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August 08, 2017

12 Ab Exercises to Stabilize Your Core

By Guest
23 Comments

Inline_100s-4-resize-e1501866506885Today’s awesome post is offered up by Jennifer Dene, of PaleoHacks.com. Enjoy, everyone!

The core muscles are responsible for supporting the spine, balancing the body (1), facilitating functional movement, and limiting low back pain (2). As they’re located at the center of your trunk, you can think of them as the mainframe that controls how you move. Try these 12 ab exercises to stabilize your core and turbocharge your body today.

Despite what the glossy fitness magazines are telling you, crunches are not the best way to strengthen your core. It’s important to understand that strengthening your core doesn’t mean doing isolated abdominal exercises. In fact, true core strength comes from toning all the muscles from your sternum to your pubic bone, which include those found in the stomach, back, butt, chest and upper thighs (3).

Learning to “hug” your abdominal and back muscles towards your spine, engage the pelvic floor, and using controlled breathing is the key to core stabilization. The 12 ab exercises that you’ll learn today will teach you how to do this in four key positions: lying on your back (supine), stomach (prone), side, and from all-fours. The less contact you have between your body and the ground, the more challenging it will be for your core muscles to support you—this is why a full plank is a much harder exercise than supine marching.

Once you’ve developed core strength in a relatively static position, as you’ll learn below, you can then safely increase the challenge and intensity of your movements while maintaining that stability.

But before we dive into the routine, here is a brief summary of the four primary core muscles. A healthy core relies on the ability of these muscles (transversus abdominis, multifidi, pelvic floor, and internal/external obliques) to co-ordinate and co-activate as needed.

Core Muscle #1: Transversus Abdominis (TA):

Found in your deep low belly, these muscles are the most important abdominal muscles for supporting the spine and improving posture.

Core Muscle #2: Multifidi (MF):

This is a deep muscle that runs along the back of the spine and, together with the other core muscles, acts to stabilize the low back and pelvis before performing movement of the arms or legs.

Core Muscle #3: Pelvic Floor (PF):

The pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles that support the internal organs, stabilize the pelvic girdle, and assist in strengthening the abdominals (4). (They’re also a crucial muscle to know when you need to go to the bathroom but are stuck in traffic!)

Core Muscle #4: Internal Oblique (IO):

The oblique abdominals are made up of two different muscles: the internal and external obliques. They function to support the abdominal wall, compress the abdominal cavity, rotate the trunk and flex the spine from side-to-side. The internal oblique is positioned above TA and below the external oblique.

Now that you can visualize the muscles you’ll be working, let’s move on to performing 12 of the best ab exercises for core stabilization (5). This routine progresses from beginner to advanced; start at the beginning and move on as you feel ready.

12 Ab Exercises to Stabilize Your Core

The letters below represent which of the four core muscles previously discussed will primarily activate during each exercise.

Marching (TA, PF)

Lie on your back, spine in neutral (a gentle curve in the low back and a flat pelvis), and feet flat on the floor. Inhale to prepare the body. Exhale, engage TA by gently drawing the belly button towards your low back, and then lift the right knee to 90º above the hip bone. Inhale, gently place the foot back down. Exhale, lift the left knee up. Inhale, place it back down. Continue to alternate for 10 repetitions on each leg. DO NOT MOVE your spine or pelvis throughout this exercise, and keep your abdominal wall flat.

Bridge Marching 1 (resize)

Bridge Marching 2 (resize)

Bridge Marching 3 (resize)

Dead Bug (TA, IO, MF)

Lie on your back with your spine in neutral and both knees lifted to 90º directly over the hips. Reach your arms straight up to the ceiling, wrists above your shoulders. Inhale to prepare. Exhale, extend the right leg forward and reach the left arm back, without moving anything else in the body. Inhale, return to the starting position. Exhale, extend the left leg forward and reach the right arm back. Inhale, return to the starting position. Continue to alternate for 10 repetitions on each side. DO NOT MOVE your spine or pelvis throughout this exercise, and keep your abdominal wall flat. To modify: eliminate moving the arms.

