Your abs are the single most important muscle group when it comes to stability and strength. If you can sculpt them well, they’re also going to look great during the summertime, giving you that strong slender look you’ve been aiming for all year.
A lot of magazines will have you flailing around with whatever the newest, most absurd exercise is, but we’ve taken the time to pull together the best ab exercises and a couple of additional tips for building a powerful core you can be proud of all year.
If you’re going to work on your core, it’s necessary to totally understand your abs. They’re an interesting set of muscles that technically control every single aspect of your body’s ability to lift, stand, and move.
Your core is broken up into two distinct segments, and these segments together are what we think of when we talk about core strength. If you’re going to be taking the time to tone your abs, it’s important to understand that these are the areas you’re going to be focused on building muscle.
Your rectus abdominis is the part of your core that makes up the famous ab shape. When you’re flexing in the mirror, the little segments that poke up from your tummy are the muscles in your rectus abdominis. The rectus abdominis is set more or less in the center of your torso and kept in place by something called the rectus sheath.
The rectus sheath is a sleeve made up of tendons that have worked their way through the muscles in your rectus abdominis and split it up into neat sections that work together to keep your body upright.
By creating a strong segment of your body that’s capable of taking the kind of punishment that your abs are constantly subjected to without complaint, you center your body around something that will reliably transfer strength and stability throughout your body no matter what exercise you get into.
The rectus sheath has a secondary function, and that is to give you that beautiful washboard effect when you’ve reached the peak of your performance. It’s not easy to show off your abs, it takes a lot of very particular dieting and high-energy workouts to burn off the last bits of stubborn fat, but if you’re willing to get into it, you’ll hit your goal.
We use our rectus abdominis along with the muscles in our backs to keep our bodies upright in daily life. If you could float in the air while you flex your abs, you’d see that they pull on your lumbar spine and your rib cage to bring the two together. When you pick something up from the ground without bending your knees or sit up while you’re lying down on the floor, you’re using your rectus abdominis.
Secondary to your abs are your obliques and the muscles all up and down your back. These are just as important to your core, and if you’re going to be working on your abs, you should even out the effort with some exercises that target your obliques and your back. If your abs grow without supplementing your sides and your back, you’re going to be ruining your posture, and all of that hard work is going to feel like it’s gone to waste.
Your obliques are responsible for putting lateral pressure on your torso. Without them, you’d be flopping around from side to side. These are the muscles you feel engaging when you’re trying to keep your abs steady during exercises like the jackknife or leg lifts.
These exercises we’ve collected for you are going to at least touch on your back and obliques by their nature. We cut out all of the exercises that isolate your rectus abdominis, so you’re going to be feeling it in your sides and your lower back when you begin working your way through these tummy toners.
Now that you know all about your abs, you’ll probably see why jackknives are so effective. They essentially isolate the action of your abs and use the weight of your body as resistance.
You’re going to be getting the maximum amount of work out of this workout, and you don’t need to bring in any extra equipment.
If you’re yearning for some extra challenge, you can add more resistance in the form of light dumbbells or ankle weights. Whatever you can do to make your arms and legs harder for your abs to manage is going to be enough to progressively overload your core.
If you don’t want to dedicate any more brainpower to learning any ab exercises designed by contortionists, then you’re going to be able to get by with leg lifts just fine. Ab exercises are about engaging your core in ways that are natural and effective. Leg lifts tick both of those boxes just fine without requiring you to twist and turn unnaturally. It’s simple and it works, and that’s really all you need.
Plank hops are highly energetic. If you’re trying to get some cardio in while working on your abs, then you’re going to get a lot of utility out of plank hops.
This is an interesting variant on crunches that solve the lower back problem by flipping the entire exercise on its head. Reverse crunches are great, especially if you’ve been relying on regular crunches to tone your abs, then you’re most likely feeling the effects of repeatedly rolling your body weight over your lower back. This is a great time to relieve that tension while keeping your abs engaged.
Bicycle crunches are a great alternative to regular crunches. You’ll be able to take a decent amount of strain roll-Up off of your lower back without sacrificing the mechanical benefits of the exercise. By keeping your lower body up in the air and crunching your two halves together, you force your core to squeeze out a lot of strength.
The key to this exercise is stability and deliberate motion. If you’re not pedaling your way through your range of motion, then you’re not going to be getting the most out of this exercise.
Mountain climbers are one of the most straightforward ab exercises. If you’re going to add anything to your routine, it’s probably going to be these.
The only thing twisted about these mountain climbers is your torso. They’re incredibly similar to regular mountain climbers, but you’re going to be engaging your lats a little bit more here. They’re not a particularly sadistic exercise or anything. As long as you’re ready to put in the effort, you should feel pretty good about these.
If you haven’t done them yourself you’ve probably seen burpees at least once. They’re a full-body exercise that requires a lot of stamina, mental and physical. Half burpees take that exercise and reduce it down to the movements that are relevant for your core.
Mountain climbers take advantage of all of the work your abs are responsible for. By planking and bringing your legs up to your chest, you create an environment that’s punishing (in the best way possible) for your core. The key here is your posture, if you can’t keep your back flat and your core engaged, you should try slowing down a little bit
The most difficult part about showing off your abs is getting the fat out of the way. Burning fat isn’t just about working out as hard as you can. You need to be figuring out a diet that works well with your workouts. As long as you’re able to keep your protein levels high, your carbs and sugars low, and your meals filling, you’re going to make incredible progress very quickly.
All of the workouts in the world aren’t going to get you any abs if you don’t have the protein to build muscle afterward. That’s the real goal of your workouts after all. Whether your goals are losing weight, getting toned, or bulking up, the underlying key to success is being able to build muscle, be it to get the look you're going for, having an energy-hungry furnace to burn fat with, or sexy muscles to show off.
Rest is just as important as your diet when it comes to building muscle.
If you’re trying to get toned, you’re going to need to find a day or two to rest your body and allow it to rebuild the damaged muscle tissue you’ve been wearing down all week.
Rest days are when the magic happens. When you give yourself a day to just relax, stretch your muscles, and keep your blood pumping with low-impact activity, you’re actively building muscle. Rest days result in more muscle tissue, so you’re going to be building up the abs you’re trying to show off even during your downtime, if you’re smart about it.
Getting your killer abs for the summer (or whichever season you want them for) isn’t as hard as pop media might have told you.
The trick is keeping your routine tight and pairing it with a diet that will give you the energy you need to get through your workouts without burning out.
If you want to tighten up your core, then pick a handful of these exercises to stick with, and you’ll start seeing results in no time.