13 top trainers share their most creative, crazy-effective core moves
Single-Leg Plank Flex and Extend
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The possibilities are endless with planks! This interesting variation comes from fitness expert Suzanne Bowen, creator of BarreAmped. "I especially love this exercise because it flexes the spine (which contracts the abs and stretches the lower-back muscles) and then extends the spine (which stretches the abs and contracts the lower-back muscles). This back and forth works the abs at a very intense level and also helps to create balance between the back and front," she says.
Get into full plank position. Lift your left leg off the floor. Contract your abs, round your back, and pull your left knee into your nose. Keeping the core, arms, and legs extremely strong, straighten your left leg behind you as you extend your spine and lower your hips toward the floor (without letting hips or legs touch the ground). Slowly pull your left knee back in. Repeat about 4 times, rest, and then switch sides.
Body Bar Oblique Twist
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This standing core challenge is a favorite of exercise physiologist Tom Holland, a Wilhelmina fitness model and author of Beat the Gym. "This is an advanced move that really targets the obliques as well as those hard-to-target serratus anterior muscles (the muscle that wraps around your rib cage and attaches to the bottom of your shoulder blades), which truly brings out amazing abdominals," Holland says.
Start holding a weighted body bar to the side on one shoulder. Engage your abdominals and twist just your upper body until the bar is in front of you, focusing on contracting one side of your obliques. Return to start. Do 10-25 repetitions to one side, then place the bar on your other shoulder and do 10-25 repetitions to the other side.
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This abs exercise, created by Nick Tumminello, certified master trainer and owner of Performance University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., works your entire core, including the muscles in your shoulders, abs, glutes, and back.
Sit in an L-sit position on the floor with your legs together and your hands behind your torso, fingers pointing back. Keep your elbows and knees straight. Squeeze your shoulders and glutes together as you lift your hips up off of the floor (as shown). From here, use your abs to reverse the movement and pull your hips through your arms as far back as possible, without allowing your butt to touch the floor. Once your hips cannot go back any father, slowly lower your butt down to the floor and return to the starting position. That's one rep.
Stability Ball Wall Squat
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Squats may be known for sculpting your lower body, but this exercise is a killer challenge for the abs too. "This move will fully engage all your anatomical core slings (stretches of fascia that connect your muscles)," says Linda LaRue, core performance trainer for the LA Lakers. "The benefit is that not only will you get fitter, flatter abs, but you'll be burning calories while improving your balance, coordination, and speed."
Begin by pulling your shoulder blades down and lifting your breastbone slightly. Draw your belly button into your spine while keeping a constant Kegel (imagine that you're holding in urine). Place the palms of your hands on either side of a small to medium stability ball and squeeze hard (this will help engage your diagonal upper core slings). Lean against the wall at a diagonal angle. Inhale into a deep squat and then forcefully drive up to standing. That's one rep. Try 2 sets of 12 reps, resting 30 seconds between sets.
To make it more challenging, float one foot slightly above the floor behind you while keeping a neutral spine during the entire movement.
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Think you've tried every kind of plank there is? Guess again! This creative core exercise from Kristin Russo, an ACE certified personal trainer in New York City, works both your transverse abdominis (the deepest core muscles) and obliques (the largest and outermost muscles).
Start in the top of a pushup position with your core braced. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your ankles. Lift your right foot off the floor and slowly raise your knee as close to your right elbow as you can. Keeping your abs braced, bring your right knee down toward your right wrist (use your abs to prevent your knee and foot from touching the floor). Next, use your abdominals to pull your knee up toward your right armpit. Contract the whole core to elevate the knee to this position, slightly rounding your upper back (rather than just moving the knee up and down). Take the knee back down to your wrist and then back up toward the armpit quickly (like an elevator). Do 8-10 reps and then repeat with the left leg.
Circular Arm Crunch
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Jonathan Ross, an ACE-certified fitness expert and author of Abs Revealed, created this dynamic move that uses a stability ball and rapid upper-body movement to seriously engage your abs.
Lie with your hips and lower- and middle-back in contact with a Swiss ball (your head and shoulders extended off the ball). Your feet should be flat on the floor. Raise your head and shoulders and crunch your ribcage toward your pelvis, reaching both arms up to the ceiling. Hold for 1 count. As you lower out of your crunch, whip your arms down and around to the right in a fast circular motion, coming all the way back up to the top of a crunch, reaching your arms up at the top of your circle. Do 8-10 reps to the right, and then 8-10 reps circling to the left.
Rock Lift Abs
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This dynamic core exercise from Tamilee Webb, star of the Classic Buns of Steel DVD series, will really rock your abs (and probably make you smile too).
Sit with your hands just outside of your hips, fingertips forward. Bend your left knee, foot flat on the floor, and extend your right leg out straight, slightly lifted off the floor. Brace your abs in tight and rock backwards, bending both knees, rolling onto your shoulder blades, pressing your hands into the floor behind your shoulders. Quickly rock back up to your seated position (with your right leg extended), and use your abs and arms (not momentum) to lift your hips slightly off the floor. Hold for 1 count, bracing your abs in tight, and then rock back and repeat. Do 10 reps and then switch legs. Try up to 3 sets.