Dead Bug 1 (resize)

Deadbug 2 (resize)

Deadbug 3 (resize)

The Hundred (TA, MF, PF, IO)

Lie on your back with your spine in neutral, both knees lifted to 90º directly over the hips and arms down by your side. Inhale to prepare the body. Exhale, lift the head and chest into an upper abdominal curl, and hover the hands a few inches from the floor. Inhale for 5 counts as you pump the arms up and down, then exhale for 5 counts as you continue to pump. Repeat 5-10 total rounds before resting. DO NOT MOVE anything except the arms once the exercise has started. To modify: lower the head.

 

100s 1 (resize)

100s 2 (resize)

100s 3 (resize)

100s 4 (resize)

Bridge Marching (MF, IO)

Lie on your back with your hips pressed up to the ceiling, spine flat, feet in parallel position, and arms down by the side. Inhale to prepare the body. Exhale, engage TA by gently drawing the belly button towards your low back, and gently squeeze your bottom and narrow your ribcage before lifting the right knee to 90º. Inhale, place the right foot back down. Exhale, re-engage the core before lifting the left knee to 90º. Exhale, place the left foot back down. Repeat 10 total repetitions, 5 on each leg. Keep the abdominal wall flat, the spine long, and the pelvis stable as you move the legs.

Bridge Marching 1 (resize)

Bridge Marching 2 (resize)

Bridge Marching 3 (resize)

Single Leg Stretch (IO, MF)

Lie on your back with your spine in neutral and both knees lifted to 90º directly over the hips. Inhale to prepare the body. Exhale, lift the head and chest into an upper abdominal curl, and reach the hands to the right knee as you extend the left leg away. Inhale, hold. Exhale, switch legs, holding the left knee and extending the right leg. Inhale, hold. Alternate for 10 total repetitions, 5 on each leg. Keep the head, chest, spine and pelvis completely still as you move the legs only.

Single Leg Stretch 1 (resize)

Single Leg Stretch 2 (resize)

Prone Leg Lifts (MF)

Lie on your stomach, head rested on your hands and legs reaching back against the floor. Inhale, prepare. Exhale, lift the right leg to hover, just one or two inches from the floor. Inhale, lower. Exhale, lift the left leg to hover. Inhale, lower. Alternate for 20 total repetitions, 10 on each leg. DO NOT ROCK your body weight side-to-side as you move the legs.

Prone Leg Lifts (1) (resize)

Prone Leg Lifts 2 (resize)

Prone Leg Lifts 3 (resize)

Clam (MF, IO)

Lie on your side, resting your head along your bottom arm. Both knees are bent and stacked, with the heels in line with the sit bones. Keeping the pelvis completely still, exhale to rotate the top knee towards the ceiling, turning the top inner thigh forward. Inhale, lower the knee back down. Repeat 10-15 repetitions on this leg before changing to the other side. DO NOT MOVE anything except the top knee and thigh; you should feel a gentle activation in the low back, underside waist and outer hip.

Clam 1 (resize)

Clam 2 (resize)

Spinal Balance (TA, MF, IO)

Start on all-fours with the wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Engage TA by gently drawing the belly button towards your low back, keeping your spine long and neutral; keep the abdominals like this for the rest of the exercise. Exhale, extend your right leg back and reach your left arm forward. Inhale, lower the limbs. Exhale, extend your left leg back and reach your right arm forward. Inhale, lower the limbs. Continue to alternate for 10 total repetitions, 5 on each side. DO NOT MOVE the hips, shoulders or waist as you perform this exercise.

Spinal Balance (1) (resize)

Spinal Balance 2 (resize)

Spinal Balance 3 (resize)

Knee Hovers (TA, MF, PF, IO)

Start on all-fours with the wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Tuck the toes. Inhale, prepare. Exhale, engage TA by gently drawing the belly button towards your low back, keeping your spine long and neutral, and then float the knees one inch from the floor, without changing the shape of the spine. Inhale, hold. Exhale, lower the knees down. Continue for 5-10 repetitions.

