While many ab workouts advertise as being the best for toned-looking, tight bodies, many don’t consider the difficult strain they may have on one’s back, especially for someone just beginning to explore workouts. If you’re just a regular human being and not an Olympic athlete, these are the best ab exercises to stay healthy and physically resilient.
1. Side bends
This easy, delicate exercise can help build up obliques, strengthen the spine, and stretch your ab muscles.
Stand with your hands on your hips, and your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping one hand on the back of your head with your arms bent, and letting the other arm dangle, bend to the side with your dangling arm reaching for your foot. Once you feel a stretch on the side of your body with your raised arm, return to the center.
Do this 10 times in a row (or to the best of your ability), then take a break, and repeat the exercise on your opposing side with another ten reps. If you’d like, you can hold a small dumbbell in your dangling arm.
2. Straight-leg lifts
Objectively the most difficult of all exercises, this will mainly target your lower abdominals. While it might be simple stylistically, this exercise requires intense core engagement and flexible hips.
Lay on your back with your legs straight and on the ground. With your arms down to your side, palms on the ground, lift one leg up, keeping it in line with your body, until both legs are positioned at a 90-degree angle, as straight as if they were still on the ground. Put your leg down, and repeat the exercise with your other leg.
Repeat this five times on each side. If you’re feeling brave, try to raise both legs at once in a double leg-lift.
3. Bird dog
It’s not just a cute, floppy-eared furry friend – a bird dog is a great way to improve your balance and core. These exercises are great because they’re safe for herniated or bulging discs as long as your back issues aren’t too severe.
Start on the ground, with your weight on your hands and knees, with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees aligned with your hips. Life up your left arm, reaching forward until it’s straight and in line with your torso. As you’re lifting your arm, lift your right leg back in the same way, until it’s aligned with your body. You should look like this (less like a bird dog, and more like a human with a lifted leg and arm.)
Try to hold this position for five seconds, but if you can only do it for two or three seconds, listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard. Return to your starting position with your arms and legs all on the ground, then repeat the exercise in the same way with your right arm and left leg. Repeat this exercise five times on each side, then rest.
4. All kinds of planks
The bane of many middle and high-school gym experiences, planks are a classic yet difficult way to ensure abs of steel. There are dozens of different kinds of planks, some that are known to scientifically reduce the severity of scoliosis, and others that focus more on balance than on muscle-building. Here, we’ll just talk about the most basic form of planks.
If you’re not familiar with a plank, it doesn’t require an extreme amount of coordination. Starting on the ground, lay on your stomach with your legs together, and your forearms on the ground and elbows bent. Make sure that your elbows are aligned with your shoulders, so you don’t hurt your back. Elevate yourself on your toes, back straight, weight on your forearms, like this, and try to hold your form as much as possible. Experts at Harvard say that it’s best to hold a plank anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds and try for two or three repetitions if you can.
5. Reverse sit-up
Sit-ups, while beneficial for one’s core, are known to cause more back problems than they’re worth. However, when reversed, one can gain all the benefits from a sit-up without all the aches and pains associated with them.
Lay on your back as if you’re going to do a sit-up, with your feet on the ground, and your legs bent at the knee, hands across your chest. But rather than hoisting yourself up to touch your chest to your legs, you’ll be lifting your legs, not your torso. Touch your knees to your chest, then return your feet to their former position, flat on the ground. Do this fifteen times, then rest.
Why these are the best ab exercises
Many ab exercises may be catered to those without back issues or neck problems, and working out might seem intimidating, or overwhelming. But there are certain exercises one can start with and alter accordingly as their physical abilities progress.
Ultimately, these exercises can reduce musculoskeletal pain, improve mood, and benefit one’s overall health. So don’t be apprehensive — add a few ab exercises to your workout routine, and soon, you’ll be feeling your best.