Shirtless man in side plank position with one arm raised

Not only are abs the part of the body that are most often targeted when people look to improve their physique, but your core muscles are also one of the most important muscle groups in the body as they help to support your posture as well as digestive health.

We’ve put together a killer ab workout to help you strengthen your core, improve your posture, and build those highly coveted washboard abs.

Abdominal Muscles

Your abs are a group of muscles spanning the front and sides of your abdomen made up of the rectus and transversus abdominis as well as the internal and external obliques.

The rectus abdominis is the top layer of your abdominal muscles. It is the segmented structure that makes up the six-pack. While it may seem like these are separate and individual muscles, the rectus abdominis is actually only made up of two muscles, one on each side of your navel. The muscle is then segmented into the six-pack by a form of connective tissue called the linea alba.

The roles of the rectus abdominis include tensing the anterior wall of the abdomen, flexing the spinal column, and assisting with compression of your organs as well as other contents of the abdomen.

The transversus abdominis , or TrA is the largest of the abdominal muscles and lies in the deepest layer of the muscle group. It reaches from your ribs all the way down to your pelvis holding tension across the trunk of the body with horizontal muscle fibers stretching from front to the back.

The transversus abdominis’ main function is to contain your organs in their appropriate places as well as support your spine. Because of this, the TrA is incredibly important in the maintenance of strong posture, especially in the lower back. The TrA also assists in functions like breathing, coughing, and digestional regulation.

The internal obliques are broad, thin muscles that run in an oblique orientation, or diagonally, from the edge of the rectus abdominis to the side of the abdomen. They lie between the transversus abdominis and the external obliques.

Internal obliques aid the transversus abdominis in holding pressure on the abdomen to keep the internal organs in place. They also serve to facilitate the movements of your core, specifically bending to the side in lateral flexion.

The external obliques are large muscles that lie on the outermost layer of the abs. They reach from the lower portion of the ribcage on the front of the body down to your pelvis and around your sides to your lower back.

External obliques assist with trunk rotation, bilateral contraction, and core stabilization. They also assist with similar functions to the internal obliques including breathing, coughing, and bending from side to side.

Ab Workouts

These 5 super simple but effective ab exercises require little to no equipment and can be done virtually anywhere. Make sure you give yourself time to warm up and stretch before getting started and don’t skip the cool down at the end either. Make sure your body is properly fueled before your workout, read more in our Expert Guide to Pre-Workout for Beginners.

Tuck Crunches

We’ve all done basic crunches before, but they are far from optimal when it comes to the full range of your rectus abdominis. This twist on traditional crunches engages more of the lower parts of your abs, an area that is notoriously difficult to target.

Tuck crunches also offer a foundational form for other variations like bicycle crunches and Russian twists. 

  1. Lie on your back with your arms folded over your chest. 
  2. Place your feet so that they are flat on the ground and your knees are at 90-degree angles. 
  3. Lift your legs, hinging at the hip so that your thighs are perpendicular to the ground. Try to maintain a 90-degree angle at the knees.
  4. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground as you contract your abs into the crunch.
  5. Return to the start position.
  6. Repeat for 10 reps.
  7. Repeat for 2-3 sets.

 

Planks

Planks are a great no-equipment exercise that you can do anywhere. There are also a number of variations for planks both to accommodate disabilities and injuries and to ramp up the difficulty and really give your abs a challenge.

If you’re just getting started working out after a long break or for the first time ever, you can start your planks out at an incline against a wall, counter, table, or chair and work your way down to a ground plank.

Alternatively, if plain old planks aren’t doing it for you anymore, you can take the intensity to the next level with shoulder or knee taps, side steps, or elbow to palm transfers. 

  1. Start from a prone position, lying face down on the floor, legs straight out behind you. 
  2. Anchor your toes into the ground and bring your arms under your shoulders to prop yourself up on your forearms or hands.
  3. Hold this position for as long as you can up to 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat for 3 sets.

 

Side Jackknife

Side jackknifes are great exercises to target your obliques and strengthen the deep core transversus abdominis. You can do them without any equipment or up the intensity by adding a resistance band to your legs.

If these seem a little too intense, start with some side planks and build your way up.

  1. Start by lying on your side with your legs extended, left leg on top of your right leg, your left hand on or near your head so that your left arm is flared out with a bent elbow, and your right arm is extended straight in front of you for balance.
  2. Lift your left leg and raise your torso as you bring your elbow towards your knee. 
  3. Return to the start position
  4. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
  5. Switch to the other side and repeat.

 

Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are a great way to inject a little cardio into your abs exercises. They are also a great alternative to higher impact forms of running as the position of the exercise brings a lot of your body weight into your arms.

  1. Start in a plank position with your arms extended so that you are supported by your hands directly under your shoulders. Your back should be flat, your abs engaged and your head in alignment with your shoulders and spine.  
  2. Bring your right knee to your chest or as far as you can without rounding your back or dropping your head. 
  3. Place your foot back on the ground to return to the start position.
  4. Repeat with your opposite knee and continue to alternate as you “run” in place and position. 
  5. Continue for 30 seconds. 
  6. Repeat for 3 sets.

 

Hanging Leg Raise

The hanging leg raise is the only exercise on this list that you need some specific equipment to do. You can make do with an in-home pullup bar, but the professional equipment at your local gym offers more stability and hold variations.

One of the most important things to remember with hanging leg raises is to focus the movement on the contraction of your abs and avoid leveraging momentum by swinging through the motion. Not only does this make the exercise less effective it also puts you in danger of injuring your back. 

  1. Start by finding a comfortable overhand grip on the chin-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Bend your knees to allow your arms to take your weight.
  3. Extend your legs straight out in front of you as you lift them to make a 90-degree angle at your hips.
  4. Maintain control as you lower your legs back down keeping them fully extended.
  5. Repeat for 10 reps.
  6. Repeat for 3 sets.

 

Fuel Your Muscles with Allo

Don’t forget to get plenty of protein before and after your workout to fuel your muscles and increase muscle growth. Allo protein powder for hot coffee is the perfect way to add 10 grams of protein to each cup of coffee.

Starting your day out right with protein helps to repair and build your muscles fast since the protein is already in your body, readily available when your muscles need it. Adding Allo to your favorite brew is a great way to supplement your protein intake at breakfast, lunch, or any time of the day, though you might want to switch to decaf later in the afternoon and into the evening.

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