Knee Hovers (1) (resize)

Knee Hovers 2 (resize)

Plank Step Backs (TA, MF)

Start on all-fours, with the wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Engage TA by gently drawing the belly button towards your low back, keeping your spine long and neutral; keep the abdominals like this for the rest of the exercise. Inhale, step the right leg back and tuck the toes under; exhale, step the left leg back and tuck the toes under (you’re now in full plank position). Inhale, lower the right knee back down; exhale, lower the left knee back down. Do 5 repetitions starting with the right leg, and 5 repetitions starting with the left leg. DO NOT MOVE the hips, shoulders or waist as you perform this exercise.

Plank 1 (step backs + leg lifts) (resize)

Plank Step Backs 2 (resize)

Plank Step Backs 3 (resize)

Plank Leg Lifts (MF, TA)

Start in plank position, with the wrists under the shoulders and feet hip-width distance apart. Inhale, prepare. Exhale, float the right foot up and away from the floor without moving the pelvis. Inhale, place it back down. Exhale, float the left foot up. Inhale, place it back down. Continue to alternate for a total of 10-20 repetitions. Note: the core remains engaged throughout this entire exercise!

Plank 1 (step backs + leg lifts) (resize)

Plank Leg Lifts 2 (resize)

Plank Leg Lifts 3 (resize)

Side Plank Hip Lifts (modified and full) (IO, MF)

Start on your right side, with the right forearm and hip on the floor, legs straight (advanced) or bent (modified). Exhale, engage your obliques by narrowing your waist before lifting the hip up and away from the floor. Inhale, tap the hips down. Exhale, lift the hips up. Continue for 6-12 repetitions before switching sides.

Side Plank 1 (resize)

Side Plank 2 (resize)

Side Plank 3 (resize)

Side Plank 4 (resize)

Thanks again to Jennifer Dene from Paleohacks for today’s post. Comments, questions about ab workouts or any other facet of Primal fitness? Share your thoughts below, and have a great week, everyone.

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23 Comments on "12 Ab Exercises to Stabilize Your Core"

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Laurel
Laurel
13 days 6 hours ago

The photos for “marching” are wrong.

b2curious
b2curious
13 days 58 minutes ago

Yeah, and there are some progressions with some of the others that aren’t in the descriptions – which had me Googling things to figure out what I was missing. I’m the sort that needs pictures to go with the descriptions, and I find it confusing when they don’t match up.

Ion Freeman
Ion Freeman
12 days 1 hour ago

Still not fixed

Liver King
13 days 5 hours ago
Nice article… I’m glad that you pointed out that core is more than just good looking abs. In fact, I use to have good looking abs… and my pathetic back would give out almost weekly. I made core movements, crossfit and the primal blueprint (move at a slow pace, lift heavy things, sprints) staples in my life about ten years ago and now my back is made of solid steel…. I also use a standing work station and I sleep on the floor (thanks to Katy Bowman, world renown biomechanist and author of Move Your DNA). In the modern world,… Read more »
tribal
tribal
12 days 14 hours ago

An often overlooked exercise is the back arch, and its rep counterpart, stand to stand bridges – if you can do these then you will have a spine of spring steel. Offset these with strict hanging leg or V-leg raises.

Melanie
Melanie
13 days 5 hours ago

I am perplexed. How is it even possible to do the knee hovers?? This woman must have an incredible core!

eatsleepswim
eatsleepswim
13 days 2 hours ago

Her toes are still on the ground.

Melanie
Melanie
13 days 2 hours ago

Ahh… She got me there for a moment. That was silly of me.

But a crane, with your weight centered above your hands and toes indeed off the ground is a pretty good core workout as well! 🙂

Timothy
13 days 5 hours ago

My experience, the most effective core exercises by far are carrying heavy weight, squatting heavy weight, and deadlifting heavy weight. When in recovery from heavy weight, sledgehammer swings.

