A Workout for Your Core
Since you decided to read this article, you may be wondering: Is this workout going to give me the flat, toned, ripped stomach I’ve always wanted? At first glance, the answer may seem to be no, but keep reading because these exercises will be a small part of your future flat-tummy success. But first we have to clear one thing up.
There is a misconception that “spot” training is the best way to lose fat in an area you desire. While it is true that if you work your “abs” and build muscle there, this muscle will help you burn tummy fat; however, it is also true that when you focus on building lean muscle, you burn fat from all parts of your body.
So if you want to lose weight in a certain area, it is important to focus on larger muscles like your legs, back, and shoulders. This creates lean muscle mass everywhere and a constant fat burn.
The exercises below are also not what you might typically think of as being for your core or abs, but they are designed to build up deep musculature. This musculature is a stabilization system that plays a huge roll in things like preventing low-back pain and athletic performance.
Your core is your center of gravity and where all movement starts, so in addition to making you look good, a strong core can prevent a lot of dysfunction and injury.
Basic Position. Start by lying in your back, feet flat on the floor at a comfortable distance from your glutes, with your hands by your sides.
Progression 1. Lift your legs and bend your knees so they make a 90-degree angle. Note that your back should remain completely flat on the floor throughout the exercise. Most people will arch their back (an anterior pelvic tilt), so you can scoop your tailbone to keep a neutral spine.
Progression 2. Lift your head off of the ground as though you are trying to look at your belly button. (This helps to make sure your chin stays tucked so that you can support your neck properly.) Your shoulders will come off the floor slightly, but not as high as if you were doing a crunch or sit-up.
Progression 3. Raise your arms, making sure your shoulder blades are retracted (pinched together) and depressed (down). Your hands should be slightly off the floor as well.
Next, straighten your legs. As you get stronger, you can gradually lower the height of your legs until you can hold them right above the floor. Again, make sure that your back is flat and your navel is drawn in toward your spine.
Progression 4. Extend your arms overhead, keeping them as straight as possible and slightly off of the floor as well.
Hold each progression for 5–10 seconds followed by a 5–10 second rest. As you progress, the hold should be closer to 10 seconds, and the rest closer to 5 seconds. Repeat the whole set of progressions six times, with a one-minute rest after each set.
Plank From Hands
The goal of doing a plank is not to hold yourself up as long as possible, but to gain as much strength as possible using as many muscles as you can to keep proper alignment. Often when people focus on the length of the hold, they sacrifice proper form and put themselves at risk for injury.
Instead, focus on creating more tension by working more muscles, which will translate into more calories burned.
Basic Position. Assume a plank position with your arms fully extended, pits of the elbows facing forward. (If you have to turn your hands out slightly, that is okay.) Legs are completely straight with your toes spread as wide as you comfortably can. Engage your glutes by squeezing them as much as possible and drawing your belly button in toward your spine. Tuck your chin.
Hold each progression as you did for the hollow body.
Progression 1. Slightly shift your weight over your hands for increased wrist flexibility, mobility, and shoulder strength as well.
Progression 2. Start in a hand plank with your feet out as wide as you comfortably can while maintaining proper alignment. Next, position your legs about hip-width apart, and alternate holding your legs up for three to five seconds. Hold five times on each leg.
Progression 3. Bring one knee at a time as far forward between your arms as possible.
Any time you lift your legs, make sure the your hips stay level.
Basic Position. Get into plank with your elbows on the floor. In order get the right tension in a forearm plank, pull your elbows back to engage your lats, which are large triangular muscles that extend from your sacrum up the spine in your lower back and then across to your armpits. Your elbows won’t actually move, but you will create the feeling that they are moving.
Progression. Lift one arm off the floor for a moment while maintaining proper alignment (your hips must stay level). Start with one-second alternating holds, and work your way up to five-second holds. Do as many as you comfortably up to five on each side.
Basic Position. Start by lying on your side. Then raise your chest and prop yourself up on your elbow. Keep your legs straight and glutes squeezed. Now raise your hips as high as you can while keeping a neutral spine.
Progression 1. Lower just your hips as close as you comfortably can to the floor. Then return back to the top of your side plank. It is important not to allow your shoulder to sink as you lower your hips.
Also, be sure you maintain all of the other checkpoints throughout the process: navel drawn in, glutes engaged, legs straight. Do 2–3 sets or as many as you can while maintaining proper form for a maximum of 12 sets.
Progression 2. Lower and rise as you just did for progression 1, but at the top, do a hip abduction, which means lift your top leg about 2–4 inches away from the bottom for about a second. To start over, put the top leg back down on top of the bottom and repeat. Do the same number of sets as in the first progression.
There are regressions (easier versions) of all of these exercises, so if you find yourself unable to do these, reach out to a fitness professional who can help you prepare for these moves without injury.
There are two very popular sayings in the fitness community that directly correlate to the goal of weight and fat loss: “Abs are made in the kitchen,” and “You can’t out-train a bad diet.”
These sayings are both true, and here is why: There are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat, so if you want to lose a pound of fat in a week, you would just have to burn an average of 500 calories a day more than you consume.
That means if you eat or drink 2,000 calories a day, you have to burn 2,500. If you eat or drink 5,000 calories a day of pizza and soda, but you burn 5,500 calories a day, you will also lose fat. I am not saying you will be healthy, but you will lose weight.
However, most people are not in the position to burn these kinds of calories. They sit at a desk for many hours a day, then they sit in a car or train, and then sit again to watch TV. All this sitting in addition to an unhealthy diet just won’t let you shed any pounds. So hold yourself accountable for what you consume.
Chad Raynor is an NASM-certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and performance-enhancement specialist. He is also an SFG Level 1 Kettlebell instructor and a representative for Independent Training Spot, a sports-performance and sports- medicine facility in Midtown Manhattan. [email protected]