Although most people know they want six-pack abs, fewer know what their core really is.
Your abs are part of your core, but only the very front, most external portion of your torso. Realizing this, it should become apparent why only working your rectus abdominis (the muscles we recognize as a six-pack) won’t get you the results you want for performance or appearance.
Doing crunches or sit-ups alone to get a gorgeous torso is like working solely your biceps to get great arms.
In order to look great and perform well, you have to work your way the full 360 degrees around your middle, plus hit the layers underneath. Hard on the outside with a gooey center only sounds good when discussing dessert.
Before I give you some tips on achieving a toned, strong core I want to address the importance from a performance and injury-prevention standpoint.
Why your arms need your core:
Would you position a piece of heavy machinery atop a stability ball filled with jelly? Of course not; that would be ridiculous. Imagine the mess that would lead to. For the same reason, you can’t lift something heavy with a weak core, no matter how strong your arms are. Actually, you could, you’d just hurt yourself in the process.
Why your legs need your core:
Would you like to go on a run with a stability ball filled with jelly? Of course not; that would be ridiculous, as well as really uncomfortable.
See where I’m going with this? You can’t perform well with mush in the middle. I’ve never had a great idea that began with a stability ball filled with jelly – though I imagine it would be comfortable to sit on.
While I could go on with science and examples for all the “whys” out there, I imagine you clicked on this link to get to the how, so here goes.
Warning: This is an amazing core routine, but the exercises only work when done properly. I’ve linked to what I feel are good explanations, but please reach out for additional clarification.
- Work your back. The main purpose of your core is to support your spine, so start there and the rest of your body will thank you. My favorite ways to do this are with hip raises (50+), opposite arm and leg extensions (3 sets of 10 each side), and deadlifts (30+). Work toward single leg deadlifts for an added balance challenge that will demand even more from your core. Bonus – your glutes and hamstrings will also benefit from each of these.
- Work your internal and external obliques, along with your lats with the plank and row. This move will get results even starting from a modified side plank on your knees. Do 3 sets of 15 each side.
- Work your hip flexors, obliques, transverse abdominals (bonus pelvis and leg work to boot) with the pilates single leg circle. Take the leg in each direction 10x, then straight up and down 10x, then switch sides. Work up to 2 sets.
- Get your entire core working together alternating spider planks with plank jacks. Do 10 (5 each side) of the spiders, take a 30 second rest, then get back in plank and jack your feet out and in 10 times. Do 3-5 sets.
- Burn out with a weighted cross crunch. Lie on your back with one leg extended and the other bent at the knee with the foot on the floor to keep your low back in proper position; opposite arm of extended leg extended over your head with a small dumbbell. As you contract at your core, raise the extended leg and cross past it’s knee with the opposite extended arm and weight so you are crossing with a bit of a rotation. Do 2 sets of 15 each side.
Here’s a video so you can concisely see how each exercise is done: https://youtu.be/vVEHl7CE-5Y
While it’s hard for me to stop at just these exercises since there are so many great ones out there, these are some of the most efficient and safest, so I’m going to call it. Having said that, no core toning is going to cut through fat the way a comprehensive nutrition and exercise plan will. In order to reach your goal, these exercises should be utilized in conjunction with other cardiovascular and strengthening workouts, and a proper diet.
You do not need a ladder to do this workout, but you will need lots of energy and the will to push yourself toward a hotter, stronger physique.
Ladders are a combination of two exercises that alternate and increase number of reps from one on up to ten. You start out with one of each, then two of each, then three…four…five…….ten, as you climb up the ladder.
Below are three ladder examples. I suggest trying all of them together at your next workout, followed by at least 20 mins of cardio. They won’t seem too tough at first, but after you’ve done all of them (55 of each move), you’ll understand why they’re such booty kickers. If you are a beginner, start with modified pushups and smaller dumbbells, but if you’re in pretty good shape and want to really see results, challenge yourself with heavier weights and fully progressed form.
This workout can be done anywhere and is gender-neutral, so challenge your spouse or a friend. A little competition will make everyone work harder.
If you require additional instruction, comment and I’ll add to my explanations. Now, go burn some calories!
Pushup-Shoulder Press Ladder
- 1st Set: 1 pushup, 1 dumbbell shoulder press (stand up with dumbbells at your shoulders, press them straight up)
- 2nd Set: 2 pushups, 2 presses
- 3rd Set: 3 pushups, 3 presses
- 4th Set: 4 pushups, 4 presses
- 5th Set: 5 pushups, 5 presses
- 6th Set: 6 pushups, 6 presses
- 7th Set: 7 pushups, 7 presses
- 8th Set: 8 pushups, 8 presses
- 9th Set: 9 pushups, 9 presses
- 10th Set: 10 pushups, 10 presses
- 1st Set: 1 lunge each leg, 1 squat (feet shoulder width apart, lower your rear like you’re about to sit down, stand back up at the point your rear would touch the seat)
- 2nd Set: 2 lunges each leg, 2 squats
- 3rd Set: 3 lunges each leg, 3 squats
- 4th Set: 4 lunges each leg, 4 squats
- 5th Set: 5 lunges each leg, 5 squats
- 6th Set: 6 lunges each leg, 6 squats
- 7th Set: 7 lunges each leg, 7 squats
- 8th Set: 8 lunges each leg, 8 squats
- 9th Set: 9 lunges each leg, 9 squats
- 10th Set: 10 lunges each leg, 10 squats
- 1st Set: 1 bicep curl (both arms at once), 1 seated heel touch (sit on edge of chair/bench with legs in front of you, lean back slightly with arms behind to support you, bring knees to your chest, then extend toward the floor until your heels touch, raise knees back up/in without fully touching feet down)
- 2nd Set: 2 bicep curls, 2 heel touches
- 3rd Set: 3 bicep curls, 3 heel touches
- 4th Set: 4 bicep curls, 4 heel touches
- 5th Set: 5 bicep curls, 5 heel touches
- 6th Set: 6 bicep curls, 6 heel touches
- 7th Set: 7 bicep curls, 7 heel touches
- 8th Set: 8 bicep curls, 8 heel touches
- 9th Set: 9 bicep curls, 9 heel touches
- 10th Set: 10 bicep curls, 10 heel touches
(Could I look any goofier in the still shot from the video? Ha!)
Exercises covered in this video:
- Basic Plank
- Side Plank
- Side Plank with dumbbell
- Side Plank with hip-drop / crunch
- Side Plank with leg raised
- Up-Downs in basic plank position
- 10-10-10 = 10 seconds on one side, 10 seconds in the middle, 10 seconds on the other side, repeat
- Stirring the pot – basic plank with swiss ball rotation
- Swiss ball pike – feet on swiss ball