5 Exercises for Abs of Steel
The Six Pack. The Holy Grail for all young men starting their weight lifting journeys. Whether they’re gracing the cover of glossy magazines, filling your social media pages, or following you around on all the clickbait ads that litter our home-page, you cannot escape the six pack. So you finally pulled your thumb out your ass, dieted down, trained hard, and finally…you’ve got abs!
Great, you’ve got a six pack. Summer is approaching and you can now strut around like a brave peacock, top off at a moments notice, oil at hand ready to really bring out the detail between those abdominals. You are held in high regard by your friends, and assumed to be some sort of oddity by the rest of humanity who keep their T-shirts on.
Only problem is that the gym you train in always has the air-con on full blast, and it’s far too cold to train topless (not to mention unhygienic). You look around the weight room, your attention drawn to the far side as the resident Strongman performs farmer’s walks with dumbbells you couldn’t even pick up. You notice that little powerlifter in the corner is warming up with your deadlift 1RM, again. And it doesn’t escape your attention that the repetitive thudding is coming from a Rugby player slamming a heavy medicine ball into a wall over and over again.
Your usual spot in the stretching-area is unoccupied, so you wander over and start the sets of endless crunches and sit-ups that have helped sculpt that midsection your friends are so envious of. That aching in your lower back will ease after the first few sets. Though it is curious all the gorillas in the gym don’t ever seem to wear a weight belt, their backs must be in agony all the time. Yours would be if you tried to join in, you know that for certain.
But that doesn’t have to be the way.
You could have aesthetics and strength. You could look great, and perform even better. You can have a six pack, and have Abs of Steel!
Abs of Steel
By “Abs of Steel” I am referring to a midsection, a “core” that not only looks the part, but is fit for purpose too.
A strong set of abdominals will protect your spine, stabilise your hips, and improve your strength for all the big lifts.
But you don’t get Abs of Steel just by performing endless sets of crunches and planks in your personal training program.
We need to challenge them, we need to stress them, we need to take them close to the edge if we want Abs of Steel.
So here are 5 exercises that will get you started:
1: Heavy Kettlebell Pullovers
The premise is simple: lock your ribs down, keep your lower back pushed into the floor, and lower a kettlebell overhead. The execution is a lot harder.
You’ll start to feel the lower back rising from the floor as your spine tries to get back it’s natural arch. FIGHT IT! You’ll start to feel your ribs unlocking and your chest rising. FIGHT IT! At first you may only get the kettlebell back 2″ before you lose all tension and position. That’s ok. Start small, start conservative, and make steady progress.
Aim: Shoot for 5 breaths in the furthest position you can achieve. That means fully exhale, and then slowly inhale.
2: Single Arm Farmer’s Walks (Suitcase Carries)
Guess what, your core works in more than one plane of movement. You have to be strong in three dimensions if you want Abs of Steel.
Enter the Suitcase Carry.
Picture it this way. You get home from a big shopping trip, you have to pull up 100 yards from your front door as all the car parking spaces have been stolen. You are faced with two options. You can do a few trips back and forth, hoping someone doesn’t help themselves to the contents of your boot as you ferry backs to and fro. Or there’s option 2.
But in truth there really is only option 2, because you’ve already made your mind up.
You claw every bag strap over your forearm and onto your left hand. You somehow swing them clear of the boot, and with your free hand close and lock the car. The cartons on milk and obscene amount of canned veg pulls you to the side, threatening to flip you over. Every step you go through the same process. It’s a battle between you and the bags, or more accurately a battle between you and gravity – but it’s all happening on one side!
Your right hand reaches for the lock on the front door, keys extended. You tumble through the entrance and dump everything on your foot. Relief. But why is one side of your midsection so sore?
Suitcase Carries will force you to stabilise using one side of your core. Which is great for shopping bags, but really comes into it’s own when you are climbing a ladder, one hand on the rail to the side, the other clutching a big tub of soapy water.
OK so I’ve never been in that situation, I was just clawing for an example.
Aim: 50 metres with a heavy weight (half bodyweight shall we say) for a few rounds. Keep the ribs locked down on the side of the body that isn’t holding the weight.
3: Single Arm Plank (Using Gymnastic Rings or TRX)
You’ll want to start high with this one, and when you’re ready to you can always lower the handle to make it more challenging.
If you’re really crazy you can throw in a DB or KB row just for a laugh (and also to make it insanely challenging).
Aim: 2-3 sets of 8-10 breaths each side. Make sure you keep those hips tucked under and press yourself away from the handle attachment.
4: Incline Bench Reverse Crunch
Did you feel your hip flexors work the last time you did hanging leg raises? Struggle to find anything that feels like it works the “lower” part of your abdominals? If you answered yes to any of those (silently I hope – be a bit weird if you said it aloud), then the reverse crunch/curl may just be for you.
The issue for many of the aforementioned exercises is that they take the hip through extension AND flexion. And for many people this action will be performed by the hip flexors. During the reverse crunch you can however lock the hips into flexion (posterior pelvic tilt), which is going to reduce the amount the hip flexors can contribute to the exercise. Add these to your personal training routine and thank me later.
Aim: 2-3 sets of 6-8 “lowerings”.
5: Kneeling Med Ball Toss
Life happens in three dimensions, so let’s make sure our training reflects that. Plus if you play any sort of sport, or regularly run, this is going to have huge carryover.
And the best bit about it all?
Medicine ball throws are so simple. There’s literally zero learning curve.
Aim: Mix up your stance; 2 knees down, 1 knee down. High reps making sure you tense your core throughout and use your midsection/hips to propel the medicine ball rather than your shoulders/arms. 20 repetitions each side for a few rounds will blast your core, and throw in the added bonus of getting your heart rate sky high. Don’t be afraid to go heavier with the weight, a 20kg medicine ball isn’t too heavy for most.
So there you have it. Give these a go if you want so build Abs of Steel!
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Chichester based personal trainer.