Functionally Strong Abs: A 6-move Plan

To sculpt a stronger, more chiselled core, you need to train it the way it functions – with these cutting-edge moves, of course.
“To sculpt a stronger, more chiselled core, you need to train it the way it functions,” says Todd Durkin. Or, more specifically, all the ways it functions: The more than two dozen muscles between your hips and shoulders are what allow you to bend and rotate your torso. They also stabilise your spine as you go about the motions of daily life.

This is why you should update your abs routine with the following six moves. “They’ll challenge your core from every angle, making you stronger in everything you do,” says Todd. They’ll also give you something to show at the beach.
 
1. Hip-up
 
Lie on your left side, right arm extended, so it’s perpendicular to the floor. Prop yourself up on your left forearm and raise your hips, so your body is straight from ankles to head (top). Lower your left hip (bottom) and raise it again until it’s in line with your body. That’s 1 rep. Continue lowering and raising your hip for 20 reps, then hold the up position for 10 seconds. Repeat on your right side.

Why it works: The best abs exercises train your core to stabilise your spine, Todd says. The hip-up does exactly that, while also sculpting your obliques, and increasing your rotational control and stability.
 
2. Rocky abs
 
Lie on your back with your legs straight, arms extended behind your head, and hands grasping something that won’t move, such as a pair of heavy dumbbells (left). Raise your legs, butt and lower back until they’re perpendicular to the floor (right). Your weight should rest on your upper back. Keeping your body as straight as possible, brace your core and take 5 to 10 seconds to lower your body. That’s 1 rep. Do 5 to 10.

Why it works: “Your muscles can handle more weight on the eccentric, or lowering, phase of a lift,” says Todd. Slowing the pace of that phase forces your muscles to work harder, accelerating your gains.
 
3. Mogul jump
 
Get on all fours and lift your knees a few centimetres off the floor, so your weight is on your hands and the balls of your feet (top left). Keeping your arms straight and legs together, hop and rotate your knees and feet to the right (top right). Now, hop and rotate your knees and feet to the left (bottom). That’s 1 rep. Keep hopping back and forth for 20 reps.

Why it works: The inspiration for this exercise might have come from skiing, but it’s also an effective way to prepare for many sports, including tennis, softball and golf. The reason: “It trains your abs, lower back and hips to work together to rotate your body from side to side,” says Todd.
 
4. Three-point core touch
 
Assume a push-up position (top left). Now, quickly move your right leg forward, so your right heel lands outside of your right hand (top right). Pause and return to the push-up position. Now, quickly move your right leg forward, so your right foot lands outside your left hand (bottom), then return to the push-up position. That’s 1 rep. Do 5 to 10, and repeat with your left leg.

Why it works: “This one move will target muscles in your hips, groin, lower back and often-neglected lower abs,” says Todd. The result is not only more core strength but also greater total-body stability.
 
5. Running man
 
Lie on your back with your legs straight, elbows at your sides, and arms bent 90 degrees. This is the starting position (top). Lift your shoulders and back off the floor as you pull your left knee towards your chest and drive your right arm forward, as if you’re running (bottom). Return to the starting position. Repeat with your right knee and left arm. That’s 1 rep. Do 20.

Why it works: Sure, this exercise works your rectus abdominis just as crunches do. “But pumping your arms and legs also builds explosiveness and coordination, which is fundamental to athleticism,” Todd adds.
 
6. Figure 8
 
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down. Raise your legs so they form a 45-degree angle with the floor (top, left). Now, make big, looping circles with your legs, first to your right (top, right) and then to your left (bottom), forming a sideways figure 8. That’s 1 rep. Do 10.

Why it works: Doing smaller loops challenges just your rectus abdominis, while larger ones hit your entire core. “Work on it until you can create big, sweeping loops,” says Todd. “The bigger the figure 8, the more you activate your obliques and the muscles in your hips and lower back.”
 

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