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12 Ab Exercises to Stabilize Your Core

Today’s awesome post is offered up by Jennifer Dene [1], of PaleoHacks.com [2]. Enjoy, everyone!

The core muscles are responsible for supporting the spine, balancing the body (1 [3]), facilitating functional movement, and limiting low back pain (2 [4]). 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 [5]).

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 [6]). (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 [7]). 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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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!

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.

Thanks again to Jennifer Dene [1] from Paleohacks [2] 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.