Abdominal (Ab) Exercises
Strengthening the abdominals is important for basic health to keep you injury free. Strong abs help stabilize the spine and keep you from injuring your back. Strong abs are important in virtually every sport, from golfing to running. Just ask anyone in martial arts how important the core (abs) is in generating a powerful punch! OK, not only are strong abs important in sports and for basic health but lets face it – sixpack abs look fantastic! But please remember, for 95% of you, doing ab exercises will not get you sixpack abs! If you want to see your fabulous sixpack abs, you have to lose weight and drop your bodyfat to below 10%! Here are the ab exercises that I cover on this page:
- Crunching exercises
- Hanging exercises
- Planking exercises
The crunch is king, if you can only do one exercise, do crunches. Don’t worry about how many reps you do but focus on using perfect form. Crunches are best done on a carpeted floor. A sofa or bed is way too soft to let you workout properly and a tile or hardwood floor might be uncomfortable. Infomercial ab devices have nothing over crunches so dont buy something that will just gather dust in your closet. Form is extremely important on the crunch so I will spend a lot of time here explaining it.
Starting position: The knees are bent and the feet flat on the floor. The hands held lightly behind the head so they support most of your head weight. You neck and head should be totally relaxed. Push your shoulders down into the floor.
Ending position: Now slowly over a 2 second count bring your shoulders up toward the ceiling without moving your hands, elbows or head. It helps to stare at a spot on the ceiling and try and make your head move directly to that spot. No bending the neck, no nodding the head, no flapping the arms – the upper body is slowly levitated toward the ceiling. Dont bend at the hip, thats a sit-up, not a crunch. Go as far up as you can, some people can only go up 1″ and others can go up 6″ – just do what you can.
Video: Proper Form Of The Crunch. This video illustrates the proper form described above. It shows how to do crunches properly, both for the beginner and the advanced bodybuilder. Its often hard to check your own form, show a friend this video and have them watch you perform it to make sure you are doing just like I am.
Video: Hand Position During Crunches. One of the most common complaints when doing crunches is neck pain, if you have neck pain then your hand position is incorrect! This video describes proper hand position. Support your head lightly with your hands, there should be no strain at all on your head and neck. Dont yank your head up but dont let it hang there unsupported either.
Video: Four Most Common Mistakes. Learn what NOT to do when working toward ripped, washboard 6-pack abs. Avoid head nodding, arm flapping, full ROM. Worst of all, don’t make the mistake of thinking ab exercises will get you washboard abs! Again, have a friend watch you and make sure you are not doing any of these things! People often dont realize they are head nodding or arm flapping!
Floor Side Crunch
The side crunch is a variation of the normal crunch that focuses more on the obliques. The obliques are your “gills”, the ab muscles on your sides rather than the 6-pack abs muscles on the front of your body. This exercise is a bit contorted and requires a bit of practice to get used to.
Starting Position: You body is twisted. You are on your back with both shoulder blades touching the floor but your legs are twisted a quarter turn the other way so that your legs are sideways on the floor. Bending your knees 90 degress helps you get into this contorted position and keep there. How your hand lightly behind your head to support its full weight without yanking it upward. Your head and neck should be completely relaxed.
Ending Position: While looking at the ceiling, raise your left shoulder in a straight line toward the ceiling while your right shoulder stays on the ground – again think about your shoulder moving in a straight line up to the ceiling. Your neck, head, arms and legs do not move.
Video: How To Perform Side Crunch. Don’t feel bad if you have trouble with this one at first, its quite a contortion to get into the starting position if you have never done it before. Please watch the video below to see how to perform it.
Bicycles are a great ab exercise because they combine a straight crunch (shown above) with a side crunch (shown above). Bicycles work out both the abs and the obliques at the same time, a great combination exercise. If you are in a hurry and only want to do one exercise, this is the one to do. As with all crunches, the important thing is that you remember that the motion is to lift the shoulder up toward the ceiling. This is not a neck or head exercise! When you perform this exercise, you lift one shoulder up toward the ceiling and bring the opposing knee up to meet it then you switch to the other shoulder and knee in a slow, fluid motion. Do this exercise on a lightly padded surface like a carpet or thin workout foam pad, a bed or sofa is too soft.
Starting Position: Left shoulder up toward ceiling, right knee brought to left elbow. Although this exercise is usually done touching elbow to knee, this usually leads to bad form. Its much easier to start doing this exercise with your hands at your sides until you master it, then you can touch elbow to opposing knee.
