Athletes have amazing abdominals. Have you ever looked at the Olympic 100m final and seeing the guys warming up for their race??? You’ll often see them with their T-shirts off before they put on their competition vest. You’ll notice how well developed their abs are and how they have very low levels of body fat.
I come from a track and field background myself and although I no longer compete I still train very athletically. Most of my training consists of performing BIG free weight (barbell and dumbbell) based exercises, bodyweight exercises (chin ups, pull ups, push ups, dips), various jump exercises using both double and single leg actions, overhead presses, jerks and squats, as well as various bodyweight based exercises and some more specific abdominal-core stabilization and anti-rotational work.
Today I would like to share with you what I consider to be six of the best athletic movements you can perform for developing better and leaner abs. These 6 athletic movements should supplement your strength training work, which should be made up of the BIG lifts, such as squats, deadlifts, pressing and pulling movements, as well as unilateral (single arm and single leg) work.
Sprinting is not just an excellent metabolic tool to use for fat loss, but it’s also excellent for developing the abdominal musculature. Your entire abdominal cavity will be engaged when you are sprinting at high speeds. There’s also an anti-rotational element involved in sprinting, which is another key aspect in abdominal training.
Sprinting for me personally is my number one item for fat loss and abdominal development. However, if you have any sort of orthopedic concerns, are severely overweight or are poorly conditioned at present I would recommend you leave out the sprinting until you are in a better position to take advantage of it.
Sprints can be performed on a flat, declined or inclined surface. You could also use a resisted pulley device, but please stay away from, and don’t waste your money on, those speed parachutes. They are fine for a wind free day, but if the wind picks ups they are a nightmare. There’s no need to waste your money on these devices.
2: Jump Exercises
Jump exercises such as squat jumps, burpees, alternating split squat jumps and tuck jumps are again excellent metabolic tools to use for fat loss, as well as abdominal development. Most people perform way too much floor based abdominal exercises. I like to incorporate more ground-based work and then, with those that are capable, I like to include some jump exercises via circuit training or mini-jump circuit routines to really tax the abdominals, legs and metabolism.
3: Overhead Exercises
Any exercise where you have to hold your arms or an object overhead will naturally require you to tighten up through the midsection.
Stand up for a second and be aware of how your midsection feels. Now as you are standing, reach both arms up overhead and feel the difference. Your midsection has become much more engaged by simply extending the arms above the head.
Now I want you to stand up and perform a bodyweight squat with your hands by your side and take note of how you feel through your midsection. OKAY, now stop and extend your hands up over your hand so that they form a ‘Y’ position and now perform a ‘Y-Squat’. Ahh, your midsection is definitely more engaged now, YES? Good!
Start with bodyweight Y-Squats as your overhead exercise of choice before moving onto more difficult overhead exercises, such as barbell overhead squats, barbell overhead lunges and barbell overhead step ups.
4: Bodyweight Exercises
People have developed the notion that bodyweight training is easy and they MUST do weights in order to tax themselves. I beg to differ. Just because you can do 10 half arsed push-ups does NOT mean you can master your Bodyweight!
Bodyweight exercises such as inverted rows, bodyweight squats, single leg squats, jumps, burpees, and plank variations all have progressions and they can all create a VERY effective workout that EVERYONE can benefit from. Supporting your body in all these positions not only taxes the abdominals but it is functional as well! You should always have the goal of been able to perform these exercises and it’s never too late to learn how to master your own bodyweight. Not only that but once you master these bodyweight exercises you can always start adding additional load in order to further challenge yourself and keep progressing.
The best bodyweight exercises are of course push ups, chin ups, pull ups, dips, squats, lunges, step ups, and various other full body movements, some of which we will look at below.
5: Stabilization Exercises
Stabilization exercises are fun and challenging to perform. There are numerous stabilization exercises you can perform and most are performed in either a prone (face down) or side position.
Let’s have a look at a few basic stabilization exercises.
Below you will see the basic plank being performed. From left to right we have increased difficulty, starting with a basic kneeling position plank, then a handstand position plank and finally an elbow stand position plank. All 3 positions are held for a certain time period and the objective is to keep the body tight and rigid like a PLANK of wood. The hips should not sag, nor should the butt end up piked in the air. Simply assume the starting position as pictured, brace your abs and hold the position for the specified time period.
Kneeling Plank Handstand Plank Elbowstand Plank
Now, we can also progress some of this exercises from maintaining a static hold and bring in some limb movement as we try to maintain a stable position of the trunk or at least minimize movement as we do so. For example, we could assume a handstand plank position and then perform what is called a handstand crossover climb. Basically you will move from four points of contact to two contact points by bringing one hand back to meet the instep of the opposite foot that’s lifted off the ground and moving forward to meet the hand. Now return back to the handstand start position (4 contact points) and repeat the action with the opposite hand and foot. This exercise does require a good level of coordination.
Handstand Crossover Climbs
Performing side planks is a great way to address the obliques and further challenge yourself due to the increased difficulty that’s created from being in a side position, which means there is only really two points of contact being made with the ground or surface beneath you.
Have a look at the progressions below. Again, they progress in difficulty from left to right. First off we have a knelling side plank, then we progress to a full side plank where the legs are fully extended and the knees are off the ground.
Next in the progression is a side plank where we bring in some limb movement in the form of hip flexion. This is an extremely difficult variation to perform.
Kneeling Side Plank Side Plank Side Plank + Hip Flexion
Finally we have a variation that I personally love. I call this one a single leg supported side plank and it’s performed with the forearm-elbow resting on an elevated surface such as a box, step or bench that’s approximately 16-18 inches high. You will really feel your obliques being taxed in this one as well as your inner thigh muscles. Perform this one with CAUTION!
Single Leg Supported Side Plank
6: Anti-Rotational Exercises
Anti-Rotational Exercises are another staple in my own abdominal and core training regime. I like to use simple exercises such as isometric band or cable pulley holds and dumbbell plank and rows as pictured below.
To perform the dumbbell plank and row, grab a set of dumbbells (light to start) and assume the handstand plank position with your hands grasping the dumbbells. You will need to have your feet spread a little further apart for this exercise than you would a regular plank, as you will be rowing one dumbbell up by your side and therefore moving onto 3 points of contact.
As you do this you will feel your hips wanting to ROTATE, but you MUST resist this rotation and try to maintain body alignment. Over time you can progress to heavier dumbbells as well as bringing your feet in closer to one another, but never bring them right in close to each other.
The row action is performed on each side, 1 rep right arm, 1 rep left arm. When returning the dumbbells to the ground, do not allow the weight to pull you down and the weight to smash into the ground. Make sure you lower the weight and do so under a bit of control. The movement doesn’t need to be slow, just controlled by YOU!
Dumbbell Plank and Row
AGAIN, this is just a short list of some non-traditional abdominal exercises I personally like to use myself and with clients. Keep in mind that the main things you need to do for getting those abs to show is to eat clean and train metabolically for fat loss. All the exercises pictured here should be supplementary and not the focal point of your six-pack development program.