The Best Ab Workout

By Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S.

If it weren’t for dead guys, we’d probably never have started doing crunches. Or situps, or just about any other conventional ab exercise.

That’s because for years, much of our knowledge of the way midsection and other muscles work was based on the study of human cadavers. By looking at the anatomy of corpses, modern scientists figured that the function of your abdominals—particularly the rectus abdominis, or “six-pack muscle”—must be to flex your spine. Which is exactly what you do when you perform a crunch or a situp, or any other movement that requires you to round your lower back. But despite the popularity of these exercises, they simply aren’t among the most effective movements for building a rock-solid core.

You see, your abdominal muscles have a more important function than flexing your spine—their main job is to stabilize it. In fact, these muscles are the reason your torso stays upright instead of falling forward due to gravity. So in stabilizing your spine, your abs actually prevent it from flexing while you’re standing, walking, and running. Here’s my point: If you want better results from your core workout, you need to use a routine that trains your abs the way they’re designed to function. That’s not to say the classic crunch doesn’t work—it does. But the future of ab training is all about stabilization. And guess what? The future is here.

Your Hard-Core Training Plan

Fair warning: This workout may not feel like your usual ab routine. Because the exercises focus on spinal stabilization instead of spinal flexion, they don’t create the same type of abdominal-muscle soreness that you might have felt from traditional core moves. (Moving a muscle against a force causes more muscle damage than resisting movement does.) But that doesn’t mean they’re not working. In fact, since I began using this method in my gym, my clients are seeing faster progress than ever. So don’t worry—not only will this workout make your core strong and stable, it’ll also make your ab muscles pop. The Level 1 workout is the easiest, and a good place for beginners to start; the Level 2 and Level 3 workouts are progressively more challenging. For the best results, do the workout that best matches your fitness leve twice a week.

The Best Ab Workout Ever: Level 1
EXERCISE SETS REPS REST DURATION
1 Plank 2 N/A 30 s 30 s
2 Mountain Climber with Hands on Bench 2 N/A 30 s 30 s
3 Side Plank 2 N/A 30 s 30 s
The Best Ab Workout Ever: Level 2
EXERCISE SETS REPS REST DURATION
1 Plank with Feet Elevated 2 N/A 30 s 30 s
2 Mountain Climber with Hands on Swiss Ball 2 N/A 30 s 30 s
3 Side Plank with Feet Elevated 2 N/A 30 s 30 s
The Best Ab Workout Ever: Level 3
EXERCISE SETS REPS REST DURATION
1 Extended Plank 2 N/A 30 s 30 s
2 Swiss-Ball Jackknife 2 15 30 s N/A s
3 Single-Leg Side Plank 2 N/A 30 s 30 s

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