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Best Core Exercises to Build a Six-Pack

When the weather begins to warm, there is one goal I hear over and over from my clients – to have six-pack abs. You’ve likely heard the saying that “abs are made in the kitchen,” and that is primarily true. After all, it doesn’t matter how hard you work in the gym building your core strength if there’s a thick layer of fat obscuring your efforts. Developing a six pack, however, takes a two-prong approach: (1) core exercises to build the abdominals and (2) diet to reveal them. In this article, we’re just going to examine the first part.

abdominals photo
Photo by LyndaSanchez

We hear a lot about developing the core, but what does that really mean? The core musculature actually includes more than just the washboard midsection we all desire, and you need to work all of it to have the strength and technique to develop the specific muscles that make up the six pack. When we talk about the core, we are really referring to the obliques, rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, multifidus, glutes, latissimus dorsi, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae and the hip flexors. Since that’s a mouthful and Latin overload, the term “core” is far simpler to use.

Now, the core works in three distinct ways along three planes of motion:

  • Forward and backward along the sagittal plane
  • Side to side along the frontal plane
  • Rotation along the transverse plane

So, to effectively work the core and ultimately chisel a six pack, you need to include exercises that move in each of those three ways. It doesn’t have to be all in one go – three exercises, each with its own movement, does the job. These are my favorites:

Cable Crunch:

Crunches get a bad rap due to potential risks to the cervical spine, but cable crunches put far less pressure on the spine. Since they are performed in a kneeling position, you also recruit more of the core musculature just in keeping the torso upright between reps. To perform the cable crunch, face a cable pulley with a rope attachment at face height; some people prefer to face away from the pulley – truthfully, either way works. Hold the rope with both hands, and hinge forward and down 4 to 5 inches, maintaining a neutral spine. You should feel this in your abs, not your hips.

Windmill:

You can perform windmills with or without weight, although I like to throw a kettlebell into the mix. With your feet a little more than hip width apart, holding a weight if desired in one hand, point your toes away from the side that has weight. Press the weight up as you push the hip out on the same side as the kettlebell or dumbbell, away from your toes. Keep the knees locked, and, while looking at the weight, inhale and hold as you begin to slide the free hand down the leg farthest from the upward-extended hand. Continue to look up at your hand and allow that top arm to rotate naturally as you stretch downward. When you can no longer stretch or feel your knees wanting to bend, come back up, and exhale when fully upright.

Superman Hold:

While this exercise won’t directly build the six pack you desire, it helps to build the core strength to keep you save while you do. Practicing yogis will know this move better as Locust Pose, and there are even more names to describe it. To perform the Superman Hold, lie prone on the floor with your arms stretched straight in front of you and your legs stretched straight behind you. Draw the navel in toward the spine to brace the abdominals, then lift your arms, shoulders, chest, and legs off the floor while keeping the midsection tight. Maintain slow, even breathing throughout the exercise and hold the pose to failure.

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