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The Best Workout Methods That Carve Your Core (Without Planks or Crunches)

The Real Secret to a Strong Core

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You may commit to crunches and planks, Pilates and yoga, all in an effort to target your abs, which they do, but don't stop there. Broaden your "rep"ertoire to include some of these other types of moves and methods (some of which you can do at your desk), and suddenly your core is being challenged with every motion—even though your mind is never on your middle. (Just don't forget abs are made in the kitchen too. Steer clear of these foods to prevent bloating.)

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Stability Training for Your Core

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Stability moves train your core to stay strong and steady. They also target your transverse abdominis, the deep ab muscle that does a 360 around your waist and draws it in, says Brent Brookbush, president of the Brookbush Institute of Human Movement Science in New York City. Try this stabilizer: Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and balance on your left leg. Squat on your left leg as you lower the weight toward your left foot. (More moves to try: grab a Bosu ball and challenge your core with this stability workout. Or you can snag one of these balance boards to work on your core as you watch your favorite TV show.)

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Core-Strengthening HIIT

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We've said it before, but HIIT really does the job when you want to trim ab fat: A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that people who did two HIIT and two strength sessions a week lost more visceral fat (11 percent of the dangerous kind around your organs)—about an extra inch from their waist—than those who ran twice and did two strength sessions. Plus, many of those speedy intervals, such as sprints, are total-body moves that engage your abs big time. Do speed bursts on a cardio machine or try three-minute boxing rounds (another transverse tightener) with a minute of active recovery in between. This unique HIIT workout incorporates some boxing moves and some weight training for double the benefits. (Don't get along with HIIT training? Studies show adding music will make it more enjoyable.)

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Power Training for Your Abs

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Jumping and throwing moves, punches, kicks, and swinging a club or a racket all require power, which comes from your core—and, yes, causes those ab muscles to cinch. "The core is the crossroads of your system, helping transfer force between your upper and lower body," says Rick Richey, a faculty member for the National Academy of Sports Medicine in New York City. Add medicine ball throws to your sets: A study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found they are ideal core strengtheners. (Don't just stop at tossing, medicine balls can be used for a full body workout.)

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Belly Breath Work

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Your body has that whole breathing thing on lock, but there's more than one way to inhale and exhale and some require extra work from the abs. "Kapalabhati breathing engages the transverse abdominis to push out the breath," says Allison Candelaria, owner of Soul Yoga in Oklahoma City. Here's how to do it: Sit tall, then strongly and quickly pull your navel toward your spine. Then release your ab muscles, forcing you to exhale. Work up to doing that 20 times, inhaling and letting your belly expand between each "pump." (This belly bonfire breathing technique can also help you fire up your body anywhere, anytime.)

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Agility Exercises

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Cutting drills, running through an agility ladder, using hurdles and cones to practice footwork—these all develop that combo of speed, coordination, balance, and power called agility. They all also require and build core strength. Do this drill for one minute: Place four cones (or plastic cups) eight feet apart in a square and run up, shuffle right, run back, and shuffle left around the square, then reverse the direction. Repeat.

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Ab-Cinching Squats

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These may be your go-to lower-body moves, but if you do them mindfully—and with dumbbells—squats can double as an ab-firming opportunity. "When you lower into a squat, you have to draw the navel in and activate your pelvic floor to protect the lower back, and then you squeeze the glutes to rise, which are part of your core as well," says celebrity trainer Kira Stokes, creator of the Stoked Method workouts. Up the ante by holding weights or a bar overhead or across your shoulders in front of your body. (Kick your squats into high gear with these 16 booty-boosting squats.)

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Posture Training for a Better Core

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That chronic office slump is a sign that your abs are snoozing; just look at your belly. "Posture is underrated and underutilized when it comes to working our abs," Richey says. His trick: Draw your belly button in as you lift your pelvic floor, as if you were doing a Kegel, to coax your core muscles to start firing together. "Soon, you won't have to consciously think about it," he says. You can do this belly button–pelvic floor "link" several times throughout the day (holding for up to 30 seconds each time) as you're sitting at your desk, in the car, or waiting in line somewhere. (Take the next step in straightening up by tackling this posture workout.)

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