Crunches, situps, reverse crunches, bicycle crunches, planks. They seem to be the usual go-to beginner exercises for abdominal strength. However, these kind of exercises are the tip of the iceberg: for more advanced fitness fans, there’s lots of unexpected, effective ways to target and train your “core” muscles.
Ab exercises for men and women: Total body moves
As well as more specific abdominal-targeting moves like leg raises, we’ve included some movements like the Turkish get up, which incorporate your whole body. However, although the moves target your shoulders, arms, legs and glutes too, these moves are still very core-focused.
The Turkish get-up involves a weight steady in the air while standing up from a prone position on the floor. Because you've got to keep your arm and upper body steady, all the stabilising muscles in your core get a great workout in.
This is backed up by science: the International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training found “during the Turkish get up, the core is challenged to resist spinal rotation, flexion/extension and side bending”. This dynamic move works your abdominal and lower back muscles on three different fronts.
Likewise with the medicine ball slam, a "plyometric" or explosive move which requires power in your legs and arms. The University of Miami found medicine ball training improved core musculature endurance in athletes, showing the most basic fitness equipment can often be the best fit for the job.
Just as a strong core benefits you during all walks of life, your core strength is developed when performing dynamic movements which require your whole body to generate power, or remain stable.
Below you can find six core-blasting moves you might not have tried yet, perfect for toughening up your body's trunk.
Turkish get up
The Turkish get-up is a little tricky to get right first time, and the movements may not seem all that natural. It’s worth persevering with, though.
- Lie flat on your back, with your left leg bent at the knee. Pick up a kettlebell by the handle with your left hand and hold it at arm’s length above your chest.
- Keeping your eyes on the kettlebell, roll onto your right side.
- Bend your right knee and tuck it under your left leg, while propping yourself up on your right elbow.
- Holding the kettlebell in the same position, use your legs to stand up. Remember to keep the kettlebell held up with your left arm throughout.
- Once you’ve fully stood up, reverse the movements to return to the starting position.
Medicine ball slam
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a medicine ball in two hands above your head. Begin by bending at the knees and pushing your hips back, as if you were moving into a squat.
- As you’re dipping down, quickly bring the medicine ball forward and throw it forcefully towards the floor, just in front of you.
- Catch the medicine ball on the rebound to complete one repetition.
Hanging knee raise
Hanging raises are particularly tough, as they test your upper body strength while providing a strong workout for the core. Be careful when performing hanging raises. While most training plans ask you to do ten or more repetitions, don’t worry if you can’t complete that many at first.
- Grab hold of a pull-up bar with a wide grip. Your palms should be facing forwards, and your legs and feet should be together.
- When you’re ready, lift yourself a few inches off the floor.
- In a slow, controlled manner, raise your knees towards your stomach.
- When they’re as high as you can comfortably go, slowly return them to the starting position to complete one repetition.
Hanging leg raise
This variation, which is based on a popular gymnastics ‘rings’ move, is arguably even trickier than the knee raise. Be sure to do it slowly, in a controlled manner.
- Grab hold of a pull-up bar with a wide, overhand grip. When you’re ready, lift yourself a few inches off the floor and bring your legs together.
- In a slow, controlled manner, lift your legs up straight.
- Once your thighs are parallel with the floor, slowly return to the starting position. That’s one repetition.
Saxon side bend
The Saxon side bend is a classic core exercise. Its side-to-side movements offer a good alternative to the straight-up-and-down of sit-ups and crunches.
- Pick up a reasonably heavy weights plate and hold it in two hands, at arms-length above your head.
- Stand with your feet just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly bend to your left, taking care to keep your legs, arms and upper body still.
- Return to the starting position, and then repeat the movement to your right.
- The Quadruped can do wonders for your ‘abs’. Get on your hands and knees and relax your core.
- To begin, raise one leg and extend it out straight behind your body.
- Pull your abdominal muscles in tight, as if you were about to be punched in the stomach. Hold the position, with tight abs, for five to ten seconds.
- Relax your core, and repeat the exercise.While your abs are tight, remember to breathe slowly and deeply throughout.
- Alternate between legs after five repetitions.