Before attempting to sculpt your stomach, it's important to understand what your abs are. Your abdominal muscles (specifically rectus abdominis, internal obliques and external obliques) are part of the network called the core, which is everything that doesn't include your arms, legs and head.
Compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, push-ups and rows strengthen the abs, and subsequently, the core. These exercises also help burn calories, which helps burn body fat, which eventually helps you be confident enough to take your shirt off in public.
The main job of your core is to provide stability to the trunk or to resist movement. Telling someone to spend an entire workout performing hundreds of crunches and other ab workouts neglects what the core is designed to do, and leads to a higher risk of back injuries.
For these reasons, it is rarely—if ever—beneficial to train just your abs in one workout session. Instead, try doing a series of ab exercises at the end of your regular routine.
Barbell Rollouts1 of 9
Begin with a posterior pelvic tilt—think of pointing your belt-buckle area toward your chin. This will make it easier to not hyperextend the lower back in the bottom position of the exercise.
Brace your abs as if you were going to be punched in the stomach. Squeeze your glutes, keep your chin tucked, and grip the barbell on the floor. Roll forward by pushing your hands out in front of the body. Start with your hands and the torso will follow. The end position should be where your backside (from head to sacrum) is making a straight line.
Barbell Rollouts Part 22 of 9
Benefits: Helps train the anterior core, while also teaching pelvic control.
Coaching Tip: Perform this movement without compensating too much with your lower back. This is a self-limiting exercise because everyone's range of motion will be different. If you start to feel it in your lower back, you've gone too far.
Frequency: Perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.
Offset Dumbbell Farmer Carry3 of 9
Hold a dumbbell on one side of your body as if you were carrying a suitcase. Squeeze the handle of the weight hard, as this will help pack your shoulders (put your shoulder blades in your back pocket) and activate your rotator cuff. Walk with a controlled pace and make sure to keep your torso as upright and rigid as possible.
Benefits: Helps train your oblique muscles.
Coaching Tip: Avoid leaning to either side or hunching over while walking.
Frequency and Weight: Perform 3 to 4 sets of 25 to 40 yards per side. Start with 30- to 50-pound dumbbells. Adjust accordingly.
Pallof Press4 of 9
Begin in an athletic stance with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your knees slightly bent, chest up and hips slightly back. With your hands at sternum-height, press away from your body until your elbows are locked out. Pause for 1 to 2 seconds and return back to starting position.
Pallof Press Part 25 of 9
Benefits: Anti-rotation exercises make you resist rotational forces and work every component of your core.
Coaching Tip: Use either a resistance band or cable pulley system. Make sure to resist the pull of the band or pulley when returning to the starting position.
Frequency: Perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions per side.
Hanging Leg Raise6 of 9
Hang from a pull-up bar with your hands just past shoulder-width apart. Pack your shoulders. Cross your feet, and press your ankles together.
Without using momentum, bring your knees towards your chest to a 90-degree angle. Return with a slow descent—3 to 5 seconds—until your legs are fully straightened.
Hanging Leg Raise7 of 9
Benefits: Helps train your lower abs.
Coaching Tip: Keep your spine in a neutral position throughout the duration of the set.
Frequency: Perform 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions.
Tony GentilcoreAuthor Bio 8 of 9
Tony Gentilcore is a certified personal trainer (CSCS), writer and co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance. When he's not lifting heavy weights, he's training top-level athletes or contributing to some of the top fitness magazines and websites across the world.