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September 06, 2020 10 min read

The core is a muscle group that needs no introduction. Even if we’ve only dabbled a tiny bit in working out, we’ve all heard how important it is to have a strong and healthy core.

And, maybe more importantly for some of us, a strong core looks damn good.

Abs are one of the greatest signifiers of a powerful and athletic body—and the more chiseled they are, the stronger the body behind them. So, it’s no surprise that abs are the end goal for so many gym-goers and fitness freaks.

But other than top-notch aesthetics, there’s a host of other benefits that come along with having superior abdominals.

The Benefits of a Strong Core

There’s a laundry list of reasons why you should be putting some serious time and energy into improving your core muscles. We won’t touch on all of them, but if the promise of chiseled abs hasn’t convinced you, then maybe this will. 

The core, along with our back, is what supports our spine and therefore our body. So, it follows that the stronger the core, the stronger of a base our body will have. Not only does that reduce the risk of spinal injuries, but it also benefits our ability to balance and lessens the pressure on certain joints.

If you take part in any sports, a strong core will also boost your rotational and anti-rotational power. This is useful for both swinging a bat in baseball, or having the anti-rotational power to be able to stand strong and remain balanced no matter what.

The core is also the thing that connects our upper and lower bodies. If we want to transfer power from different parts of our body, it’s going to go through our core. A stronger core will help us incredibly when it comes to functional fitness, and it’ll also help when it comes to lifting. Everything from the deadlift, push-up, and pull-up all benefit from a strong core. Even though these exercises don’t necessarily target the core, abdominal engagement will always aid in moving the load—whether that’s your own body weight or a loaded barbell. 

A powerful core is one of the best ways to maximize your strength and use your muscles to their fullest potential. 

Lastly, developing the core will also ward off lower back pain, and if you’re already experiencing back pain, it can help when it comes to managing it. There’s no doubting the fact that your core is an exceptional group of muscles when it comes to the holistic development of the body. Without it, you’re not going to get very far.

What Makes Up the Core 

It’s easy to focus on the sexiest part of the core—the abdominals—and lose sight of the rest. But if you want to reap all the benefits of a strong core, you’re going to have to take a well-rounded approach. Either way, you’re going to get that shredded six-pack.

And speaking of the six-pack, the muscle that makes it up is the rectus abdominis. It’s the out muscle on your stomach that links the rib cage to the pelvis, and it’s essential for bending forward. 

Below that in the deepest part of the core is the transverse abdominis. Wrapping around your spine, it acts as a layer of protection and support to your spine. Above this muscle are the internal and external obliques which are used for rotating your torso and also keeping your spine stable. 

The last major part of the core is the erector spinae; running from your neck to the lower back, it helps to extend and rotate your spine. 

Other muscles that can be included in “the core” are the quadratus lumborum, the hip flexors, and even the lats and traps can count as well since they connect the spine. Having a dedicated routine to strengthening all of these muscles will give you the best results, and there’s no doubt you’ll see the difference with your other lifts in the gym, and in your day to day life as well.

The good news is that most of the core exercises below are ones that hit a number of different core muscles. While each of them will have a focus, you can rest assured that they’ll be largely activating most of your core each time you perform them. Sit-ups can be seen as an example of a workout that targets primarily your lower abdominals, while an exercise like the dead bug will engage several more to a greater degree.

The Best Bodyweight Exercises for Rock Hard Abs

The iron temple is the best place to get a good workout—it has the equipment, the weights, the support, and the space. But the truth is that we’re not always going to have access to a gym, so it’s important to keep some bodyweight exercises under our belt for a rainy day. 

Which isn’t to say that body weight is sub-par. Especially when it comes to a core workout, bodyweight movements are some of the best in that department. So, even if you’ve got access to a gym whenever you want, these movements are just as good to perform when you’ve got tons of equipment at your disposal. 

All you need is a floor and some space.

1. Dead Bug

This is a great, well-rounded ab exercise that hits a lot of your core. While more complex than the plank, for example, it doesn’t really give the same “burning” sensation that other movements do. You will, however, see the results if you stick with it. 

To do the dead bug, begin by lying on your back with your arms extended up and your knees over your hips and bent at a 90-degree angle—this is the starting position. Initiate the movement by extending your left leg out, while also pointing your right arm up towards the wall behind you. You shouldn’t let either limb touch the ground, and you want to pause for a count Squeeze the glutes and your core, and then reverse the movement to the starting position.

2. Plank

The plank is one of the most popular exercises out there, familiar to almost everyone, and a standard movement in gym classes around the world. It’s also a great core exercise, working all the muscles in your core.

Begin by placing your forearms on the floor. Your elbows should be directly underneath your shoulders, with your forearms pointing straight forward. They should also be at about shoulder-width apart, along with the feet.

Getting into a push-up position, keep your back straight and remember not to allow your hips to fall. You want to maintain a straight line as you keep your entire core and entire body braced throughout the hold. If you’re beginning to falter, it’s best to take a break instead of risking injury. 

3. Side Plank

And if you’re looking to hit the obliques, this is the exercise to do so with. As the name suggests, it’s a twist on the conventional plank, with your body remaining sideways through the hold.

To do the side plank, get on your side with your feet one on top of the other. Your upper body should be resting on your forearm, with the elbow directly underneath the shoulder—the forearm pointing forwards. Engaging the core and the glutes, raise your hips off the floor and maintain a straight line. Don’t let your hips dip throughout the lift and keep the position for as long as you’re able to.

For a challenge, you can also rest on your hand instead of the forearm. So, for example, your left hand would have to be directly under your left shoulder—and then you’d alternate to the opposite arm and right hand. If you want to one-up the toughness, raise a single leg (the one on top) upwards.

