Your middle is not a mere vanity project – it’s a real barometer of your health. Get it in top form with this science-backed approach.
FLIP FOR YOUR ALL-IN- ONE GUIDEBOOK TO STRONGER ABS
Check out the latest research, get pro tips, and walk away with a better core.
OPTIMISE YOUR AB MOVES
Two exercises keep proving to be gold standards of core strengthening: the crunch, which firms the more superficial abs – the rectus abdominis down the centre and the obliques along the sides – and the plank, which works the deep, corset-like transverse abdominis.
The crunch is so effective at activating these superficial muscles because their fibres all have a vertical orientation that lets them fire in sync with the exercise’s straight-up motion, says Martin Eriksson-Crommert at Orebro University in Sweden. His research found that women who place their hands behind the head – instead of atop the chest or reaching forward – get the biggest activation. Speeding up the pace of crunches can double the activation of the rectus, other research has shown; add a twist to further engage obliques.
Now, about those planks. The variations shown here – plus the core-stability challenge of the double-leg stretch – elicit transverse activation that goes off the charts, according to lab research by Michele Olson, a senior clinical professor of sport science at Huntingdon College in Alabama, who has tested ab exercises for over 20 years. Work them in with your crunches or any of the ab-focused routines and tips in this package for your fittest, firmest core.
1 DOUBLE-LEG STRETCH
Lie faceup on ﬂoor with arms by sides. Curl head and shoulders off ﬂoor, then raise arms overhead (biceps by ears) and legs up at 45-degree angle to start. Keeping upper body lifted throughout, bring knees toward chest and circle arms around, touching palms to outside of knees [shown]. Extend legs and raise arms over head to start position to complete 1 rep. Do 2 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
2 SPIDER PLANK
Start on ﬂoor in plank, balancing on hands and toes. Keep hips level and bend left knee out toward left triceps [shown]. Return to plank, switch sides, and repeat to complete 1 rep. Do 2 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
3 SIDE PLANK TWIST
Start on ﬂoor in side plank position, balancing on left palm and sides of feet, right foot in front of left; bend right elbow and place palm behind ear to start [shown]. Rotate torso to bring right elbow to inside of left elbow. Return to start position to complete 1 rep. Do 12 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
ROUTINES WITH BUILT-IN CORE TIGHTEN ERS
Certain workouts double as strength sessions for your abs. “When you increase your intensity or load during total-body movements, your ab muscles naturally brace,” Michele says. “That action really works the transverse.” Here’s the way to multitask.
SWING A KETTLEBELL
Your transverse braces to stabilise your core as you bring the kettlebell’s swing to a full stop, especially during one-handed moves.
LIFT BIGGER DUMBBELLS
Add a little more heft to your reps — weighted squats, biceps curls, ﬂyes, you name it — and “the heavier the load, the more bracing will occur,” Michele says.
Your abs will engage as you pump your arms harder, and the HIIT will help burn more ab fat than if you stuck with steady cardio.
TEXT MARY ANDERSON PHOTO LEFT & MOVES RONY SHRAM EQUIPMENT 123RF.COM