Meghan Trainor’s song “All About That Bass” extols the virtues of the behind/bottom. However, for most people the summer or beach look that gets heads turning is all about the abs! For both sexes the pinnacle of attractiveness and, by extension, confidence is being able to display a well-toned, well-defined midsection.
Our abs, which are made up of the four layers of the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and transverse abdominis) play an important part in our overall fitness. Your abdominal muscles are one of the muscle groups that make up our core. The others being your hip flexors, spine extensors, hip adductors (inner-thigh muscles), hip abductors (including gluteus medius), and multifidus. Your core muscles provide stability and help maintain a strong healthy back and posture.
The key to a sculpted midsection is to tone these muscles using exercises that are effective at both stabilising and strengthening your core. However, you won’t be able to see the improvements if your body fat is too high. Consequently it is important to also include exercises for your whole body and a cardio routine that will boost your metabolism and increase fat burning so that the abs you've been working very hard to develop are visible to the world.
Below is a list of exercises that will strengthen your core and reveal your abs, which you can add to your workout with ease. Alternatively you can create your own program by selecting one from each group and doing these three times a week on non-consecutive days for two weeks, then selecting a different three. Repeat the pattern over 5 weeks until you've done all 15 exercises, then go back to the top. If you don't have access to a Wellness Ball, select an extra one from one of the other groups.
Plank with Leg Lift
The basic plank is performed by getting into a press up position, instead of having your arms straight and supporting your weight on your hands, you rest on your forearms keeping your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from your neck to your ankles. Once in this position, pull in your abs and lift one foot off the floor keeping the leg straight. Hold for as long as you can. Aim to build up to 60 to 90 seconds. This equals one set. Repeat with the other leg. Do 2 sets with each leg.
Plank with Feet Raised
Get into the basic plank position, but with your feet resting on a raised platform (i.e. an exercise bench or a stall) Remember to keep your elbows under your shoulders and your body in a straight line from your neck to your ankles. Keep your head and neck inline with your body. Contract your core muscles and hold for 10 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Do this 10 times.
Lie on one side with your legs straight, the top leg stacked on top of the one that is on the ground. Support your weight on your forearm and the edge of the foot touching the floor. Position your elbow directly beneath your shoulder with your upper arm perpendicular to the floor. Again your body should form a straight line from your neck to your ankles. Put your other hand on your hip. Hold for as long as you can (aim for 30 to 45 seconds), then swap sides and repeat. Do this twice for each side.
Side Plank with Knee Tuck
Get into the same position as the side plank, then lift and bend the knee of the leg closest to the floor, bringing your foot next to the inside of your other knee. Your body weight is supported by your left forearm and the inside edge of the foot that remains in contact with the floor. Hold for as long as you can (building up to 30 to 45 seconds), then swap sides and repeat. Do this twice for each side.
Side plank with a twist
Get into the basic side plank position. Then extent your free arm (the one not supporting your weight) straight up towards the ceiling/sky keeping your core muscles engaged. Now scoop the arm that was raised and reach under the space between your chest and the ground, twisting only from the waist up. Return to the starting position and repeat 4 times. Then change sides and do it again.
Sit on the ground and cross your legs at the ankles, lift your thighs and upper body to form a V shape, your lower legs should be off the ground. Hold a five-pound weight with both hands and twist left to right from the waist, bringing the weight across body while maintaining the V shape. Work up to being able to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Work slowly and in a controlled fashion (as opposed to fast and / or erratic movements) so that your muscles – as opposed to momentum – do the work.
Low-belly leg reach
Lie on your back with your hands behind your head, your knees bent to 90 degrees and abs contracted. Holding your knees over your hips, lift your shoulders and crunch up; inhale and hold for 3-5 seconds. Exhale and straighten your legs keeping them at 45 degree angles; hold for 3-5 seconds while squeezing lower abs. Work up to being able to do 2 sets of 10-15 reps.
Lie face-up with knees over your hips and feet tilted slightly up. Breathe in as you tighten your abs and raise your arms up and back over your head. Now exhale and swing your arms forward while at the same time straightening your legs so your body forms a V. You can put your hands on the floor for support if necessary. Now slowly roll down returning to the starting position. Repeat up to 15 times.
Advanced leg crunches
Lie on your back and place your hands palms down in the small of your back to occupy the gap. With your knees bent, hold a three-pound weight between your feet. Pull your knees towards your chest by contracting your lower abs and lifting your hips, head, and shoulders slightly. Return to the starting position. Repeat between 15-30 times.
Cross-leg diagonal crunch
Lie on your back with your legs straight and feet on the floor but shifted to the left side. Bend your right knee and cross it over your left leg and put your foot flat on the floor near the outside of your left knee. Keeping this position, crunch straight up and down. Repeat for 50 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
Using The Wellness Ball
Oblique knee crunch
Lie on your back on the Wellness Ball with your feet on the floor hip-distance apart, knees bent. Place one hand behind your head and use the other to maintain you balance by placing your fingertips on the floor. Contract your core and lift the opposite leg to the hand that is behind your head off the floor. Now perform a crunch, taking your shoulder and rib cage toward your bent knee while slowly extending it straight (keep your other foot on the floor). Return to starting position. Do 15 reps on each side.
Plank on the ball
Get into the basic plank position using the ball to support your legs under your thighs but with your arms extended as if you were doing a push up. Once you are straight and stable hold the position for 30 seconds.
Jumping jack reach
Sit on the Wellness Ball and holding it for stability, jump legs apart, then together, then apart again. Next stand and reach up and over to the right with your left hand (use your other hand to keep the ball stable). Repeat the whole sequence to the other side. When you’ve done it twice on each side, bounce whilst seated on the ball for 1 minute. Repeat the whole sequence 4 times.
Standing side crunch
Stand up straight, feet shoulder-width apart, holding the Wellness Ball above your head, elbows bent. Raise your left knee out to the side whilst lowering your right elbow to meet it. Return to starting position and repeat on right side. Bounce the ball on the floor for 1 minute. Repeat the sequence 4 times.
Place your hands on the Wellness Ball, approximately 20 inches apart and align your body as if your were about to do a push up. Lift your left foot off the floor and slowly bring your left knee up toward your chest, then lower it. Repeat with the left leg. Do 10-12 reps on each leg alternating from side to side.