We’re all familiar with the standard exercises everyone recommends for getting 6-pack abs: barbell rack squats, Supermans, bicycle crunches, and everyone’s favorite — forearm planks.
While doing these exercises can help you develop a 6-pack, it’s important to remember that a healthy workout regimen and overall abdominal strength require focusing on more than one set of muscles.
What Are the Main Core Muscles?
Your 6-pack abs (also known as the rectus abdominis) are part of your core muscles, which includes:
- Spinal erectors — located along the spine from head to pelvis
- The diaphragm — situated below the lungs
- Internal and external obliques — extending from your ribs to your pelvis
- Transversus abdominis — located on either side of the naval
- Gluteal muscles — includes the maximus, medius, and minimus
- Pelvic muscles — runs between your pubic bone to your tailbone
- Hip flexors — located at the front of the hips
The benefit of having strong abdominal muscles and a strong core extends beyond physical appearance. It helps your day-to-day functional tasks (walking, bending over, balancing), improves your posture, reduces back pain, and improves your health.
Core Strength Empowers Your Health
Your core serves as the pivotal connector between your upper and lower body, and it's the powerhouse behind your movements. Core muscles orchestrate the way your abdominal and back muscles operate in sync to provide support and stability to your spine.
By strengthening a robust core, you're laying the groundwork for all physical activities, ranging from simple tasks such as sitting, standing or bending, to more complex ones like a High-Intensity Resistance Training (HIRT) workout using your YBells.
The importance of core muscles and core exercises cannot be overstated when it comes to developing a chiseled 6-pack. While aerobic exercises are necessary to burn abdominal fat, core exercises play a crucial role in fortifying the muscles around the abdomen. They also aid in sculpting and defining your abs.
Avoid Muscle Strains and Injuries to Your Abs
Many people focus too closely on the physical appearance of having rock-hard 6-pack abs, often to the point of limiting or neglecting strengthening and cardio exercises. A more comprehensive approach to core strength is a healthier way to keep appealing abs and your overall fitness.
You can injure or strain your abdominal muscles from overuse. This can be prevented through daily stretching, warming up before a workout and cooling down after, and ensuring you keep proper form while exercising.
What Muscle Groups Do Ab Exercises Target?
Here are some commonly practiced ab exercises and the specific core muscle groups they work on:
- Bicycle crunch — Targets the lower abs, obliques, and the core
- Forearm plank — Focuses the obliques, transversus abdominis, and spinal erectors
- Alternating leg raises — Engages the obliques and hip flexors
- Side plank — Emphasizes the transversus abdominis, obliques, and glutes
- Russian twist — Exercises the obliques, transversus abdominis, hip flexors, and spinal erectors
- Forearm bridge — Works the transversus abdominis, glutes, and spinal erectors
- Mountain climber — Targets the obliques, glutes, and hip abductors
- Superman — Engages the glutes and spinal erectors
Many of these exercises extend their influence beyond your core, focusing on your lower back, shoulder, and leg muscles, which are crucial for mobility training and conditioning.
Abdominal Exercises Without Equipment
It’s easy to create a core routine to do in your home gym to get six-pack abs. Most core exercises don’t require equipment, just your body weight and maybe an exercise mat.
Glute bridges are great for hip mobility and lower back strength. It targets your gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstring and lower back muscles, obliques, and spinal erectors.
- Lie on the floor with your feet flat on the ground and knees bent, about shoulder-width apart.
- Extend your arms beside your body with palms down.
- Use your feet, arms, and shoulders to push into the ground and slowly lift your hips off the ground.
- Your knees, hips, and shoulders should form a straight line.
- Hold the bridged position for 5 to 10 seconds before lowering back to the ground.
- Repeat 3 to 5 times.
Tip: To avoid overextending your back, squeeze your glutes and keep your abs drawn in.
Crunches are a great exercise to build and define the rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and transversus abdominis while also engaging your spine. They’re an excellent exercise for improving your posture and balance.
- Lie down on the floor with your feet hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees and cross your arms on your chest.
- Contract your abs and breathe in.
- On the exhale, use your core to slowly lift your upper body while keeping your head and neck relaxed.
- Inhale and return to your starting position.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
Tip: Avoid sitting up too high during crunches because it can release the tension on the abs and overuse the lower back.
Forearm planks are phenomenal core strengthening exercises. They target the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transversus abdominis, spinal erectors, quadriceps, and pectoral muscles. They also help to give the “flatter” stomach look that is highly sought after.
- Begin in a push-up position with your shoulders over your wrists.
- Bend your elbows to 90 degrees, resting on your forearms with palms on the floor.
- Extend your legs with toes tucked and press through your shoulders to dome your upper back.
- Engage your core by pulling in your belly.
- Keep your legs straight to engage your hamstrings and quads.
- Hold for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat for 2 to 4 reps.
Tip: Always look for good alignment when doing planks and forearm bridges. Your goal is to have a straight line going through your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders.
Abdominal Exercises With Equipment
At-home core workouts should have abdominal work and exercises that focus on stabilizing the spine and pelvis. Free weights, like a YBell, and an exercise mat are all you need for a practical and advanced core workout session at home.
Running Mountain Climbers With YBells
Often called “running planks”, mountain climbers are a full-body exercise that engages your core. They work your glutes, hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, triceps, rotator cuffs, deltoids, scapular stabilizers, and many more muscles.
- Place 2 YBells on the ground, shoulder-width apart, with the top handle parallel to your body.
- Start in a plank position with your arms completely straight, holding the YBells with a top grip.
- Brace your core.
- Quickly lift your right foot off the ground, driving the knee to your chest without letting your foot touch the floor.
- Bring your right foot back to the starting position while simultaneously driving your left knee to your chest.
- Alternate back and forth for 10 reps.
Tip: This is a fast movement, though proper form is critical. If you're new to mountain climbers, start slowly and increase your speed as you become more familiar with the action.
Standing Dumbbell Bicep Curl
Bicep curls work the biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis muscles, deltoids, and wrist extensor and flexor muscles. Standing bicep curls will also force you to stabilize your spine and pelvis. This move can be done with dumbbells or replaced with YBells.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a YBell in each hand with your arms hanging by your sides.
- Keep your elbows close to your torso and your palms facing forward.
- Pull your abdominals in, and stand tall with your knees slightly bent.
- Breathe in.
- Keeping your upper arms stationary, exhale as you bend your elbows and curl the weights up to shoulder level.
- Inhale and return the YBells to the starting position, controlling the downward movement.
- Repeat for two sets of 12 reps.
Tip: Keep a constant tension in your biceps — don’t rest at the top or bottom of the movement.
Often performed with traditional workout equipment like a medicine ball, Russian twists work your obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, hip flexors, spinal erectors, and scapular muscles. It’s a popular exercise for athletes and those wanting to improve core strength while toning their midsection.
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Lean back, putting your upper body at a 45-degree angle to the floor, keeping your back straight.
- Hold the YBell in front of you with a double grip.
- Exhale, then rotate your core and arms all the way over to your right side. Inhale, then return to center. Repeat on your left side.
- Repeat for two sets of 10.
Tip: You can cross your legs for added stability. Or, if you’d like more complexity, brace your core and raise your legs up off the ground, forming a V shape.