Best Ab Exercises For a Stronger Core, Without a Sit-Up In Sight

This six-week workout plan could be your ticket to a toned stomach.

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Best abs exercises
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The fastest way to a flatter belly isn’t to do hundreds of crunches.

Wondering how to get abs? The key is to strengthen your entire core by training a deep abdominal muscle that wraps around your midsection called the transversus abdominis (TA).

Your TA acts as a natural girdle, and it needs proper training to make your lower abs, in particular, look and feel flatter and sleeker. Plus, a strong, stable TA helps support your back, making it less likely that you’ll be bothered by back pain. “The way you train your abs muscles is how they’ll develop,” explains Linda LaRue, a celebrity trainer based in Los Angeles and creator of the Crunchless Abs workout. LaRue says that doing standard crunches incorrectly can cause you to build your ab muscles outward. The best ab exercises — getting rid of a post-pregnancy or age-related tummy — involve “pulling your abs up and in as you work them from all angles.”

For a stronger core in just six weeks, read on for LaRue’s best ab exercises — no crunches needed!

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Best abs exercises
Illustration: Charlene Chua

The set up

To get the most from these ab exercises, follow these simple pointers from LaRue.

Check your posture: Whether you’re standing, lying or sitting, align your ears with your shoulders and hips. Next, pull your shoulders down and lift your breastbone slightly. Feel for equal muscle balance between your front and back.

Contract your pelvic floor: To help activate the TA, do a soft “Kegel” during each move by gently pulling your pelvic floor muscles — the ones you use to hold back urine when you need the bathroom — upward.

Equipment: A mat or bath towel, a hand towel and a one- to two-kilogram (three- to five-pound) dumbbell (optional).

Warm-up: March in place or walk briskly for about three minutes.

Repetitions: Begin with two sets of each exercise, working up to three sets as your abs get stronger. Perform each for the suggested reps or time (or less if you can’t hold good form). You should be able to do two sets of three moves in about six minutes (about eight to 10 minutes, including the warm-up).

Frequency: Do this routine three times a week. For a well-rounded program, add cardio and weights, and stretch after every workout.

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Best abs exercises
Illustration: Charlene Chua

#1: Pelvic Tuck

Works: Deep abs and lower abs.

  • Lie face up, with your legs bent, feet on the floor and abs tight, and do a Kegel. Rest your hands on your hip bones.
  • Use your abs to tilt your pelvis so that your hip bones are pulling slightly inward and upward. Your tailbone should be raised just a bit so that the small of your back presses into the floor. Focus on using your abs to tilt your pelvis, and avoid squeezing your butt muscles.
  • Use your abs to return your pelvis to the starting position. Repeat. Do eight to 10 reps in total.
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Best abs exercises
Illustration: Charlene Chua

#2: Three-Point Kneel

Works: Deep and outer abs, back and butt.

  • Kneel down with your knees, shins and forearms on the floor, spine straight and shoulder blades squeezing slightly toward each other. Pull your abs inward while gently pulling your pelvic floor inward and upward.
  • Raise your right leg off the floor, straightening it behind you so that you’re balancing on your forearms and your left knee and shin. Squeeze your butt as you hold your straight leg parallel to the floor for three to five seconds, keeping your abs tight.
  • Squeeze three times. Rest for 10 seconds between each rep. Switch sides.
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Best abs exercises
Illustration: Charlene Chua

#3: Bent-Leg Side Plank

Works: Deep abs, sides of abs, back and shoulders.

  • Lie on your right side, with your right leg bent and your left leg straight. Your left hand should be on your left hip. Raise your upper body and support yourself on your right forearm, with your elbow aligned under your shoulder. Your hips and shoulders should be in line vertically.
  • Draw your abs inward and your pelvic floor upward. Slowly lift your right hip off the floor so that you’re balancing on your right forearm, right knee and shin and the inside of your left foot.
  • Hold for three to five seconds. Return to the starting position. Repeat the sequence two more times before switching sides. Here are 5 more plank variations that will work your entire body.
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Best abs exercises
Illustration: Charlene Chua

#4: Standing Cross Core

Works: Deep abs, sides of abs, back, thighs and butt, as well as shoulders when done with a dumbbell.

  • Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, with your arm slightly bent and held straight out to your right side (This exercise can also be done without a dumbbell.) Place your left hand on your left hip and stand with your feet hip width apart, shoulders relaxed, abs tight and pelvic floor pulled upward. Do a squat (as if you’re about to sit in a low chair) and, at the same time, cross your right arm diagonally across your body until your right hand is in front of your left knee.
  • As you return to standing, raise your right arm back across your body until your right arm reaches your right side and upward, with your hand just above ear level and your elbow slightly bent. With your right arm extended to your right side, twist your torso right, looking slightly upward and to the right. Keep your feet flat on the floor, pointed straight ahead.
  • Return to the starting position. Repeat. Do 10 reps. Switch sides.

Good posture can also make a difference. Try these strength training moves for better posture.

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Best abs exercises
Illustration: Charlene Chua

#5: Crouching Tiger

Works: Deep abs, inner thighs and arms.

  • Get on your hands and knees, with your knees aligned under your hips and your hands in line with your shoulders. Place a small rolled-up towel between your knees and squeeze the towel to hold it in place. Curl your toes under.
  • Maintaining a long spine, draw your abs inward and upward and pull up your pelvic floor. Avoid holding your breath. With your elbows slightly bent and still squeezing the towel between your knees, lift your knees about two inches off the floor.
  • Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Return your knees to the floor. Repeat.
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Best abs exercises
Illustration: Charlene Chua

#6: Core Clock

Works: Deep abs and back.

  • Lie face up, with your legs bent, feet on the floor, heels lifted and arms stretched to the ceiling. Hold each end of a hand towel, pulling it taut.
  • Slowly rotate your torso so that both knees point toward your right side (with your toes still on the floor) as your extended arms reach just slightly toward your left side. Move your knees to the left and your arms slightly right. Alternate 10 times in total. Follow the instructions below if you feel strong enough (otherwise, repeat this move for another 10 reps).
  • Continue the same sequence as above but with your feet off the floor, legs bent to 90 degrees and knees over hips. Alternate sides for 10 times in total. If you feel as if you’re falling toward the side, you’re twisting too much — reduce your range of motion.

Next, read up on 5 exercise strategies to help reduce your risk of injury.

Originally Published in Best Health Canada

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