A Trainer Says This Is the Biggest Difference Between a Strong Core and a 6-Pack
Abs are one of those things people love to obsess about. Whether it's talking about Halle Berry's intense ab workouts (yes, I'm guilty) or J Lo's ab workouts (guilty again), there's a greater conversation about abs to be had.
First and foremost, abs are one of the most important group of muscles you have — seriously. I know a lot of people only care about how to get their abs to show and how to get a six-pack, but your abs are way more important than looking good for the 'gram.
Having a strong core can prevent back pain, is essential for stabilizing your spine, and will help you perform explosive movements like sprinting and jumping better. You don't have to memorize this, but the muscles that make up your core are the internal obliques (they help with twisting), external obliques (they, too, help with twisting), transverse abdominis (a deep layer of the core that acts like a girdle), rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscles), and the erector spinae (muscles that help straighten the back).
These muscles protect your organs and are activated every time you laugh, sneeze, and have bowel movements. They also help you maintain an erect posture. Conversely, having a six-pack just means you have a six-pack.
While I think it's 100-percent OK to want to see your abs and get a six-, 10-, or even 12-pack, I don't think it should be your main focus. Why? Because a six-pack isn't synonymous with having a strong core. A six-pack is the result of genetics, clean eating, and a body-fat percentage that's low enough for your abs to show.
To get a strong core, you need to focus on strengthening all the muscles of your abs (scroll back up if you can't remember them). There are a lot of moves I love that target the core, but I recommend focusing on exercises like the side plank, pallof presses, deadlifts, low-to-high woodchops, and the farmer's carry.
Ahead, you'll find an extensive list of exercises I also recommend adding to your workouts. Be sure to mix them up so that you are targeting all the muscles of your core equally. FYI: this is not a workout. Instead, pick three to five moves to make a quick core workout. You can also follow this four-week ab workout plan. Having a six-pack is nice, but having a strong core is better! Check out some of my favorite ab strengthening moves ahead.
Plank With Knee Tap
- Start resting on all fours.
- With your palms flat, raise up off your knees onto your toes. Keep your hands directly below your shoulders.
- Contract your abs to keep yourself up and prevent your bottom from sticking up. Remember to keep your belly button pulled in.
- With your head and spine in line, keep your back flat — don't let it curve. Picture your body as a long, straight board.
- With control, slowly tap your left knee to the ground without moving your hips. Lift your left knee back up, returning to the starting position. Repeat the same movement with the right leg. This completes one rep.
- Start standing with a 10-pound dumbbell in each hand; if this is too heavy or too light, feel free to adjust the weight. Make sure your bodyweight is evenly distributed on each foot, your spine is in a neutral position, and your shoulders are back and open.
- With your arms extended, hold the dumbbells about four inches away from your legs; this will activate your abdominal muscles. Begin to walk forward, maintaining a neutral spine and keeping your shoulders up and open.
Standing Ab Rollout
- Place your palms on the ball, and stand with your legs wide, about three or so feet apart. Walk the ball out so your back is straight and your hips are in the same line as your ankles.
- From here, lean your body forward, allowing the ball to roll down your forearms. Stop once your elbows reach the ball and you're balancing on your tiptoes.
- Then use your core and legs to get your body back to the starting position. This completes one rep. Be sure to keep your abs engaged throughout this move.
- Lower the carriage of a cable machine so that it's about chest height, and attach a D-handle to the pulley. Adjust the weight so that it's at 10 pounds. If this is too heavy or too light, feel free to change the weight.
- Standing with the left side of your body closest to the machine, grab the handle with both hands and take two or three steps out so that there's tension on the cable. Hold your hands at your sternum, and make sure that your body is square. If you feel like you're getting pulled to the left, this is an indicator that you should lighten the weight.
- On an exhale, press the cable straight out in front of your body. Be sure not to rotate toward the machine. Hold for two seconds before returning to the starting position. This counts as one rep.
- Begin in an elbow plank with your forearms resting on the top of a ball.
- Keeping your core strong and your body still, use your arms to roll the ball in a small clockwise circle. This completes one rep.
Rotational Medicine Ball Slam and Toss
- Start standing in front of a wall holding a six- to 10-pound soft-shell medicine ball in front of your body with your arms fully extended.
- Engage your core, and raise the ball overhead. On an exhale, slam the ball down in front of you as hard as you can. Catch the ball after it bounces back up.
- Once you've caught the ball, pivot on your left foot and step your right leg back simultaneously as you toss the ball as hard as you can at the wall. Catch the ball, and pivot back to the starting position.
- This counts as one rep. Perform 10 reps tossing the ball to the right, take 30 seconds of rest, then repeat on the left side. That's one set. Take no more than 60 seconds of rest in between each set, completing a total of three sets.
- If this move is too advanced, perform a set of standard medicine ball slams followed by a set of medicine ball rotational throws.
- Get on all fours, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Remember to keep abs engaged and keep your back flat.
- Reach out with your right hand and extend your left leg out behind you.
- Round your back and head to connect your right elbow with your left leg under your body. This completes one rep.
- Come into plank position with your arms and legs straight.
- Beginning with the right side first, lower your elbow to the floor where your hand was. Then lower your left elbow to the floor where your left hand was (now you are in elbow plank, with your forearms parallel).
- Then come back into the starting plank position onto your right hand and then back onto your left. This completes one rep.
Seated Russian Twist
- Sit on the ground with your knees bent, pull your abs to your spine, and lean back a few inches while lifting your feet off the floor. Be sure to keep your back straight.
- Reach your arms out in front of you, and twist your torso to the right, then to the left. Lower your heels to the ground if you need to.
Elbow Side Plank
- Come into an elbow plank position and roll to your right side, allowing your feet to roll, too, so you're balancing on the outside of your right foot, stacking your left foot on your right.
- Place your left hand gently behind your head. Press your left inner thigh up into your right inner thigh; this helps stabilize you even more.
- Start face down on the floor resting on your forearms and knees.
- Push off the floor, raising up off your knees onto your toes and resting mainly on your elbows.
- Contract your abdominals to keep yourself up and prevent your booty from sticking up.
- Keep your back flat — don't let it droop or you'll be defeating the purpose. Picture your body as a long, straight board, or plank.
- Lie on your back with a neutral spine and your hips and knees at right angles, with your palms pressed into your thighs just above your knees.
- Pull your abs to your spine, keeping your ribs and pelvis still as you lengthen your right arm and leg out until they are almost parallel to the floor. Keep your torso and spine completely stable as the arm and leg move.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat on the left side to complete one rep.
Both the side bridge and side plank are great for building strength in the transverse abdominis and other muscles used to stabilize the spine. If you cannot hold a side plank or if engaging the abdominal wall causes pain, start with the side bridge.
- Lie on your left side with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle and your elbow underneath your shoulder.
- Push your hips forward, lifting your thighs off the ground. Rest your right hand on top of your right hip, and hold for 10 seconds.
- Be sure to keep your knees, hips, and upper body aligned. If you experience discomfort in your shoulder, place your right hand over your left shoulder with your fingers spread apart, and pull your right elbow down across your chest.