Was one of your fitness resolutions for the new year, ‘Get abs?’

As you may have realized by now, getting them to show up is incredibly challenging. How so? Well, you'd need to shed off the extra belly fat that's covering your abs! Just for reference, men would need to get down to ~10 to 12% body fat, while women would need to lean down to ~ 14 to 18% body fat. And that typically means many months of chomping down on chicken breasts and broccoli. Now, if that doesn't sound appealing to you, you might want to pay extra attention to this article.

There’s a quicker way to get abs

Because there's a simpler, quicker way to get ripped abs – without being quite so lean, and that's to build your abs up, so they become more visible, even when you're at a higher body fat percentage. Before we get into the specific exercises that'll help 'push' your abs out, though, you first need to understand the basic anatomy of the core muscles.

Basic anatomy of the core muscles

Your core is made up of many muscles, of which the ones you most need to know of are:

·         Rectus abdominus (what you commonly think of when you think ‘abs’), which is further divided into:

o   Upper abs – Activated by top-down exercises, where you’re bringing your shoulders towards the hips (crunches)

o   Lower abs – Activated by bottom-up exercises, where you’re bringing your hips towards your shoulders (leg raises)

·         Obliques – The muscles on the sides of your abdomen, which are activated by ‘twisting’ motions (Russian twist)

·         Serratus anterior – A fan-shaped muscle that’s located on each of your sides, situated right on top of the ribs, which is activated by shoulder-blade protraction

As you can see, each ‘part’ of your abs is activated (and therefore trained) by different movements. That means you'll need to craft an ab workout that'll specifically target each of these functions. Thankfully, we've done all the work for you – here are the 5 advanced, bodyweight (for those home gym-goers), core exercises to incorporate into your training routine.

Extended Leg Pulses (Upper Abs)

As a ‘top-down’ exercise, the extended leg pulses are great for training the upper abs. And because of its ‘pulsing’ nature, you’ll be forced to keep tension on your target muscles for a longer time – maximizing the efficacy of the exercise.

Here’s how to perform the extended leg pulses:

1.      Lie on your back. Bring your right leg up towards the ceiling and clasp both hands behind your thigh, just above your knee.

2.      Engage your abs while raising your head and chest slightly off the floor.

3.      Keeping your abs tense and your leg steady, gently pulse your chest up and down from your elevated position off the floor.

4.      After you’ve completed your desired number of reps, switch legs.

Plank Hops (Lower Abs)

Be prepared to feel the burn in your abs with the plank hops. This kick-ass exercise brings in your core and leg strength for a fat-torching experience.

Here’s how to perform the plank hops:

1.      Start in a plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your feet together. Ensure your core is engaged and hips are level.

2.      Keeping both feet together, hop up and to the right, as if you’re going into a squat.

3.      Hop your feet back to your original plank.

4.      Hop to the left, and back to the center.

5.      Repeat like this, alternating sides each rep. Perform your desired number of reps.

Bird Dog Crunch (Upper & Lower Abs)

Think of the bird dog crunch as a complex plank, mixed with crunches. Be sure to incorporate this exercise into your training routine for a functional core.

Here’s how to perform the bird dog crunch:

1.      Kneel onto the ground or mat (if you have one) and place your hands, roughly level with your shoulders, onto the floor.

2.      Straighten both your left arm and right leg up and behind you, respectively, as high as you comfortably can.

3.      Bring your active limbs down to meet your elbow and knee under your torso, doing a crunch, and hold the contraction for a moment. That's one rep.

4.      Repeat for as many reps as necessary, and switch to your right arm and left leg next.

Side Plank Rotation With Kicks (Obliques & Serratus Anterior)

Because you're required to rotate your body, the side plank rotation with kicks is one exercise that'll set your obliques on fire. Given that you'll need to stabilize your upper body through shoulder-blade protraction, this exercise is also fantastic for working your serratus anterior.

Here’s how to perform the side plank rotation with kicks:

1.      Start in a plank position with your hips slightly raised and your core engaged.

2.      Begin by lifting your left leg and bringing it under your body to your right, bending it slightly.

3.      Roll your body to the right and lift your right arm off the floor, so you're balancing on your left arm and right leg in a side plank.

4.      Bring your right arm down to meet your left foot as you kick up to about hip height (or wherever you can get it).

5.      Return to the plank position. Do as many reps as you desire.

6.      Repeat on the opposite side.

Plank With T Rotations (Serratus Anterior)

One of the more advanced core exercises available, the plank with T rotations, really tests your core stability and serratus anterior strength. It also doubles up as a great stretch, too!

Here’s how to perform the plank with T rotations:

1.      Starting in a plank position, rock to the right so your weight is centered over your right arm.

2.      Lift your left arm towards the ceiling and rotate your torso. Rotate your feet, so the sides of your feet are against the floor.

3.      Pause briefly at the top of the rotation.

4.      Bring your left arm back down to the floor and correct your feet position, so you're back in the plank position.

5.      Repeat on the other side.

6.      Alternate sides till you’ve completed the number of required reps.

Alright, that’s all we have (for now). If you're still confused as to how you're supposed to perform each of the exercises mentioned in this article, no worries, we've got you. Just download GymStreak, the VR-enabled (virtual reality enabled) personal trainer fitness app. We just updated our library exercise – you can find simulations of every single exercise mentioned in this article on the app. We promise. See you there.

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Sarti, M. A., Monfort, M., Fuster, M. A., & Villaplana, L. A. (1996). Muscle activity in upper and lower rectus abdominus during abdominal exercises. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 77(12), 1293–1297. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0003-9993(96)90195-1

Willett, G. M., Hyde, J. E., Uhrlaub, M. B., Wendel, C. L., & Karst, G. M. (2001). Relative activity of abdominal muscles during commonly prescribed strengthening exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15(4), 480–485.