Combining Core Strength With Abdominal Exercises to Get Those 6-Pack Abs
We’re all familiar with the standard exercises everyone recommends for getting 6-pack abs: barbell rack squats, Supermans, bicycle crunches, and everyone’s favorite — forearm planks.
While doing these exercises can help you develop a 6-pack, it’s important to remember that a healthy workout regimen and overall abdominal strength require focusing on more than one set of muscles.
Your 6-pack abs (also known as the rectus abdominis) are part of your core muscles, which includes
- The internal and external obliques (extending from your ribs to your pelvis)
- The pelvic muscles (runs between your pubic bone to your tailbone)
- The transversus abdominis (located on either side of the naval)
- The diaphragm (located below the lungs)
- The gluteal muscles
- The spinal erectors (located along the spine from head to pelvis)
- The hip flexors (located at the front of the hips) and many more muscles
The benefit of having strong abdominal muscles and a strong core extends beyond physical appearance. It helps your day-to-day functional tasks (walking, standing up straight, balancing), your ability to perform functional fitness exercises, and your health.
How a strong core empowers your health:
Your core is the central link between your upper and lower body. Your movements are powered by your core muscles — they coordinate how your abdominal muscles and back work together to support and stabilize your spine.
By developing a solid core, you’re building the foundation for all physical activity, whether that’s as simple as sitting, standing or bending, or doing something complex, like a HIRT workout with your YBells.
Core muscles, and core exercises, are going to be key in developing that 6-pack. You need aerobic exercises to burn abdominal fat, but core exercises will help you strengthen the surrounding muscles.
What muscle groups do various ab exercises target?
Here’s a quick breakdown of popular ab exercises and the core muscle groups they target:
Exercise: Muscle Groups:
Bicycle crunch Lower abs, obliques, core
V-Up Six-pack, transversus abdominis
Forearm plank Six-pack, obliques, transversus abdominis, spinal erectors
Alternating leg raises Six-pack, obliques, hip flexors
Side plank Transversus abdominis, obliques, glutes
Russian twist Six-pack, obliques, transversus abdominis, hip flexors, spinal erectors
Heel-tap crunch Six-pack, obliques, hip flexors
Forearm bridge Six-pack, transversus abdominis, glutes, spinal erectors
Mountain climber Obliques, glutes, hip abductors
Superman Glutes, spinal erectors
Many of these exercises go beyond your core, targeting your lower back, shoulder, and leg muscles as well.
Here’s how I build core and abdominal workouts:
When creating workouts for clients who want 6-pack abs, I like to target the upper and lower abdominals, the internal and external obliques, and of course, the rest of the core muscles.
Starting with the abs and obliques — Crunches are a great exercise to build and define the upper abdominal muscles, while reverse crunches and crunch extenders are great for targeting the lower abs. Russian twists and bicycle crunches will hit the obliques well.
Tip: Avoid sitting up too high during crunches because it can release the tension on the abs and overuse the lower back.
And now for adding in more core workouts — Forearm planks and forearm bridges are phenomenal core strengthening exercises. They target the deeper muscles around the stomach and lower back areas that play a vital role in protecting and stabilizing the lower back. They also help to give the “flatter” stomach look that is highly sought after.
If you want to add more intensity to your workout, try combining mountain climbers with your planks and reaches or taps with your forearm bridges.
Tip: Always look for good alignment when doing planks and forearm bridges. Your goal is to have a straight line going through your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders.
When you’re ready to add weights into your ab workout, there’s a great abs and core workout available for free on the YBell Fitness App. You’ll be able to see me demonstrate many of these great exercises in action. The first round focuses on body weight and doesn’t require equipment (like the exercises listed above). The second round incorporates similar core exercises but adds in a YBell.