—Jessica J., Memorial University, Alberta, Canada
First, let’s talk about what we mean when we say “abdominals.” Abdominal muscles include the rectus abdominis, the transverse abdominis, and the oblique muscles. This group of muscles is commonly referred to as the “core muscles.” These muscles are rarely used in isolation in our daily activity, so isolating them in exercise doesn’t make too much sense and isn’t the best way to strengthen them.
While I’ll discuss some specific exercises that will target the abs, it’s important to remember that the whole body works together and you won’t see the results that you’re probably looking for if you neglect to work other body parts, incorporate cardiovascular activity, and eat a healthy diet. Below are three easy ab exercises you can do in a small space.
The body-weight squat
One of the best exercises to elicit a strong core contraction is the body-weight squat, according to a recent article in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. This is very simple to perform and can be done with or without weight.
How to do it
Standing with feet about shoulder-width apart with your hands in front of you, bend your knees as if you’re sitting down into a chair. Be sure to keep your heels on the ground and keep your weight in your heels while you do this, then stand back up. This movement requires the muscles in your legs, hips, back, and abs to contract in order to perform it properly. If that’s too easy, add weight in the form of a dumbbell (or a jar of food, or whatever you can find around your home) held close to your chest.
Another simple exercise to perform at home is the front plank. This exercise activates the deep core muscles and involves holding your body as straight and flat as possible while maintaining normal breathing.
How to do it
Lie on your stomach and then lift yourself onto your forearms so your body weight is resting on your forearms. Keep your rear down and your body in a straight line. See the picture for proper form. Start with 30-second holds and progress in 10-second increments as you get stronger.
Finally, whenever we train one muscle group such as the abs, we should train the opposing muscle group so we don’t create imbalances. To supplement your ab work, you should add some lower back exercises. One simple one is the superman.
How to do it
Lie flat on your stomach with your arms extended overhead. Simultaneously lift arms and legs off the ground, like you’re flying (hence the name superman). Hold for a second, return to the starting position, and repeat 10–20 times.