I would say “we all” but maybe that’s not the case, so I’ll just say “most of us” want a stomach area that we’re proud of physically. But crunches for days or sit ups for hours might be boring to you, put strain on your lower back or be uncomfortable because of the surface you’re on, so changing it up is always preferable to quitting on the exercises.
What you might not realize is that a strong abdominal area is much more important then just having a svelte stomach. A lot of our strength comes from our center, from our core, and if it’s strong, we’re able to support our movements more, and hopefully suffer from less pain over the years.
Here are five ab exercises that support a very strong core.
- All five exercises involve the limbs as well.
- For every one, keep your lower back on the ground, to drive your abs back towards your spine (to support your spine, and help engage your abdominal muscles the entire time).
- Move slowly and with intention; 10 slow, deliberate and concentrated reps are much more challenging then banging out 20 fast reps.
- Warm up and cool down with some Cat and Cow poses (as demonstrated in Plank Four Ways!) to calibrate your spine and stretch out the front of your body.
- I’m going to present each move in full and then give a less strenuous variation.
- Strive for reps of 15 at a time. You can mix and match, or do all of the same pose. Take breaks in between sets.
Like traditional leg lifts, with a little added fun! Lower back is pressed down into the mat, arms are by your sides, or tucked under your seat, palms down. Legs are straight up into the air. Head and shoulder heads are lifted. Lower your legs down half way to the ground and pause. Hold for a count of three, then lower down to just above the ground and hold again. Bring the legs back up straight and repeat. While you’re in a set, don’t let the legs touch the ground. Keep the legs as straight as possible, your feet engaged and knees lifted so the thighs are engaged as well. Legs down and up is one rep.
Variation: Head can be on the ground so there’s less strain in trying to keep it up!
STRAIGHT LEG REACH
Begin the same as the leg lifts. Putting your hands in a prayer position, really lift your head and shoulders off the mat (using your abs, pressing them back towards the floor) and bring your hands together to the outside of the left leg. Hold for five. Pass through center (you can bend your arms here) and WITHOUT letting your shoulders and head drop bring your hands to the outside of the right leg. Hold. Return to center, still holding your head and shoulders up. That was one rep.
Variation: Bend your knees to 90 degrees. Just make sure to keep the knees right over the hips so the angle remains true, and it’s a bit more challenging! You also could start this move with keeping your feet on the ground, knees bend up.
STRAIGHT LEG BICYCLE
Good ol’ bicycle to target the obliques, with the added twist of straight legs! Start with legs straight up, head and shoulders off the ground and hands together behind the head with elbows out wide. (Important note: your hands are not supporting your head, your head should be lifting on its own). Bring your right elbow towards the outside of your left knee, and extend your right leg down (don’t touch the ground!) Switch sides by scissoring your legs and bringing the left elbow to the outside of the right leg. Rep one done!
Variation: Bend your knees and do that good ol’ straightforward bicycle!
For all: Keep your elbows wide the entire time. If you bring them in to try to reach the outside of the leg more, you’ll bring your neck out of alignment. It’s okay if you can’t touch the outside of the knee with your elbow, just move in that direction.
Find an object that is heavy enough to challenge you but light enough to pass between your hands and feet. For this demonstration I had a 50 fl oz water bottle that was pretty full. A water bottle is a good weight because you can add more water or take water out depending on your needs and it’s very portable. I have also used a giant yoga ball for this exercise if I’m at home. A free weight would work too (I’d suggest no more then 2 lbs to start, because you’re passing it over your body, and I wouldn’t want it to drop on you before you’re comfortable with the move). Legs straight up, put the object in your hands. Keeping your head off the ground, lower your legs and stretch your arms up over your head. Bring your legs back up and the arms back in and pass the object into the feet. Lower feet and stretch arms back again, with the object in between your feet. Return to center. That was one rep.
Variation: Start with doing the movement without an object at all, then gradually add weight.
Boat pose in yoga! Start by sitting on your sits bones, with your shoulders pulled up and toward each other down your back, chest high. Bend your knees and balance by holding the backs of your knees. Let go of your knees and just balance with your hands alongside your legs, facing inward (thumbs up). If you’re feeling strong, straighten your legs up so your body creates a V shape, keeping your back as straight as possible. Hold for at least 20 seconds, breathing deeply. If you’re feeling REALLY strong, you can lower down so you’re basically lying on the ground again but with legs, arms head and shoulders lifted a few inches off the ground (similar to the bottom of a leg lift) and then lift back up into full Navasana.
Variation: Stay balanced with bent knees and arms out along your legs and just hold this, without straightening your legs up.
I want to see progress pics of your abs! If you post on Instagram, be sure to tag me @TheKiaraAna and hashtag #KikisWay #MovewithKiki so I can give you virtual high fives!
Photographer: Rachael Lee
Outfit: Yeba Clothing
Yoga Mat: Lululemon