A strong and toned set of abs really doesn’t need much selling. The day is yet to come when a client of any age or gender visits us at Studio Society and says that they really don’t care about strengthening or toning their midsection. That being said, the world of core workouts is riddled with half-truths and whole lies about what works, what doesn’t, and what can actually hurt your back and stall your progress. With Studio Society’s brand new state-of-the-art strength studio already delivering its first few sets of six-packs and burning through unwanted rolls at, frankly, an alarming rate, we thought we’d take a closer look at how proper ab workouts can not only help shape and tone those abs, but also help you build up core strength.
A lot of what we do here at Studio Society is based on the concept of functional strength training. This applies to both our new strength studio as well as the dozens of classes we offer each week. Functional strength training refers to training in a way that helps the body complete the full range of motions we perform as part of our daily lives. As part of being alive, you’re expected to –from time to time, of course– stand, walk, run, climb, push, lift, dance, swim, and more. All of these activities rely on whole muscle groups instead of a single muscle, and functional strength training aims to strengthen, coordinate, and improve the endurance of these muscle groups as a whole. In short, people who regularly do functional strength training are better equipped to deal with everything that life throws at us. They’re stronger, fitter, and more capable of ‘doing life’ without getting tired or injured.
Whether you’re a veteran athlete or a lifelong couch potato with the drive to make a change for the better, Studio Society looks forward to being your partner if fitness and health. Our trained and experienced fitness professionals can offer sound advice and mentoring to keep you motivated, while our strength studio and group class studios are equipped with bleeding-edge technology to create a fitness experience like no other. For the best in functional strength workouts, abs or otherwise, think Studio Society.
Functional Strength Ab Workouts: The Core Information
Getting fit works better when you have a plan. Plans work better when you have information. Unfortunately, when it comes to abdominal workouts, a lot of the information out there simply isn’t accurate or up-to-date. Many of the ab exercises we’ve heard about and been exposed to since childhood simply aren’t that effective at building muscle strength or endurance, but we now also know that many of these exercises can actually cause back pain, and, in the worst-case scenarios, lead to herniated discs or even spinal injuries. Sit-ups, leg-lifts, and Russian twists all fall into this category of exercises that most people on the street would claim to be purely beneficial, but could cause harm in the long run and just aren’t that effective in the short.
To avoid wasting your time and back, let’s investigate the core muscles on a few different levels: what and where they are, how they work together to support everyday movement, what functional strength training can do for them, and the physiology behind the six-pack.
Your midsection, or core, is comprised of as many as 35 different muscle groups. This includes the major muscles that respond visibly to diet and exercise, such as the rectus abdominus, which is attached to the sternum and pubic bone and is responsible for the six-pack, and the external oblique muscles, which work in conjunction with the transverse abdominis to create V-lines. The core also consists of other major muscle groups deeper in our trunk, such as internal obliques, erector spinae, and transverse abdominis, as well as minor muscle groups that help with stabilisation and rotation such as the Psoas major and minor, iliocostalis, and more. All of these core muscles are located around your midsection, stretching down from your sternum and extending into your hips.
Like the rest of your muscles, your core muscles’ primary function is to facilitate the continuum of movement. We activate them for pretty much every single movement we do, and even when we’re asleep, our core muscles are at work maintaining spinal alignment. With so much on their plate, having strong and enduring core muscles can make everyday tasks such as standing up, bending over, carrying a child, backpack, or groceries, and even just walking comfortably so much easier. Since functional strength training focuses on developing whole muscle groups, regular core workouts will help you improve your strength, stability, endurance, reduce back pain, and give you those toned and slender abs we’re all looking for.
Before we move on to our list of the best ab workouts for a toned and strong core, it’s worth talking about the much-coveted six-pack. Regardless of gender, we all want one, and we all think they look good, but, it’s critically important to know that not everyone is physically capable of developing those Brad Pitt in Fight Club abs. Six-packs become visible when our body fat percentage reaches around 14-20% for women, and 6-13% for men, however, our genetics also play a role here. The rectus abdominus, which is responsible for the six-pack, is striated. This means that it has visible lines on the surface where the muscle fibres separate, creating the six-pack look. Your genetic makeup determines how many of these striations you have, as well as how evenly and far they are separated from each other. No amount of diet, exercise, or healthy living will give you a six-pack if it’s not in your genes, however, everyone benefits from regular exercise and eating a balanced diet of varied foods, even if it doesn’t come with Brad Pitt’s abs.
Best Ab Exercises for a Toned and Strong Core
The exercises that made it onto our list of the best ab exercises for a toned and strong core were carefully selected to target all the muscle groups in your core. While you could do many of these at home with only a minimal investment in equipment, getting the hang of them under expert supervision can help you ensure that you use the correct form, don’t injure yourself, and help you determine the correct weights and number of reps. If you are unsure about how to perform any of these workouts, we recommend watching a few YouTube videos to study the correct form and movement.
