor.
Lean slightly back so your tailbone acts as a fulcrum on the ground.
Now pull your knees all the way into your chest and squeeze everything as tightly as you can. Make every contraction count! Once you pull your knees in as far as you can, extend your legs back out and repeat.
Keep thinking about keeping your lower back supported. If you feel that your lower back is under too much stress, just drop those heels to the ground and take a short rest. But remember, every minute try and push your limit!
You can also adjust the difficulty by varying how low your back is to the ground or lying back down on your elbows.
2. SIDE PLANK DIPS
Nothing hits my obliques quite like this next exercise. First, prop yourself on your side like you are lying in and could fit between some drywall. Your hips are stacked right on top of one another.
Now raise your hip directly upward to the sky, keeping those hips stacked. Remember to keep that elbow directly below your shoulder so your shoulder is well-supported at all times. Really reach that hip nice and high until you feel all those abs on the underside of your body scream. Dip back down and repeat.
If it is too challenging for you to maintain good form in a full side plank, your option is to do the exercise from one knee.
Repeat this exercise on both sides.
3. CLASSIC CRUNCH
It is a classic for a reason. I’ve tried every device, gizmo and Cirque du Soleil variation of ab exercise, and I still always make sure crunches are in my repertoire. Great as an active recovery, a warm-up or warm-down, the humble crunch is efficient, effective and everyone can do one.
Start lying down, that lower back supported on the ground, and your abs just a little tight before you start. Be sure to open those elbows out nice and wide to focus the attention on your abs, and be gentle with those hands on the neck. I like to just place my fingertips on my head. You don’t want to pull yourself up by the neck; let your abs to all the work.
Raise yourself 4-6 inches off the ground, keep those elbows flared, and squeeze everything together. I like to think of keeping a tennis ball in between my chin and chest and keep my gaze focused on something directly above me. Take a breath in on the way down, and exhale on the way up, which is the exertion portion of the exercise. You’ll be doing these the rest of your life, might as well fall in love with them right now!
4. MOUNTAIN CLIMBER CRUNCH
Set yourself up in a position as if you are about to do a push-up. Abs nice and tight, butt not too high and hands directly below shoulders.
Now bring in one knee at a time. Tuck that knee as far as you can up and into the chest, and just when you pull it as far forward as you can, lean into it as if you are doing a crunch and contract all your core muscles with everything you’ve got. Alternate legs and remember, you can always take a rest on your knees.
5. REVERSE PLANK WITH HEEL LIFTS
I love this exercise as your core is stabilizing the entire movement, but the back of your arms and, indeed, your entire body gets a good work over. First, lie with your back to the mat, put your hands down and back, and then lift your pelvis to the sky. My fingers are pointed directly forward, but, it this puts too much strain on your wrists, turn out those hands. If your wrists get too sore, drop your butt to the ground, shake them out and then jump back into the pose.
Try and hold it for as long as you can. Here you can try and hold the pose for the full minute, but if you’re finding it too easy, go for two minutes or more. When working out, we want to ask our bodies, “What are your limits?” and then ignore the first answer and push past your personal pain barrier just a little every time.
For added difficulty, you can try alternating leg raises. If you try this, be conscious of keeping your supporting leg tight and taught. You’ll need all the support you can get.
Remember, your core is at the heart of all your movements. It’s not about chasing a six-pack — it is about living a lifestyle that makes you feel good and live your fullest, happiest and healthiest life for as long as you can! But I implore you, do not ignore your core. Try these five exercises and embrace the challenge of being your best you. And remember, you are awesome!
Robin J. Hall is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.