Ending Position: Right shoulder up toward ceiling, left knee brought to right elbow.
Video: How To Perform Bicycles. Don’t feel bad if you have trouble with this one at first, its pretty difficult to explain and very awkward to do if you have not done it before. Please watch the video below to see how to perform it.
Hanging Ab Exercises
Hanging Leg Raises
This is partially a hip exercise and partially an abdominal exercise, similar to a sit-up but a lot safer to do. Contrary to popular belief, this does not work lower abs. If you want to see your lower abs then you need to reduce your bodyfat thru cardio and caloric reduction.
Starting position: No jerky motions allowed on this exercise or you will pull a muscle in your lower back! Raise your legs slowly on a count of two, this takes very strong abs! If you don’t have wrist straps or hanging ab straps you can also do these just hanging from the pull-up bar but many people find their grip gives out before their abs have had a complete workout.
Ending Position: Now slowly raise the legs on a count of two, your hips should remain motionless in space as the legs come up. If your hips swing back and forth then you are doing these way too fast. This is not a gymnastics maneuver, do it slowly! If you find yourself having to swing or use jerky motions then perform this exercise with your knees bent 90 degrees rather than with straight legs.
Video: How To Perform Hanging Leg Raise. The hanging leg raise is a fairly simple exercise but many people use bad form that renders this exercise completely useless and a total waste of time. Watch the below video to make sure you are doing it properly.
The windshield wiper is an amazing core exercise, and its fun too, but its not for beginners. Doing these before your core is already strong will result in a very, very painful pulled muscle.
Many people find these difficult so let me show you how to work up to them. First, you need to have done bicycles (above) for several months so your obliques are pretty strong. Next, you need to be really strong at hanging leg raises (above), so work on these. If you cant do a straight legged raise to horizontal and hold it, then you wont be able to do windshield wipers, so work on this first.
For safety, make sure your pullup bar is sturdy and use wrist straps! You are hanging upside down, if you fall, you will break your back or neck – this is NOT a time to work on your grip strength! In one fluid motion, bring your knees up to your elbows. Dont just hang passively from the bar, push the bar down toward your waist till you can balance. For the advanced windshield wiper, keep your legs straight, for the beginning version bend the knees 90 degrees.
Starting Position: Getting into the starting position takes a bit of practice. Hang from the bar with knees bent as much as you can, now push the bar away from you which pops your knees high up in the air – now straighten your legs. At this point you should be hanging upside down with your hip bent 90 degrees and legs pointing straight up in the air. You should be balanced and relaxed and should not have to use muscle power (other than in your wrists) to hold this position. While continuing to push the bar hard away from you to keep balanced, let your feet move over to the right. This is not a time to work on flexibility! Only go as far right as you can comfortably go, dont push your range of motion or you will get a nasty injury. Congratulations! You have now done the hardest part which is getting into the starting position!
Ending Position: Like a metronome, swing back and forth slowly. Remember to keep pushing the bar hard away from you or you will not be able to keep your legs vertically in the air at the top of the movement. When you get more advanced, you can pick up the pace a bit. Going too rapidly before your torso is strong as steel will result in a horrible and painful muscle tear that will keep you out of the gym for months.
Video: How To Perform Windshield Wiper. Don’t feel bad if you have trouble with this one at first, its pretty difficult to explain and awkward to do. Please watch the video below to see how to perform it.
Despite the fact that planks are just a static hold, they work some very important muscles. Both planks are best done on a padded carpet. Planks are great to do between sets of windshield wipers, bicycles, or crunches.
Left Plank: Start by putting your left hip on the floor and your left forearm. Stack your feet on top of one another with your right foot right on top of your left. Now lift up your hip till your body is perfectly straight. Hold this as long as you can.
Right Plank: Same as above but with opposite side.
ASF (Armpit Sweat Fling) Planks
ASF planks are an awesome exercise that combine the benefits of a static side plank with rotational strength building.
Left ASF Plank: Start by putting your left hip on the floor and your left forearm. Stack your feet on top of one another with your right foot right on top of your left. Now lift up your hip till your body is perfectly straight, you are now in the ready position. Now rub your sweaty left armpit with your right forearm. Thats right, slide it under your sweaty armpit as far as you can reach. Gross! Sweat all over your wrist and forearm, now fling the sweat up to the ceiling. The arm motion is like throwing a frisbee. Repeat as many rub/flings as you can.
Right ASF Plank: Same as above but with opposite side.