The main problem is that many workouts don’t take into account that your midsection is actually composed of multiple muscles. The rectus abdominis is probably the one you know best: Running down your centerline from your sternum to pubic bone, this is the muscle people are typically talking about when they describe a six-pack. Then there are the obliques, technically two sets of muscles that run on diagonals beneath the rectus abdominis from your lower ribs to your hip bones. The transverse abdominus is even deeper still, wrapping around the sides of your torso and stabilizing your core. Your lower back muscles also play an integral role in defining your core — both aesthetically (they eliminate some of that side-fat overhang situation) and functionally (a strong lower back helps you rotate your core and stand more erect).
Not sure whether you’re hitting all the essential muscles in your core routine? The workout here has you covered. These 10 moves will sculpt your midsection into one lean, mean abdominal machine. Of course, no core workout will ever be a success if it’s not accompanied by eating smart and keeping up the cardio—if you’re carrying extra pounds, you’re going to have a gut, no matter how many planks you do.
One you can get through the below workout comfortably, add reps to your set, or sets to your circuit, to keep challenging yourself.
Lie on your back, legs extended, heels about 6 inches off the ground. Place your hands by your sides or under the small of your back for support. Begin to scissor your legs up and down, as if you are doing the backstroke in the pool. Flutter kick for 20 seconds, rest 10, then do 20 seconds more.
Lie on your back on the floor, legs straight up in the air, feet together. Place your hands by your sides or under the small of your back for support. Without bending your knees, lower your legs to just above the floor, then raise them back to their vertical position. Do 10 reps, rest 10 seconds, then do another 10 reps.
Grab an 8-10 pound medicine ball or dumbbell. Sit on the floor, knees bent, feet flat in front of you. Hold the weight with both hands, arms straight in front of your chest. Lean back so that your body is at 45 degrees (mid-situp position). Twist to the right, letting your arms swing over to your right side. Twist back to the left, letting arms swing to the left side of your body. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps, rest 10 seconds. Do 3 sets.
Get into an extended pushup position, then lower yourself to your elbows. Keeping your body in a straight line from head to toe, hold the position for 60 seconds. For variations on the theme, try a side plank (prop yourself up on one elbow, then raise your hips off the ground to create a straight line from your feet to your shoulders).
From an extended pushup position, engage your abs and hike your hips into the air until your body forms an inverted V shape. Hold for three counts, then lower yourself back into an extended pushup position, keeping your back flat. Repeat sequence for 60 seconds.
Sit on the floor, knees bent, feet flat in front of you. Place a medicine ball between your feet. Lean back and lift your feet off the floor, straightening your legs until your weight is balanced in a V position. From here, either hold this position for 30 seconds, or for a more advanced challenge, bend and straighten your legs while maintain the V-hold. Relax, then repeat.
Set the cable machine to a weight you can use for 8-10 reps. Stand perpendicular to the cable machine, left side closest, placing the pulley at chest height. Keeping your feet and hips stationary, twist your torso to the left and grab the pulley handle with both hands, arms straight. Pull the cable until your arms are straight in front of your body and your torso is straight over your legs. Hold for one count, then twist back toward the machine to return to the start position. Do 8-10 reps, then repeat on the opposite side. Do 2 complete sets.
Sit on the floor, knees bent, feet flat in front of you. Lean back so that your body is at 45 degrees (mid-situp position). Extend your arms in front of you as a counterbalance. Engage your abs and sink deeper toward the floor (don’t let your shoulders touch the ground), then immediately return to the start position. Pulse up and down for 30 seconds. Rest 10 seconds. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Using an overhand grip, perform a standard pullup. Once your head clear the bar, hold the contraction while bending your knees to your chest. (For a simpler version, hang from the pullup bar, arms extended. Bend your knees to your chest, then release them.) Do 8-10 reps, 30 seconds rest. 2 sets.
Set the cable machine to a weight you can use for 8-10 reps. Half-kneel perpendicular to the cable machine, left side closest to the machine and left knee bent in front of you (right leg on the floor). Place the pulley just above head height. Keeping your lower body stationary, twist to the left and grab the pulley handle with both hands, arms straight. Pull the cable on a diagonal until your arms are down at your right hip, torso twisted to your right side. Hold for one count, then twist back to the left to return to the start position. Do 8-10 reps, then repeat on the opposite side. Do 2 complete sets.
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