13 Stomach Exercises to Build a Rock-Solid Middle
There’s no getting around it: for most of you (as you’ve told us time and time again), the desire for a flat, toned stomach is real, and many exercisers crank up their tummy exercises – cue sit-ups galore – in a bid to achieve the fit-body Shangri-La.
But that plan, isn’t the most effective. Sigh. When it comes to the best stomach exercises for building a strong, stable core – the type of middle to power up the rest of your workouts and daily life – forget crunches.
“The rectus abdominis, or “six-pack” muscles, are only part of it”
You need to dig deeper, in motivation and muscle, to achieve a sculpted, flat stomach.
‘The core isn’t one muscle; it’s a relationship between a number of muscles that cover your whole trunk, connecting your hips, spine, neck and shoulders,’ says performance coach Brett Klika. ‘The rectus abdominis, or “six-pack” muscles, are only part of it.’
It means many of those super-targeted ab exercises leave much of your core out of the picture – and neglecting it can in fact slow your progress.
Obviously, it pays to look beyond the aesthetic when boosting core strength, as its crucial in the everyday health and mobility of your body. ‘Some of the strongest people in the world don’t have six-packs, but they can lift a lot or perform tremendous feats of athleticism,’ says Klika.
A strong core is a major factor in staying free from injury – particularly in the hips and knees, says Michelle Arent, director of training and conditioning at Rutgers Center for Health and Human Performance in the US.
With that in mind, let us school you in the best stomach exercises you can be doing this summer and beyond. Core strength is not just for holiday season. Fact.
So what’re you waiting for? Get exercising with our simple yet effective flat stomach workouts with and without weights.
Option one: 10 Stomach Exercises to Do as a Workout
Do: Repeat the circuit 3 to 5 rounds, dependent on desired outcome (and energy levels).
1. Commando Plank
Do: 60 seconds
a. Begin in a high plank with your core engaged and your feet hip-width apart. Hold for 30 seconds. Keep your spine neutral.
b. Keeping your core engaged, lower your left forearm on to the floor, then your right so you’re in a forearm plank. With your back flat, push through each arm to return to a high plank. Repeat for 15 seconds, finishing in a high plank. Struggling? Just think of those abs.
2. Downward Facing Dog
Do: 10-second hold
a. From a high plank, hinge at the waist to push your weight back through your heels until you arrive in a downward-facing dog: legs straight and arms outstretched in front of you, hands shoulder-width apart.
b. Hold for 10 seconds, pushing your hips back over your heels to feel the stretch in your hamstrings and the backs of your arms. Return to a high plank and repeat five times.
3. Flutter Kicks
Do: 3 20-second reps
a. Begin lying flat on your back on a mat, palms face-down underneath your glutes. Core engaged, raise both your legs in a straight line until they’re hovering above the floor.
b. Keeping your abs braced and legs straight, rapidly kick your legs – right and left alternately – up and down, stopping just above the floor each time. Make sure that your lower back doesn’t lift off the floor at any point.
4. Cross Crunch
Do: 10 reps per side
a. Lie with your left hand behind your head and your right arm outstretched at a 90° angle to your body, right palm facing down. Engaging your core, raise your right knee and crunch over to your right side until your left elbow touches your right knee.
b. Reverse the movement until you return to the start. Done your reps? Switch sides and repeat, crunching as hard as you can.
5. Russian Twist
Do: 20 reps, using a 5kg weight (or heavy books).
a. Lie on your back, knees raised and bent at 45° with feet hovering just off the floor and both hands holding the weight above your chest. Use your abs to raise your torso to a 45° angle with the floor.
b. Slowly twist your torso to the right side, keeping your arms straight and raised. Pause and then reverse the twist to repeat on the left side. That’s one rep.
6. Partial Sit-Up
Do: 40 reps
a. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet tucked under a weight (or get your PT boyfriend to stand on them), stretching your arms out in front.
b. Using your core to lift you, reach for your knees with a short, swift movement – lifting only your head, shoulders and upper back off the floor. Reverse and repeat, feeling the burn in your upper abs.
7. Swiss Ball Press-Up and Knee Tuck
Do: 20 reps
a. Begin in a high plank position with your feet placed on top of a Swiss ball. Bracing your core for stability, lower into a press-up and come back up – pausing at the top of the movement.
b. Engage your abs and keep your feet on the ball, draw your knees in towards your chest, pause and then reverse to your starting position. That’s one rep – keep going.
8. Upward Back Bend
Do: 10-second hold
a. Begin lying face- down on your mat. With palms on the floor by your shoulders, keep your elbows tucked into the sides of your body and raise your chest off the floor by pushing into the ground with both hands.
b. Drawing your navel towards your spine to protect your lower back, bend your upper body up and back as far as is comfortable – tilting your head and chest upward at the top of the movement. Hold for five breaths and release.
9. Stability Ball Pass
Do: 10 reps
a. Begin lying on your back, arms stretched out above your head, holding a Swiss ball in between your hands. Squeezing your abs, lift your upper body and raise your legs until you’re able to pass the ball from your hands to your feet at the top of the movement.
b. Squeezing either side of the ball with your feet, simultaneously lower your legs and upper body to the floor. Pause at the bottom, then reverse the move, passing the ball back to your hands.
10. Side Plank Dips
Do: 60 seconds each side
a. Lie on the floor on your left side, with your left elbow resting on the ground and right leg stacked on top of the left. Squeezing your core, thrust your right side upwards into a side plank, raising your right arm above your head.
b. Dip your left hip down to the floor, then raise it back to a side plank position. Repeat as many times as you can in 30 seconds. Now switch sides. Hurts, doesn’t it?
Option two: 3 Tummy Exercises to Do as a Finisher
These staple exercises are the most effective and efficient way to hit your core muscles. Incorporate farmer carries and deadlifts into your strength workouts twice a week and do bird dogs every day.
[Tip: When you’re confident in the latter – and your form is spot on – hold a light weight in the raised arm.]
1. Farmer Carry
Do: 3-4 sets of 4 reps
a. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet together and shoulders back.
b. Staying tall through the spine and keeping your core engaged, take 10 steps forward, turn around and take10 steps back. That’s one rep.
Do: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
a. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and place a dumbbell in front of each foot. Hinge at the hips, keeping your back flat and neck neutral, until you can pick up the weights.
b. Drive through your heels and brace your core to stand, lifting the weights and squeezing your glutes at the top.Then slowly lower the weights back down to complete the rep.
3. Bird dog
Do: 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps
a.Get into a tabletop position on the floor on your hands and knees, tuck your bum under and engage your core. Raise your right arm until it’s next to your ear while simultaneously lifting your left leg until it’s parallel with the floor.
b. Return to the starting position and repeat with the left arm and right leg. That’s one rep. Keeping your core tight will stop you falling to one side.