Crunches are fine. Good, even. But they’re not the best exercise if you want to build a solid core. In fact, they barely break the top ten.
You see, your abs aren’t like other muscles, which respond to contracting and lengthening movements (think: bicep curls). They’re designed to hold you upright and support you as you bend and twist. Which means any good six-pack workout should incorporate every one of those movements.
This is a good six-pack workout. A very good six-pack workout, in fact, since it’s been designed by Bobby Holland Hanton, stunt double for Daniel Craig’s Bond, Christian Bale’s Batman and a certain man mountain known as Chris Hemsworth (those scenes in the Avengers movies that look a little dangerous? That’s Hanton swinging Thor’s hammer). He knows his stuff.
The workout, which features precisely zero crunches, is so good because it hits your abs from every angle and–importantly–works your back, too. You might not see many people posting erector spinae selfies, but you also don’t see people with strong back muscles in the chiropractor’s office.
You can approach this workout in two ways: as prescribed below, in which you power through your reps of each move in a circuit; or pair them as a finisher for your other workouts.
If you’re braving the circuit, then the concept’s simple. You’ll work for time, starting with the air squats–do as many as you can in 30 seconds, take 10 seconds rest, then go into the next move. After arch hold swims, reward yourself with a 30-second breather, then repeat the circuit. After 20 minutes, collapse and total up all your reps. Next time, try to beat them.
Why: Your core connects your upper and lower body: when you squat, your abs have work to keep you upright. “By working the large muscles of the glutes, quads and hamstrings you will build muscle while burning energy,” says Hanton. “Performing Air Squats to a comfortable depth, where your hips descend below the level of your knees, also has the added benefit of improving hip mobility.” If you can’t do these properly, you should be squatting with weights.
How: “Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hands by your side. Sink down as if you’re sitting on a chair, pushing your weight through your heels so your knees are in line with your toes. You can bring your arms in front of your chest to stabilize yourself. Then stand back up to the starting position.”
Why: Planks are an ‘isometric’ exercise–the muscle doesn’t contract or extend, but instead stays locked in one place under tension. “Performing a plank correctly involves contracting the glutes, quads, abdominals and lats with power to maintain a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders,” says Hanton. “Add in the pulses to work your calf muscles, and the humble plank is transformed in the plank pulse, one of the most challenging and valuable exercises in your toolbox.”
How: “Begin in a forearm plank position, with your back straight and your bum tucked in. Keeping your forearms in position, pulse your body forward so that you are on the tips of your toes and your shoulders are almost above your wrists. Pulse back to the starting position and repeat.”
Why: A strong core isn’t just about your six-pack–you also need to work the muscles around the side, which help you twist and bend. “Rotational movements are sometimes overlooked in exercise programs, but their ability to build strong oblique muscles and whole-body stability is second to none,” says Halton. “This moves combines rotation with a squat and overhead press, resulting in one of the most valuable exercises you could perform.” If you don’t have a medicine ball lying around, a dumbbell, kettlebell or even a big bottle of water will do fine.
How: “Begin standing, legs hips-width apart and holding the weight in front of your chest. Raise the ball to the left your head, then back down as you squat and tap the ball on the ground to the right of your body. Raise back up to the starting position then complete on the other side.”
Why: “Crawling exercises are used to build whole body strength, balance and coordination,” says Hanton. They’re fun, too. Go as fast as you can, without losing form.
How: “Put your palms on the floor, resting on your toes, your knees hovering above the ground and your back flat. From here, crawl forward on your hands and toes, with your feet and knees kicking out a little wider than your hands to generate speed. Then push backwards on hands and toes to return to the start.”
Superman with swim
Why: If you don’t own a pull-up bar, training your back can be tricky. But it needn’t be. “Strengthening these muscles is important for shoulder health and promoting good posture,” says Hanton. “With a static extension of the hips and upper back, these also strengthen the glutes and core.” The ‘swimming’ movement just makes the whole thing a bit harder.
How: “Lie on your belly and hovering your feet and arms slightly off the ground as you tense your abs and glutes. From here, bring your hands toward your face, bending your elbows.” Now, start swimming. “Straighten your arms so your hands sweep out on either side, before bringing them back to your face again and back up. Ensure they are hovering for the entire movement.”
From: Esquire UK
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