Your abdominal muscles play a key role in so much of what you do on a daily basis. Think about them for a second. The rectus abdominis runs from your chest to your pelvis, one long strip of muscle that facilitates forward motion. Our abs help us walk, run, bend, curl, swim, stretch, pretty much anything and everything beyond sitting absolutely still (and even then, those abs are working to keep you upright).
As with any major muscle group, it’s vital to train them. We’re here to help, but don’t worry—we’re not talking endless sit-ups. Instead, we want to help you focus on smart training and proper technique to get the most out of your time.
The secret to a good ab workout? Targeting different parts of the massive muscle, which benefits the entire body.
Studies have shown that even a move that seems focused on the upper ab has benefits lower down.
We turned to Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute Specialist Robert Reames, who offered up a circuit of muscle-crunching, stomach-busting moves to bring out your abs. Perform it 3 to 4 times a week on its own, or, for best results, add it to the end of your normal routine. Once you get the hang of the circuit, try to step up to the high-octane version of each move for even faster results.
Repeat the 5-move circuit below 3 times, resting for 30 seconds between circuits.
50 reps (each extension of the leg is 1 rep)
Lie flat on your back with your hands behind your head and your knees directly over your hips at a 90-degree angle. In one motion, extend your right leg straight while bringing your left knee straight back toward your left elbow. Return to the original position, then repeat with your left leg extending and your right knee moving toward your right elbow. “You should focus on having a smooth, even, continuous flow to your movements for maximum effect,” Reames says.
High Octane version: Place your hands on a medicine ball.
Russian Twist on A Swiss Ball
12 reps each side
Lie with your low to mid-back on a Swiss ball and your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Clasp your hands directly over your chest, keeping your arms straight. Carefully rotate your arms to one side, as the Swiss ball rolls across to the back of your shoulder. “Make sure to keep your hips high by squeezing and activating your glutes,” Reames says. Return to the starting position, then repeat to the opposite side.
High Octane version: Hold a medicine ball between your hands.
Hanging Knee Lifts
Place your arms in the straps connected to the high chin bar, firmly gripping the top of the strap. Bring your knees to your chest, then slowly return to the start position. According to Reames, “Controlling the speed of the return motion will help to avoid swinging” and also ensure that you work those abs to their fullest.
High Octane version: Add a 10-pound dumbbell between your feet.
Begin facing up with your head, neck and shoulders comfortably placed on the floor with your legs stretched out straight and your lower legs balanced on a Swiss ball. Pull your legs toward your body while lifting your glutes off the ground until your feet are firmly planted on the ball and your upper body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
High Octane version: Put a 5- to 15-pound dumbbell or plate on the lower ab area.
Hold for 30 seconds
Lie face down on a mat or the floor. Push your chest off the floor until your arms are straight. Make sure to keep your neck in a neutral position to avoid neck hyperextension. Hold this position for 30 seconds, to work the low back area and provide a perfect complement to all the ab-focused exercises.
High Octane version: Hold for 1 minute.