How to Make Ab Exercises More Effective

You've probably heard the phrase "engage your core" once or twice or maybe, you know, a hundred times. (If not, here's a quick refresher on what it means.) That's an important trick to keep in mind during ab workouts, but it's also not everything. If you're still not seeing or feeling the results you want in your abs, you're going to want to take it one step further.

"The most important thing is to learn how to get tension into your abdominals, no matter what you're doing," said Ryan Johnson, NSCA, personal trainer and cofounder of Homage Fitness. The way to do that, he explained, is by "pulling" your ribs down. "Think about if your hands were on your ribs and you kind of had to pull your ribs down to protect your internal organs. That's a way that your core can actually activate."

One of the best ways to learn how to feel this tension and start to sculpt strong, tight abs, is a classic: the plank. You want to pull your rib cage down, Ryan said, and try to get a slight tuck to your hips so that your body is fully in line. Eric Johnson, an NSCA-certified trainer and fellow cofounder of Homage Fitness, told POPSUGAR that to get full tension and results from your ab workouts, "You want to start off with those exercises that actually don't flex or rotate the spine." Along with planks, he also recommended:

  • Side plank
  • Hollow hold
  • Dead bug
  • Pallof press

It's all about holding tension through the whole exercise and resisting any extra movement. For example, Ryan said that in a dead bug exercise, "your back's going to want to come off the ground. So you want to keep trying to push that down and resist any rotation, and that's really teaching your core how to integrate."

"A lot of people think that they really have to burn out the core with high reps," Eric said. But if you do a plank while forcing tension through your whole body, Ryan explained, "You can't actually hold that position longer than about 60 seconds." Maintaining a hold for a short amount of time, or performing a lower number of a similarly high-tension move, is going to be much more beneficial "than trying to power your way through these massive reps core routines."

Scroll ahead to learn how to do each of these ab and core moves. Try adding two or three to the beginning of your workout to activate your core, or perform them all for a short, intense ab workout. Want more? Check our other favorite core-activating exercises here and this fast, intense four-move ab workout.

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