Most ab exercise programs suck
Why? Because they don’t deliver the total package: a strong, athletic core that looks great, wards off injuries, and actually improves gym performance.
If you want it all, you need to go beyond high-rep one-dimensional abdominal exercises. Crunches, leg raises, and the flurry of “anti” core isometric exercises are good starting points, but they’re not enough.
The human body is designed for integrated movement across multiple planes and joints, meaning your core muscles don’t work in isolation. Rather, they work synergistically to create, absorb, stabilize, and facilitate movement with the rest of the body.
This happens in all three cardinal planes ̵
Like the legs of a stool, each level contributes to the movement of the whole. A program that integrates all of the muscles involved at each level will result in better performance in the real world.
This is how it works, starting with the sagittal plane:
1. Sagittal plane exercises
Humans are sagittal airplane animals. We spend most of our lives either moving up and down in a straight line or balancing out forces that occur during these movements. To create and stabilize the movement of the sagittal plane, we rely on three main muscles: the hamstrings, the rectus abdominis, and the external obliques.
90/90 Kettlebell Pull Over with Heel Dig
Think of this as leg raises for your torso, only you are using your arms as levers instead of your legs.
- Raise your feet on a bench or step block. Dig your heels into the bench, roll your hips back, and use your hamstrings to slightly lift your tailbone off the floor.
- Hold a kettlebell over your chest, straighten both arms toward the sky, bring your shoulder blades off the floor, leaving only your head, upper, and middle back on the floor.
- Reach back towards your head with the kettlebell. Inhale and move your arms back about 2 to 3 inches. Exhale and press your lower back firmly against the floor.
- Repeat this process for 4-5 breaths, steadily moving your arms backwards until you can no longer hold your back down.
Eccentric ab pulldown
One of the main tasks of the abdominal muscles is to transfer forces between the upper and lower body. In theory, this equates to isometric strength, which is why many abdominal exercises are done in a static position.
The problem is, in the real world of performance and athletics, you need a stable spine and chest because other muscles and joints create opposite and opposite forces. This is exactly what this exercise emulates.
- Sit on the floor with two cable ties like you are doing a lat pulldown.
- Dig your heels into the ground to activate your hamstrings and sit back until you are about halfway through a sit-up.
- Round your back and roll your hips back.
- Pull down on the handles and exhale fully. As the handles get closer to your body, leverage changes, making it harder to hold the position.
Feet on the wall plank
Front boards are nothing new. Still, most people slaughter them for lack of awareness of posture. Placing your feet, especially heels, against the wall gives you a tactile reference point to activate the hamstrings and hold the pelvis in position against gravity.
- Start on your elbows and knees while your feet are pressed flat against a wall.
- Extend your arms until your elbows are 1 to 2 inches in front of your shoulders to create a long lever plank.
- Bring your heels against the wall and use your hamstrings to pull your torso toward your feet. Imagine pulling your pants pockets to the back of your knee.
- Push your elbows through the floor, raise your upper back toward the ceiling, and form a hill instead of a valley between your shoulder blades.
2. Exercises on the frontal plane
Lateral weight shift, lateral flexion and thoracic abduction – pushing the shoulders to one side without bending the spine to the side – are the typical movements of the frontal plane. The main muscles in these movements are the inner and outer obliques on the chest and the adductors on the hips.
Inch worm toe touch
Inchworms combine sagittal and frontal muscles into an integrated exercise for the upper and lower body.
- Start in a push-up position – ribs pulled down and back as if trying to tuck the bottom of your rib cage into the side pockets of your pants. Keep your back slightly rounded throughout.
- Push the floor away with your left hand as you stretch your right hand across your body towards your left foot, shifting your center of gravity to your left side.
- Exhale as you reach to draw the air out of your lungs and allow deeper reach.
- Alternative sites.
Inclined hip lift
Walking and running involve both forward propulsion and shifting our center of gravity from side to side as we transfer weight from one foot to the other. To do this effectively, our inclines and adductors need to be coordinated to keep our center of gravity above our support base.
- Start on your left in a traditional side plank position. Your upper leg should be slightly in front of your lower leg. Your left side should be shorter – measured from your hip to your armpit – than your right.
- Bring your left knee and right elbow together in a cross-body crunch action. Inhale to force air into your upper back and right side.
- Exhale and bring your knees and elbows back to the start.
- Repeat on the other side.
Cable hook with weight shift
Chops and lifts are an easy way to introduce force vectors into the frontal and transverse planes. Here we take a traditional cable slash and concentrate the load in the frontal plane by adding a side weight shift and stacking the shoulders and hips over one foot.
- Take a rope attachment with both hands and put all of your weight on your right foot.
- Exhale and pull the cable across your body as you transfer the weight from the right foot to the left.
- End with your center of gravity over your left foot.
- Repeat on the other side.
3. Cross-aircraft exercises
Cross-level exercises build rotational skills for throwing, hitting, reaching, swinging, and pulling with one arm. It does this through a combination of internal and external bevels, rotating the rib cage to one side or the other, with the glutes turning the pelvis in the same direction.
Turkish quarter get-up with bridge
Put up is a great way to incorporate shoulder, rib, and hip mechanics into a single movement, but you don’t have to do the entire exercise every time. By adding the angled hip bridge from the elbow-supported position, you can focus on your abs while pulling the nearby glutes into the equation for extension and external rotation.
- Lie flat on the floor with a kettlebell in your right hand and right foot.
- Reach and roll across your body, keeping your right arm perpendicular to the floor, and shifting your body weight onto your left elbow and forearm.
- Drive your right foot into the floor and rotate your knee outward as you lift your hips off the floor.
- Repeat on the other side.
Land mine rotations
The landmine is a great tool for loading rotational motions in a way that medicine balls or body weight exercises cannot.
- Grasp the end of the barbell with both hands. Keep your arms straight and your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lower the weight toward your right hip while rotating your hips in the same direction.
- Push the weight back to the center and repeat the process in reverse on the other side.
Related: Adamantium Abs – 6 Core Exercises You Need
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