To obtain a chiseled, complete midsection you need to frequently engage your obliques and deep core musculature, not just the rectus abdominis (read: the “six pack”), as is so often the custom. Strengthening up all areas of your abdomen stabilizes the core and prevents injuries, and it also works as a girdle in tightening up the midsection, making you stronger and more effective on any exercise you perform in the gym. The bonus? You end up with a laser-etched, aesthetically pleasing midsection that’s built for the beach. Use these four moves more frequently in your abdominal lineup, or perform them in a single, dedicated workout.
Hanging Oblique Twists
The obliques are two sets of criss-crossing muscles that run diagonally between your pelvis and your ribcage. For hitting them head-on, few moves beat hanging oblique twists.
- Grab a pull-up bar so you hang freely with a neutral or pronated (overhand) grip. Use straps if you need to – grip strength and endurance shouldn’t be a limiting factor for this abdominal exercise.
- Pull your knees up toward your chest, twisting your knees as if you were trying to reach your left elbow with your right knee.
- Aim to “tilt” your pelvis toward your rib cage on every rep for maximum engagement.
- Alternate sides to failure.
Heavy Bag Knee Strikes
Most gyms have a few punching bags these days. Even if you don't have any gloves, you can use one of the bags for this killer oblique exercise.
- Grab the right side of the bag with both hands, both sets of knuckles pointing right.
- Bring your left knee up and around to the side, letting it slam into the bag. Try to swivel your hips so you get maximum impact with each strike.
- Perform reps for each side to failure before switching sides.
- To maximize speed and power on each rep, aim to do 5-6 strikes per side and alternate until your form begins to degrade.
Planks are a great way to target the deepest muscles of the midsection – the transverse abdominis. The side plank, which is generally performed with less frequency, is great for creating core strength and shaping the obliques.
- Lying on your side, prop yourself up onto an elbow, maintaining a straight body.
- Hold this pose for as long as you can, mentally focusing on the muscles between the ribcage and the side of the pelvis.
- Alternate sides.
Master the Vacuum Pose
The vacuum pose is a classic – and nearly forgotten -- bodybuilding show staple that works the midsection and teaches total abdominal control. To learn this technique, start by laying down flat on your back before graduating to standing.
- Take a deep breath, letting the air expand both ribcage and belly to the max.
- Blow out all air forcefully.
- Use the deep muscles of your midsection to draw your navel toward your spine.
- Sustain the vacuum as long as you can and repeat.
- As you get the hang of the basic suction, you can start twisting your ribcage and experiment with different poses.
- It will help to have a fairly empty stomach to do this exercise, for obvious reasons.
Putting It Together
You can always take these moves and sprinkle them in to your existing routine or you can perform 3-4 sets of each of these exercises in a single workout, in the order listed. Work to failure on each set, aiming for 10-15 reps on each side for hanging twists, 10-20 total strikes with each knee, 60 seconds per side on planks and a minute or longer on the vacuum pose.
Finally, reduce your rest times between sets to boost intensity. Abs are phenomenally hardy and recover quickly between sets but you still need to let the abs recover between workouts. Training abs every day of the week is a sure way to overtraining. Instead, hit them hard, then rest for a few days.