Your abdominal muscles do more than just look good in a bikini or while you are shirtless at the beach. The reality is your abdominal muscles, although they can be stubborn to tone, play a critical role when it comes to your spine. Your abs do more than just perform any movement that requires you to round your lower back, your abdominal muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing your spine. Your core muscles are the reason why your torso is able to stay in an upright position without you falling forward due to gravity. Your abs also prevent your spine from flexing. Whether you love your abs or think they could use a little (or a lot) of work, your abs are important and can use regular attention.
While the best abdominal exercises may be largely a matter of personal opinion, here are five of the most effective abdominal exercises:
- The abdominal hold. To complete this exercise, sit up tall on the edge of a sturdy chair. Position your hands on the edge with your fingers pointing in the direction of your knees. Slowly, tighten your abdominal muscles and raise your feet off of the floor – approximately two to four inches. Raise your buttock off of the chair. Hold this position for as long as you comfortably can – aim to hold this position for five to 10 seconds. Relax and repeat this exercise for one minute.
- The side crunch. The side crunch is much more difficult than your traditional crunch. It tests your balance. To perform a side crunch, kneel on the floor and lean all the way over to your right and place the palm of your right had on the floor. Maintain your balance and slowly extend your left leg. Point the toes of your left leg. Place your left hand behind your head and position your elbow so that it is pointing towards the ceiling. Slowly lift your leg to the height of your hip as you extend your arm above your leg – with your palm facing forward. Look beyond your and while bringing your left side of your rib cage inward towards your hip. Return to the starting position, repeat eight times.
- The prone plank. Whether you love or hate the plank, the plank is an effective abdominal exercise. To perform a prone plank, assume a push-up position. Hold this position for 30 seconds with your abdominal muscles contracted and your head aligned with your spine. Your arms and legs should be extended. Work until you are able to hold a plank position for one minute at a time.
- The bicycle exercise. The bicycle exercise targets the rectus abdominis (which can help you to create that 6-pack look) and the oblique muscles. To perform a bicycle, lie face up on the ground or on an exercise mat. Place your hands behind your head. Bring your knees in towards your chest and lift your shoulder blades off of the ground without straining your neck. Rotate to your left by bringing your right elbows towards you left knee as you straighten your right leg. Switch sides. Continue alternating between left and right for two sets of 12 repetitions.
- The exercise ball crunch. This style of crunch places a new twist on a traditional exercise that challenges your balance at the same time. To complete this exercise, lie on the ball with the exercise ball positioned under your lower back. Cross your arms over your chest or position them behind your head. Contract your abdominal muscles to lift your torso off of the ball. As you complete the crunch, keep the ball stable. Lower and repeat. Complete two sets of 12 repetitions.