Abdominal exercises play an integral role in any strength and conditioning program. A strong core is essential for athletic performance and to prevent the occurrence of injuries and back pain.
There are literally thousands of abdominal exercises and many more variations of each of them. There also innumerable fitness gimmicks promising washboard abs in just a few minutes exercise a day. While these exercise aids may or may not be effective at strengthening the core they are unnecessary. Plenty of abdominal exercises that require nothing other than an exercise mat or towel will strengthen the muscles of the core region just as effectively.
The abdominal exercises below have been spit into three groups basic advanced and sport-specific.
Basic Abdominal Exercises
Basic strength in the stomach can be developed with following abdominal exercises. Start by aiming for 1-3 sets of 10 repetitions three times per week and gradually build up to 20-25 repetitions.
- Lying flat on your back bend your knees bent so feet are flat on the floor.
- Contract your stomach muscles and try to push the small of your back into the floor.
- Hold for a count of 5 seconds remembering to breathe gently. Relax and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Keep your neck and face relaxed. Many people have a tendency to hold their breath during this exercise which can increase blood pressure.
- Lying flat on your back bend your knees to right angles keeping your feet flat on the floor.
- Place your palms on your thighs and sit up until your fingertips reach your knees as you breathe out. Return to the start position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Imagine you have an apple under your chin. That’s about the distance your chin should stay away from your chest during the movement.
Abdominal exercises such as these emphasize the internal and external obliques rather than the rectuse abdominus and transverse abdominus.
- Lie flat on your back, knees bent at right angles and twisted to the left.
- Place your fingertips to the side of your head just behind your ears.
- Curl up just enough to lift both your shoulders off the floor a few inches.
- Hold that position contracting your abs as forcefully as possible as breathe out.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps before to switching to the other side.
This is not technically an abdominally exercise at it works the lower back.
- Lie on your front with arms outstretched over your head, palms on the floor.
- Simultaneously raise your right arm and left leg off the floor about 6 inches keeping them extended.
- Hold for 5 seconds and repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Advanced Abdominal Exercises
Once you can comfortably perform the basic abdominal exercises above try the more advanced exercises. Again start by aiming for 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions and progress to 20-25 repetitions per set.
- Lie back onto floor or bench with knees bent and hands behind head. Keep elbows back and out of sight. Head should be in a neutral position with a space between chin and chest.
- Start position: Hands behind head and knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Leading with the chin and chest towards the ceiling, contract the abdominals and raise shoulders off floor or bench. During the crunch, also bring knees towards chest.
- Return to start position and repeat.
- Remember to keep head and back in a neutral position. Hyperextension or flexion of either may cause injury.
Start on your right side and press up with your right arm.
Form a bridge with your arm extended and hold for 10 seconds rather than performing 10 repetitions. Gradually build up to 30 seconds plus and repeat for 2-3 sets.
- Start position: Lie back onto floor or bench with knees bent and hands extended towards ceiling. Head should be in a neutral position with a space between chin and chest.
- Leading with the chin and chest towards the ceiling, contract the abdominal and raise shoulders off floor or bench. Also raise legs up towards ceiling and attempt to touch your hands to your feet.
- Return to start position and repeat.
Starting Position: Start the movement in a plank position. Holding that position raise your right arm and left leg off of the ground.
Return to the starting position and repeat with the other arm and leg. Hold each lift for 1-2 seconds and repeat for the desired number or repetitions.
Sport Specific Abdominal Exercises
The muscles of the core region are important in many athletic movements. By acting to stabilize the pelvis and spine they allow more rapid and powerful movements of the limbs. Core stability can also reduce the risk of both acute and chronic injuries. For more information see the core strength training article.
Its worth bearing in mind that core stability is not simply a case of strengthening the stomach muscles. While abdominal exercises certainly have their place in sport-specific strength training programs, various types of resistance exercises are important to strengthen other core muscles. Remember also that if performed correctly, compound exercises involving multiple joints will often work the abdominals as they contract isometrically to stabilize the trunk.
Few if any abdominal exercises are suitable for all sports. A needs analysis of the athlete and movement analysis of their sport will confirm which abdominal exercises are most appropriate.
The following exercises will help to develop basic strength in the abdominals and prepare the core region for more explosive and demanding exercises later on:
Basic Crunch / Sit Up
This is abdominal exercise can be used by a wide variety of athletes to build basic strength in the abdominal muscles. Variations include:
- Twisting during the sit up to touch either knee with each eblow
- Holding the end position for several seconds
- V-ups or doubles crunches (see advanced abdominal exercises above)
- Sitting up to catch or head a ball
Medicine Ball Plank
- On your knees and place hands on a medicine ball.
- Start position: Align hands at nipple line, place feet hip width apart on toes, and extend the arms to raise body up. Trunk and hips should be in a straight line.
- Hold for 10 seconds. This is one set. Gradually build up to 30 seconds plus.
The following exercises replicate and help to improve the many athletic movements involve twisting and turning:
Seated Russian Twists
- Sitting down suspend your feet off of the ground.
- Holding a medicine ball rotate your shoulders side to side touching the medicine ball to the ground. Keep feet off floor 3) Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart; place left foot approximately one foot in front of right foot.
- Hold medicine ball with both hands and arms only slightly bent.
- Swing ball over to the right hip and forcefully underhand toss ball forward to a partner or wall. Keep the stomach drawn in to maximize proper usage of muscle.
- Catch ball on the bounce from your partner or wall and repeat according to prescribed repetitions.
Explosive power is essential in many sports. These abdominal exercises will help to develop power in the core musculature:
- Stand with feet parallel and knees slightly bent.
- Pull medicine ball back behind head and forcefully throw ball down on the ground as hard as possible.
- Catch the ball on the bounce from the ground and repeat according to prescribed repetitions.
Single Arm Throws
- Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Grasp medicine ball and lower body into a semi-squat position. Explode up extending the entire body and throwing the ball up into the air.
- The goal is to throw the ball as high as you can and generating most of the power in the legs. Minimize the time between squatting down and exploding up i.e. dont stay in a crouched position.
- Catch ball on the bounce and repeat according to prescribed repetitions.
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Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.