These were enough to take me from a candidate for spinal surgery with atrophied core muscles to the opposite end of the spectrum, without ever doing direct ab work.

Many paths up the mountain. Just be sure to check that you are, in fact, gaining altitude.

Gentleman Jak
13 days 5 hours ago

Good list. Another core exercise I like is the stomach vacuum. Basically just suck in your stomach as far as you can and hold it. Pretend you’re trying to touch your belly button to your spine. I take the time to also focus on tightening my obliques and lower back for maximum effect.

Elizabeth Resnick
13 days 5 hours ago
Love these…although it’s a lot to remember. But it’s always helpful to get new ideas. I find just going back and forth between a basic bridge and plank is very helpful. I’ll hold one for a minute, then the other, and do that a few times. If I’m at home I use the bosu ball, because it’s more comfortable and but ads that instability. Love stuff like this that you can do anywhere…that way there are no excuses! And I know crunches are kind of looked down upon lately, but I find doing some (again, on the bosu because I… Read more »
Grant @ Life Prep Couple
13 days 2 hours ago

How often and how long do you recommend training your core? As you know recommendations vary wildly.

Just a side note, the Ab Wheel is my favorite ab/core exercise.

Ida
Ida
13 days 2 hours ago

These are great! I had wicked bad abdominal surgery for several epigastric hernias and the surgery left me in much worse condition than before. I began doing exercises just like this last year and my core is much stronger and I have much less pain than before. Great post!

tribal
tribal
12 days 14 hours ago

If you want an ab exercise that does it all, I like hanging straight leg raises – must be done in strict form, keep the back at 90 degrees to the ground, and ears in line with arms (i.e., don’t allow head to lean back) and only raise the legs, keeping them straight, whilst hanging from a chin up bar.

Then follow up with some dragon flags.

Marc
Marc
12 days 7 hours ago

Fun and all, but marching and bridge marching are the same thing?

Polyphemus
Polyphemus
12 days 4 hours ago

It would be good to mention the process of getting into the bridge Also the transversus continues through the whole abdomen, and actually matches the innermost layer of muscle through the ribs. The intercostal muscles also match the linear pull of the obliques, with inner and outer angles.

tribal
tribal
11 days 22 hours ago

with bridges, search the net for back bridge progressions,or refer to the book, “convict conditioning” – you want to build up to these if you have tight muscles and have never done them – eventually surpass the exercises above and go full back bridge, and even progress to stand to stand bridges. You should “unwind” and balance your spine in the opposite direction via ding L-Sits, or hanging legs raises.

Jennifer L.
Jennifer L.
11 days 21 hours ago
I have diastasis recti from pregnancy and have kind of avoided abdominal exercises lately, which I generally wouldn’t recommend for anyone! I read about the MuTu system and the Tupler technique, but can’t decide and don’t want to shell out $100 for yet another list of “try this and it *might* work” advice. I’d like to have functional abdominal muscles again, but the path from here to there seems a bit daunting. I like these ab exercises, short of the planks (definitely no planks since it makes it look like my insides will fall out!). Have any of you other… Read more »
Marge
Marge
11 days 20 hours ago

Since I am just now in the process of healing from a low back injury, this was perfect timing! This is an excellent collection of simple, body-weight exercises to gently strengthen core muscles that just about anyone can do. Thank you!

Suzanne
Suzanne
11 days 9 hours ago

The same photos are used for marching and bridge marching; the photos are clearly of bridge marching.

David
David
11 days 5 hours ago

I don’t like these guest posts with X exercise to strengthen your Y. I find them difficult to follow, overwhelming and demotivating

Jo tB
Jo tB
8 days 22 hours ago

These are all exercises I do in Pilates classes!! The first exercise has the wrong pictures to go with it. You should not be in the ski slope position, but just with the back on the floor.

JuliaB
JuliaB
1 day 5 hours ago

My hamstrings cramp up on nearly every bridge I do. I take extra magnesium. Not sure if its due to muscle weakness or tightness. Ouch. Even when I modify the lifting of my body, I still am in discomfort.

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