Alternating SandBell Reach
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"This exercise is great for engaging the entire core, says Joe Dowdell, celebrity trainer, strength coach, and co-founder of Peak Performance NYC. "Not only do you have to stabilize the core in the sagittal plane (front to back movement), but you also have to prevent rotation from occurring in the transverse plane," he says. "The added resistance of the SandBell also challenges the shoulders and lats during the reach pattern." No access to SandBells? Dowdell recommends using two weight plates, each placed on a small towel instead.
Start in the top of a pushup position with each hand on top of a SandBell (or a weight plate placed on a small towel) on a smooth floor. Dowdell suggests starting with a 4-6 pound SandBell or a 5-pound plate, and if it's too easy, increase the resistance. Brace your core and tighten your glutes. Slide your left arm out as far as you can while bending your right elbow and lowering your body toward the floor. Keep your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your ankles. To return to the starting position, extend your right elbow; raising your body back to the top position while simultaneously pulling your left hand back below your shoulder. Repeat on the other side. Try performing 3 sets of up to 12 reps on each side.
Turkish Getup Plank
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What happens when you combine the abs-olutely challenging Turkish getup exercise with a side plank? This killer move from Amy Dixon, exercise physiologist, celebrity trainer, and creator of the Breathless Body DVD series.
Lie on your left side with your left leg straight hip, right knee bent with your foot flat on floor. Prop your upper body up on your left elbow and forearm and extend your right arm overhead, holding a dumbbell. Brace your core and press through your right heel to lift your hips up into a bridge, extending your left arm beneath you. From here, shift into a left side plank, with your left foot and left palm on floor, right leg lifted, right arm still extended with weight stacked over shoulder, neck neutral. Slowly lower back to start. That's one rep. Work your way up to 8-10 reps on both sides.
Hollow Hold and Roll
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This gymnastics-inspired exercise is used to build core stability and strength, says Rick Richey, celebrity trainer and NASM master instructor. "It is employed when gymnasts hold a handstand, during bar or ring work, and even in back handsprings," he says.
Lie faceup on the floor with your legs and arms straight. Hold your arms straight above the top of your head. Lift your legs off the floor and slowly crunch your torso up so that only your lower back and butt are touching the floor, creating a "hollowed out" position. Keep your legs, butt, and abs tight and strong and your belly button drawn in.
From this position, slowly roll onto your side (without your arms or your legs touching the floor), transitioning to a side hold. Hold this position for 1 count, and then continue onto your stomach until you are facedown in a 'superman' position. Hold for 1 count, and then roll back over to your starting 'hollow hold' position, without letting your legs or torso touch the ground. Roll from the hollow hold to the superman position 10 times from the right, and then repeat 10 times from the left.
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Who knew a wall could be such a great abs toning tool? "This is a variation on an exercise I learned from a Grand Master of Martial Arts that I trained with for eight years," says John Nies, owner of The Power Center, an elite personal and group fitness training facility in Red Bank, New Jersey. "He believed being in an inverted position, pushing yourself to exhaustion, directed blood flow to the brain and opened up dormant parts of the mind." If you can master it, this move will definitely open your mind—and exhaust your abs in the process!
Stand with your back to a wall, about two feet away. Crouch down and place your hands on the floor about 12 inches in front and just outside of your feet. Raise your hips slightly (about 6-10 inches), placing more weight on your hands. Jump up, kicking both feet simultaneously up on the wall (the height will depend on the person). Keep your knees bent and press only the balls of your feet against the wall. Pause in this position, contracting the core, then release the feet from the wall and return to the starting position. Immediately jump back up to repeat the movement.
To make it even more challenging, instead of ending up with your knees bent and your feet on the wall, jump up and fully extend both legs, finishing in a handstand position. From there, pull your feet off the wall, bend your knees, and return to your start position. Do as many reps in a row as you can until exhaustion.
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Physical therapist Robert Forster, who works with many Olympic athletes, swears by this abs exercise. "It looks simple but it's quite taxing, and most importantly, it's safe for everyone! It works for my student athletes as young as nine or 10 years old, my elderly patients with osteoporosis, as well as my Olympic gold medalists," he says.
Grab and pair of dumbbells (start lighter and gradually increase your weight when you feel ready) and lie faceup with your knees bent at 90 degrees, feet touching the floor. Brace your abs in tight to your back as you lift your right leg up (still bent at 90 degrees) above your hip and reach your left arm overhead, palm facing in (your right arm is extended down by your side, just above the floor, palm facing in). Quickly switch your arms and legs, raising your right arm overhead and lowering your left down by your side, and lowering your right foot to the floor and lifting your left leg. That's one rep. Exhale every time you switch sides, keeping your abs braced in tight the entire time. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.
Medicine-Ball Alternating V-Up
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Grab a 4 or 6-pound medicine ball and get ready to build strength, stamina, and some serious hand-eye coordination with this move from ACE expert and senior personal training consultant Jonathan Ross.
Lie faceup on the floor with your legs extended and feet together, holding the medicine ball overhead. In one movement, lift your torso and legs, placing the medicine ball just below your knees (on top of your shins) at the top of your lift. As you lower your head and legs back towards the floor, the ball will roll down your legs towards your feet. As you lift back up to your V position, toss the ball back to your arms, catching it and reaching it overhead as you lower back down. Alternate catching the ball with your arms and legs with every V-up. Work your way up to 3 sets of 8-10 reps.