When it comes to getting the flat abs and definition through the midsection that we all want, there are some essentials that just can’t be missed!  Patsy has an awesome post that cuts to the chase and calls out some culprits affecting your results – no matter how hard you’re working out!

That’s where I come in!  Let’s talk about what we need to do in the gym for the goals you have – flat abs, reducing back pain, getting rid of the “mummy tummy”…. Bottom line is that no matter your goal, you need to do what works for YOU and not the fitness model demo’ing near impossible exercises in that app you downloaded!  It’s not just about pure intensity!  If you’ve had an injury, suffer from back or neck pain or are in a stage of rebuilding after baby, your program needs to take those things into consideration and start with a visit to your healthcare provider.  We don’t train “one-size-fits-all” around here and this post is no different!  What I will give you right now are some of my tips and moves that are great jumping off points – scaleable exercises and powerful info about getting waaaaay more out of the core exercises you love (and are probably already doing)!


Get back to basics

Start with moves that get you activating (feeling) your deepest ab muscles – the transverse abdominis.  Hello, pelvic tilts!!  This is the best place to start post-partum, by the way!  Even if you have a diastasis recti (separation between the 2 sides of the rectus abdominis muscle) this can be an appropriate exercise for you – where crunches are not!!  If you have trouble feeling the right muscles working when you’re training our abs, it’s also a great move to regroup and build the mind-to-muscle connection.  You can progress the pelvic tilt by adding alternating bent leg marches (aka the “dead bug”) as demonstrated here by Tara, our PT extraordinare!

Ready for more?  You can keep adding challenge as you get stronger by straightening the legs, moving on to a scissor-like action and eventually building to the dreaded double leg lowers while holding the tilt!  If you’re performing any of the more advanced moves I’ve listed (or ones I haven’t) with your hands tucked under your bum because your back hurts, I hate to say… it’s just a band-aid solution that won’t effectively solve the issue!  Regress to progress my friends!!  There are a ton of low-ab activation exercises that I’m happy to show you – and they’re the absolute smartest moves to start off your ab training session!  More on the magic order of exercises in a minute!


Mess with your plank

Who says planks are boring?!  I do! I do!!  So let’s mess with them a little.  That doesn’t mean you need to move to a harder version right away.  Make the version you’re doing BURN like you want it to and prevent the back pain and tummy sag that comes when your abs have maxed out!  Also, if you’re in the habit of mentally checking out during the plank, adding the “Big 5” will bring you back to reality pretty quickly!  Here’s what I mean:

  1. press your toes into the floor (if you’re planking from your knees, still push your toes into the floor while keeping the knee contact)
  2. tuck your hips gently under and contract the abs as if you’re crunching (the opposite of sinking through the low back)
  3. contract glutes and quads
  4. vacuum the navel to the spine (while still breathing deeply in and out!)
  5. press the forearms gently away from each other while maintaining elbows aligned under shoulders

… and you need to do all 5 at the same time!!

B-U-R-N!  Add these 5 form tips whether you’re on your knees or your toes!  Want even more stability work from the same-old plank?  Think movement vs stillness and try alternating your arms out to tap your fingers to the left and to the right!  OR… hold the upper body still and add an alternating leg movement (eg. tapping the right foot to the right, back to centre, and left foot tapping to the left).  Count reps vs time with these versions!  Now you have a way to take your plank from boring to super-effective and make it a great tool to reap a ton of strength and stability benefits!


Order of exercise matters

There is a science to the sequence!  Start with the lower abs, then the obliques (side bending, rotations and diagonals – both top down diagonals and bottom-up!). After the obliques, think about mid-range movements and “upper abs” at the very end – things you feel acting right in the middle. Finish with crunch-type actions (if you do those at all)!  Want some more examples?  I could go on forever and this is by no means an exhaustive list…

  • Lower abs:  pelvic tilts, wall pushes, reverse crunches, toes-to-ceiling,,,
  • Obliques:  Side bending – standing side bend with a weight, sidelying ‘crunch’ over the ball or BOSU, side plank hip dips…
  • Top down rotation:  standing wood chop with a band, diagonal crunch
  • Bottom up rotation – slow cross body mountain climbers, diagonal reverse crunch (toes lead off to the R shoulder, then L shoulder vs straight!)
  • Mid-range burns and rotations – v-ups, plange plank, body saws, Russian twists, standing band rotations, Paloff presses, plank rotations (moving the lower body while the upper body stays still!)
  • Top focused moves: crunch variations, ball or trx rollouts…

You don’t have to pick one of every action!  Some moves check more than one box on our master list!  The main take home point is to start low, move on to obliques and finish at the top.  The list above includes some more advanced moves – remember to pick variations and modifications that work for your unique body!


Mix it up!

Don’t just aim darts at the wall when it comes to choosing your exercises and expect great results.   As we talked about above, if you train by the action vs just by the exercise and with the best order of exercises in mind, you can really mix it up, end up with great results and never be bored!


Train often!

Ab work doesn’t need to take an hour.  Dedicated ab training shouldn’t take an hour!  If you carve out a few minutes a day, you can get a great burn and get on with your life!  Find that dedicated pocket of time 3, 4, 5 or even 6 days a week and do it at a time that can easily become routine – 10 minutes before your favorite show starts, right after the kids go to bed, right before dinner… 5-10 minutes is all it needs to take!  Pick 2-3 exercises and challenge yourself… Go for time (30-60 seconds per exercise), go for reps (10-20)… There are as many ways to challenge your abs as there are exercises from which to choose.  Consistency and appropriate intensity are keys to getting the results you want!

Want demos of any of the moves listed above?  Post a comment below!