4. Leg Raises

The leg raise mainly puts the focus on the lower abs, but it also does a terrific job of developing the hip flexors. This is essential if trying to improve your hip mobility—something that’ll help you with several other lifts. 

Begin by lying on your back with your hands either out or tucked in—depending on what gives you more support. Your legs should be extended out as well.

The movement begins by raising the legs together while keeping them straight. Do this slowly and try your best to keep them straight. The top of the movement is reached when your soles are facing straight up. After pausing for a count, slowly lower them back down in a controlled manner. You don’t want to rest them on the floor—rather, keep them hovering slightly as you reverse the movement. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

5. Mountain Climbers

These are a very dynamic exercise, so not only will they work a lot of your core, but they’ll also get your heart pumping while you’re at it. And as we’ll talk about further below, you’re going to want to get that body fat percentage down however you can. 

Begin by getting into the plank position, but this time with your hands on the ground. Keep your hands about shoulder-width apart and right below the shoulders. Engage your abdominal muscles and glutes while maintaining a flat back with your neck and head aligned. 

Initiate the movement by bringing up your left knee to your chest, as far as it will go. Once you reach the top of the exercise, reverse the movement to the starting position. Continue by then bringing up the right knee to the chest and keep alternating legs.

If you want to get your heart pumping, do this exercise as fast as you’re able to while still maintaining the proper form. 

6. Bodyweight Turkish Getups

While these can be done with a kettlebell or dumbbell, the bodyweight version will challenge your core as well. It’s an extremely functional exercise that’ll hit several muscle groups, but especially your core.

Begin by lying on your back on the floor. Your knees should be folded at about a 45-degree angle and your right arm should be raised above the head.

Initiate the exercise by pushing your right shoulder down while maintaining the right arms positioning—open your right palm. Slide your left leg along the ground and open it about 45-degrees and continue by doing the same with your left arm. 

Roll to the left side and use your right hip and left elbow to help you rise up. With your weight on your left hip and left leg, stretch your left arm upwards. You want to then raise your left hip by pressing into the floor with your left foot. Reverse the movement to get back into the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

7. V-Ups

This exercise will really challenge and develop your balance and coordination. More difficult than the plank, a v-up requires you to activate the abdominal wall on the come up, and then maintain the position with your rectus abdominus (the six-pack muscles).

Begin by lying on your back with your legs extended down and arms raised above your head. Engaging the core and bracing your body, slowly raise your legs and arms at the same time. Keep both sets of limbs together and as straight as possible.

Reach the top of the movement by reaching for your toes with your hands. Pause for a count at the top, and slowly lower back down. Like with the leg raises, don’t allow your limbs to rest on the ground. Instead, pause an inch above, and then reverse the movement to reach the top once again. 

8. Bird Dogs

This exercise is a terrific way to improve your spinal stability while also helping to manage lower back pain. Your range of motion and posture will also benefit from including this movement into your core training routine. 

Begin by getting down on your hands and knees, with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and knees beneath the hips.

Then, raise and extend your left arm frontwards while simultaneously extending the right leg straight back. Your left arm and right leg should both be parallel to the floor—hold this position for a count. 

Slowly reverse the movement in a controlled manner and return to the starting position. Once you’ve done that, alternate the sides with your right arm extending out in front and the left leg extending out backward. Once again, hold the position and alternate for the desired number of reps. Make sure that you’re controlling the motions and not going too quickly. Properly engaging your core and glutes while bracing your body will help when it comes to maintaining the proper form.

Cardio to Complement Core Strength

While the above exercises will help to define your six-pack and take your abdominal strength up a notch, you’re not going to see much aesthetic results if you’ve got a keg covering up your six-pack.

It’ll be absolutely essential to shed that belly fat if you’re looking for that Greek-statue aesthetic—and that might be difficult to do depending on your body type.

If you’re the type that has to eat like a maniac to see any gains, then you’ll have better luck when it comes to getting defined abs. But for us thicker-boned brothers, the road ahead is almost entirely based on getting our body fat percentages in check. You might have the strongest abs in the world, but no one’s going to see them if they’re covered in belly fat. 

Cardio will be invaluable when it comes to shedding fat. Especially routines such as HIIT (which have you working in explosive bursts and getting your heart rate up), will be excellent for burning fat. The “dreadmill” has it’s name for a reason, but you’re going to have to get well acquainted with it— or not.

The Most Important Ingredient

If they say that training is 30% working out and 70% diet, it probably goes double in favor of diet when it comes down to getting a shredded six-pack.

Yes, you should do the correct ab workouts, and yes, cardio will definitely help—but your absolute main focus should be on diet. You cannot target fat loss anywhere on your body, and so you’re going to have to target all of the fat.

Having a diet plan is important, whatever your goal may be. When it comes to getting shredded, however, you’re going to want to lose the fat hiding the definition behind it. There’re a few things to keep in mind.

For one, every weight loss diet comes down to maximizing the calories you expend and minimizing the calories you take in. Unspent calories get converted to fat, and fat hides your six-pack. How you get there is up to you, which brings us to our second point. 

Find something that works for you. Unless you’ve got an iron will or you’re a masochist, giving up all of your favorite foods forever is going to be impossible. Sticking with a diet and a workout routine over the long run is the goal, and you’re not going to get there if you hate it. So, whether it’s a ketogenic diet or a vegan one, make sure you’re okay with it.

But ultimately it just comes down to eating whole, clean foods. That means lean proteins, healthy carbs, and good fats. Put all of these ingredients together—along with enough rest—and you’ll have abs shredded enough to grate cheese on.