What advice do you offer for strengthening the abdominals?

March 5, 2016

Q: The weakest part of my body is my abs and core, and I have never been able to fix this problem. What advice do you offer for making a plan that will target this area?

A: There are many ways to solve this problem, but I prefer to take a common-sense approach that focuses on basics first and more advanced techniques as you develop strength and stamina in the core area. See below for some suggestions on how to get this done.

Start with basic movements

If you want to develop a strong, defined core, stay away from trendy exercises and focus on basic movements that place the targeted muscles under constant tension with perfect form. To accomplish this, choose entry-level body weight movements and be sure to minimize momentum, pausing at the top and bottom of each rep and contracting the muscles until you feel an intense burn. This will allow you to build a strong foundation that will help you tackle advanced exercises in the future. Examples of exercises to start with are planks, reach crunches and Swiss ball crunches.

To perform Swiss ball crunches, lie on the Swiss ball with the top of your back slightly off the ball and your feet planted firmly on the floor. Extend your arms above your head and reach for the ceiling with your face parallel to the floor.

Use a 360-degree approach

It's important to remember that your waistline is a circle and you must work the lower back and side obliques equally if you want to reach your full potential. This will not only help you develop a great-looking waistline, but it will provide balance and protect you from injury. To target the lower back, include exercises such as bird dogs, modified bird dogs and hyper extensions. For the obliques, a more creative approach is necessary with exercises that involve twisting movements like side planks, side plank twists and toe toucher crab kicks.

To perform a toe toucher crab kick, sit on the floor with your feet shoulders' width out in front of your body and your left hand on the floor to your side and right hand above your head. Press your right foot and left hand into the floor, lifting your body and elevating your left leg. Now pick up your left leg diagonally across your body and bring your right hand down and touch your toe. Allow your arm and leg to go back to the starting position and repeat for the  desired amount of reps. Then switch sides.

Incorporate functional movements

Once you have established strength and balance, add functional movements to your routine to take your abdominal workouts to the next level. Functional movements are great because they not only require strength, but help develop coordination with exercises that mimic real-life situations. Exercises such as modified bird dogs, mountain climbers and ball slams are great examples and can be plugged into super sets and tri sets for an intense workout.

To perform ball slams, lift a dynamax ball over your head with your arms stretched out with your elbows wide. Once the weight is over your head, contract your abs and bend at the waist and knees, slamming the ball to the ground as hard as you can.

Experiment with weights

Once you have mastered the above techniques, a great way to shock your waistline into achieving new results is incorporating moderate weight with abdominal movements. Exercises like weighted Swiss ball reach crunches, rope crunches and medicine ball twists are great to increase the intensity of your workout and break the monotony of traditional abdominal exercises. Just be sure to start slowly and focus on perfect form.

To perform a rope crunch, kneel in front of the cable stack and grasp each rope handle above your ears with your elbows tucked in close to your body. Contract your abdominal muscles, bringing your torso toward the ground until your elbows touch the floor. Contract your abs and slowly return to the starting position and repeat for the desired amount of reps.

If you want to build a strong, defined waistline with eye-popping abs, start with basic movements and progress to more advanced exercises, and your results will be steady.

Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out for training tips, news and inspirational stories.


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