Ask someone how they work out their core and have a 6 pack and they'll likely tell you abs are made in the kitchen.
Outside of that though: Crunches, sit ups, knee raises, and russian twists are usually the first responses you'll hear.
These exercise work well to make the abs thicker, but don't do much in the way of strengthening them or burning many calories. They are a small muscle group and can only be contracted in a small amount of variations, they're not going to get you the 6 pack you're looking for.
What if there were exercises that did more? Ones that made your core stronger, made your abs more useful during all exercises, and burned more calories at the same time.
You'd be crazy not to try them.
There are exercises out there that not only help you create a desirable 6 pack, but also provide a crossover benefit to your other workouts. You know what happens when you deadlift or squat with weak core muscles? You tend to get hurt a lot more often than the guys and gals who are rockin' strong midsections.
Today, I'm going to group these exercises into 4 categories and explain why you likely need all of these in your workouts to create a better, stronger, and more resilient body.
Ones that get your heart pumping and cover you in sweat from head to toe.
Anti-extension exercise is any exercise that tries to bring you into spinal extension. You're essentially trying to avoid doing movements that look something like this:
The goal for these exercises is to create anterior core strength, which means, strength through the muscles on the front of your body, including your abs, obliques, hip flexors and glutes (the only ones of which are hopefully not on the front of your body).
In combination, these muscles help to maintain good posture, prevent low back injuries and keep your back strong throughout a whole list of other exercises you do on a regular basis.
Half/Full Kneeling Anti-Extension Overhead Press
Anti-Extension Ball Rollout From Bench
Anti-rotation exercises are exactly that - against rotation. Some of the main muscles involved like your internal and external obliques and glutes work together to hold you in a neutral position when faced with outside stress pushing sideways.
The benefit of being strong with anti-rotation is that if you say have:
a previous back injury
are looking to develop a good set of obliques
are a competitive athlete looking to improve their performance
are overall just looking to be strong and decrease your risk of injury
These exercises are a must in your program. The help develop thicker, more dense obliques while simultaneously building strength around the spinal muscles to hold up against potentially hazardous external stress that could potentially break your back. All while burning all the calories.
Half Kneeling Cable Pallof Press
Split Stance Cable Pallof Press
Split Stance One Arm Cable Press
[Works for both Anti-Rotation and Anti-Extension simultaneously]
Lateral flexion is you bending to your side. Think of the exercise that involves you, a plate, and a lot of "oblique crunches". Anti-lateral flexion is the exact opposite.
The essential goal here is create so much tension throughout your whole body that a wrecking ball couldn't knock you over.
Imagine creating that kind of tension. You're gonna be sweating balls. Not wrecking balls.
Exercises like these have been used for centuries to create rock solid bodies capable of withstanding a windstorm set to knock over a house. They can be progressed continuously, especially the intermediate version. I've seen men and women alike carry over 100 lbs in one arm from one end of the gym to another. That's hard work and that kind of work will burn more calories and make you sweat more than 1000 crunches.
[Notice how I did it wrong in the beginning and adjusted the height to make sure you're actually getting your obliques contracting]
Uneven Loaded Step Back Lunge
The glutes are the missing puzzle piece of core strength. Likely one of the most misunderstood body parts relating to core development. Their role in movement is substantial. The glutes drive hip extension, which is a fancy way of saying, they make everything from preventing low back injuries to your Saturday post-date activities possible.
Their role in core strength is simple. They tie into the lumbar fascia (the connective tissue in your low back), which ties into the internal and external obliques, which ties in the rectus abdominis and the transverse abdominis. Collectively, these muscles provide spinal stability, which is exactly what "core strength" is. As well as working together to burn a lot more calories than a simple crunch or russian twist.
The glutes are a large enough muscle group to make an impact on your strength development as well as a huge portion of your physique. Ever meet someone with great legs, great arms, and a flat ass? Suddenly not so impressed.
All of the exercises listed above require glute activation to some degree. So don't skip this part.
Bodyweight Glute Bridge
Barbell Glute Bridge
Next time you're getting ready for a rockin' core workout include a couple of these and feel the difference. Don't forget to challenge a friend to try it once you get good at them. Train smart, get better results, and look awesome doing it.
James Harris is the founder of Titanium Strength Systems, as well as the head writer and coach. He trains online and in person in Chilliwack, BC. You can find his writing around the internet on websites such as Muscle & Strength, The PTDC, Fitness Pollenator, PTBIZ, and Deansomerset.com.