I’m the first to admit that the typical ab routine bores me. Not only do I find high volume crunch variations to be mundane, most common ab routines do little to build strength and increase muscle mass thru out your core and abdomen. While I have been known to incorporate “extreme” core movements such as Dragon Flags and Barbell Climbs into my weekly routine, not every effective core exercise needs to be at a gymnasts level of difficulty. Here are 5 basic Ab Exercises with a little added twist to ratchet up the intensity and help you truly build a strong and defined core.
1. Band Resistance Ab Wheel
The Ab Wheel is one of my favorite core exercises, but if you have been doing them forever like I have, then you know it can get tedious repping out sets of 50 in order to challenge your self. Other than doing them standing - which can put a lot of pressure on the lower lumbar region - how can you make the Ab Wheel more challenging? How about Band resistance? Try attaching a mini band to a low rack and looping it around the handles of the wheel. Start laying down with your arms fully extended and the band tight. Pull up and roll the ab wheel towards you as the band provides resistance. Control your speed and fight the band as you slowly roll back to starting position. Shoot for 3 sets of 5 reps.
2. Partner Static Sit Up Holds
I never incorporate basic sit ups as they rely too heavily on the psoas and can put some strain on your lower back. However, holding a sit up at the mid point for time can really give your abs a good burn. Moving thru a range of motion during that static hold really ups the ante. Start in a sit up position and lift your feet up slightly until your upper leg is perpendicular to the ground. Place your finger tips on your forehead and crunch up until your elbows make contact with your thighs. Have a partner grab your ankles and slowly pull you up and back down either for a set number of reps or a period of time. As your partner moves you do not lose contact with your legs or your forehead.
3. Band resistance Crunches
Regular crunches are another exercise I never use because they are merely “exercising” your abs, not building strength, and take 100s of reps to get anything close to a good burn. Add some band resistance to actually get some benefit from them. Kneeling crunches with an overhead band are an excellent option, but the simplest variation is just laying on a bench in a sit up position, and looping a mini band under the bench. Hold the band in each hand as you keep both arms extended then crunch up towards the ceiling. Hold at the top for 2 seconds. Sets of 10-20 reps.
4. Weighted Planks
A basic bodyweight plank is my all time favorite core exercise because it works every muscle in the core and it can be tailored for use by beginners up to advanced athletes. Once you can hold a static front plank for 2 minutes, you are ready to start adding some weight. Start with 1 plate and shoot for a 30 second hold, then work up from there. It's very important to keep the abdominals flexed and avoid lowering your hips - this could strain your lower back.
5. Hanging 90 degree Knee Raises
Perform a knee raise and pause at the top when your knees touch your elbows.. Lower your legs down to an L-Sit bent leg position (think sitting in a chair) and lock and hold. Continue to perform knee raises, not by hinging at the waist, but by using your lats and “pushing your arms” towards your knees.