Get a bikini-ready core and protect yourself from summer workout injuries by fitting this lesser-known abs move into your routine
Newsflash: You may not have heard of one of the best ab moves out there. It’s called Stir the Pot—and it has nothing to do with whipping something up in the kitchen. Rather, it's a move that directly targets your abs (as opposed to your gut!), and actually gets harder (in the best of ways) as you get stronger, says Ethan Grossman, a personal trainer at PEAK Performance in New York City. (Check out Trainers Reveal: The Best Abs Exercises of All Time.) That’s because the as you do it, you’ll learn how to recruit the right muscles (all the little muscles in your core) in the right ways, rather than compensate for lack of strength by letting other ones (like your back and shoulder muscles) take over.
“Appropriate patterns of [movement] and stabilization oftentimes require you to recruit chains of muscles which have been previously underactive—this requires more metabolic energy and thus creates more of challenge,” says Grossman. In other words, by training yourself to use the right muscles, the move might feel harder to you, but that just means you're getting even more benefits from doing it.
What’s more: This move helps shore up stability in your low back, shoulders, and neck, helping you stay injury-free and healthy for your other fit pursuits this summer. (Might we suggest one of these Once-in-a-Lifetime Fitness Retreats for Women?). “By creating stability in areas that are meant to be stable (like your spine), it allows other areas (like your hips) to be mobile, which also allows forces to be distributed more evenly throughout the body,” says Grossman. It has to do with compensatory behavior: When joints which were meant to allow for a small degree of range of motion have to compensate by creating more motion, bones and muscles can get stressed, leading to pain or discomfort over time. “An example would be excessive extension and rotation in the lumbar spine (low back) which can lead to injuries such as herniated disks,” says Grossman.
So whether your goal is primarily injury prevention or simply great abs (hey—it is practically swimsuit season!), work this move into your routine a few times a week. You can start simply by holding the “up” position without actually “stirring” the pot if you don’t yet have the strength to go through the full range of motion.
A Start in a kneeling position with palms and lower arms flat on a stability ball.
B Lift your knees and keep your shoulders directly positioned over your elbows with your nose centered between your hands.
C Bring your chin to your neck while keeping your eyes about a foot in front of you.
D Push through the space between your thumb and index fingers to move your ribs away from the floor. You should feel your shoulder blades move away from your spine.
E Reach your knees forward so that your tailbone tucks underneath you and your lower back rounds (bring your belt line to your belly button).
F Your back should be in as much of a c-shape as possible, with ribs lifted away from the floor.
G Move your elbows beneath your shoulders to rotate the ball in a small clockwise circle beneath your chest—your hands will look as if they're stirring a pot—without shifting or rotating your hips or low back. The stress should be through the joints (rather than muscles and bones.) Pause, then rotate the ball in a counter clockwise circle.