1. Pallof Press
The Pallof Press is a great beginner’s exercise to strengthen the oblique muscles that are responsible for twisting and rotating movements. While it does require a cable machine, the movements are fairly simple, and you can easily start out with a small weight and work your way up as your fitness improves. To perform the Pallof press, stand perpendicular to a cable machine with a D-handle attachment at chest height. The cable should now be coming from your side at 90 degrees. Grab the handle with both hands and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows slightly bent and your core engaged as you extend your arms in front of your chest. Hold this position for a few seconds before bringing your hands back to your chest. It will feel as if the cable is trying to twist your body. Resist this twist. Repeat this movement for several repetitions before switching sides.
2. Overhead Kettlebell Step Up
At first glance, this workout might seem to target the lower body and shoulders, however, this full-body workout does a lot for the core as well. While holding the kettlebell overhead and moving at the same time, it’s the core muscle that keeps you stable and prevents you from toppling over. It has the added benefit of working out your back muscles, legs, and shoulders at the same time. To perform the exercise, begin by lifting an appropriately sized kettlebell in one hand over your head, locking your arm. Stand in front of a step or bench. Place one foot on the step, then drive through the heel of that foot to step up onto the bench, fully extending the knee and hip. Use your core to keep your centre of gravity moving linearly, avoiding swaying in any direction as you lift yourself up onto or down from the step. Repeat for several repetitions before switching sides.
3. Bear Crawl
The bear crawl is another full-body workout that requires a lot of work from the core muscles to keep you stable. This exercise can be done without any equipment, however, you do need some space to move and crawl around. Start on your hands and knees, then lift your knees off the ground, so your weight is balanced on your hands and toes. Keep your core engaged and your back flat as you crawl forward, moving your opposite hand and foot at the same time. Keep your shoulders and hips square to the ground, and take small steps as you move forward. Continue crawling for several meters before taking a break. You can imagine that you are carrying a glass of water on your lower back to help you keep your back level.
4. Planks and Side Planks
Planking, as well as side planks, are well-known bodyweight exercises that are extremely good at targeting specifically the core muscles. They don’t require any specialised equipment, don’t need a lot of space, and can be adjusted to make it easier for beginners to get into. They quickly build core strength and improve posture and balance when done regularly. Planks focus on the rectus abdominus, while side plans are more focused on developing the obliques.
To perform a plank, begin in a push-up position, then lower your body until you are about 10cm from the ground. Keep your body in a straight line from your head to your heels and hold the position for as long as possible, making sure to keep your core muscles engaged throughout. If you cannot get into this position or hold it for more than a few seconds, you can make it easier by starting on your knees instead of your toes.
For side planks, start in a plank position, then rotate your body to one side, placing your weight on one forearm and the side of your foot. Keep your body in a straight line from head to heels and hold the position for as long as possible, then switch sides. A lot of people find side planks easier to perform than regular planks.
5. Side Squat to Single Leg Thruster
This workout is great for activating the minor stabiliser muscles in your trunk, especially those around the spine. At the same time, it also targets your quads, hamstrings, hips, and shoulders. It only requires a small weight, such as a dumbbell or kettlebell, and an optional yoga mat. Standing with your feet shoulder-length apart, hold the weight in your right hand at your right shoulder, palm facing your body. Step your left foot out and lower your hips into a squat, bending your knees to about 90 degrees. At this point, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Push yourself back up, and at the same time, exhale and extend your right arm, lifting the weight above your head. Lower the weight back to your shoulder as you put your leg out for the next rep, and repeat. Change sides after you’ve reached the right amount of reps for you.
6. Full Moon
This exercise is used by beginners and Olympic weightlifters alike. It only requires a weight plate (choose one that is the correct size and weight for you) and a little bit of free space around you. This workout targets all the muscle groups in your core and builds strength, endurance, and flexibility. Start by grabbing the weight plate with both hands on either side of the plate. Lift it over your head and lock your elbows straight.. Rotate the weight in a clockwise movement around your body, extending as far as you can in every direction without lifting your feet. Hinge at your hips, but be sure to keep your arms straight. You are trying to simulate the moon orbiting around your body. Switch the rotation after a few reps and repeat. We’d recommend asking a trainer to help you achieve the right form if you’ve never done this exercise.
Rowing regularly makes it onto our list of best functional strength exercises. It really is one of the absolute best full-body workouts that targets pretty much every single functional muscle group in the body, and your abs are no exception. Assume a seated position on the rowing machine with your feet locked in the footrests and hold the handle with an overhand grip. Initiate the movement by pushing off with your legs, then slightly recline and pull the handle towards your chest, replicating the rowing motion. To reverse the movement, extend your arms, lean forward, and bend your knees. Perfecting the correct technique may take a few minutes, but once you get the hang of it, the motion should feel comfortable and effortless.