There are plenty of myths in the fitness industry that ab workouts will not generate fat loss. If you are just training abdominals with hundreds of crunches and other core exercises, chances are you won't generate any significant fat loss during your ab workouts. If done correctly, however, training your whole core with targeted ab workouts will maximize your fat burning ability. This can be accomplished by taking the basic principles of cardiovascular and circuit training and combining it with challenging core exercises, movements, and ab workouts that will require the use of major muscle groups.
Any time your body moves, there are muscles working to keep you stabilized and other muscles working to actually move you. Your circuit should feature challenging core exercises and ab workouts to target both the stabilizers and the movers, because they are both an extremely important part of everyday functions as well as during strength and fitness training.
What is the Core?
The major muscles of the core reside in the area of the belly, the mid back, the lower back and the hip flexers. Most movements originate with the core, so a strong core is important for preventing and eliminating most lower back problems.
Static Core Function
Static core functionality is the ability of one's core to align the skeleton to resist a force that does not change. The bridge exercise is an example of a static core function that uses your whole core to keep you stabilized in position. Your body weight will rest on your forearms and toes, but without your core staying tight, your butt will shoot up in the air to get your calves involved to keep you in position, or your hips will drop to the floor. Starting and ending each round with static core exercises will target and improve the strength and endurance of your core. As you begin working on your core exercises while in the circuit, you'll notice a huge difference in how you feel during the first static exercise and the last. You can use this comparison as a way to gauge where you're at with your strength and endurance.
Dynamic Core Function
Dynamic core functionality is the ability to use the core as a stabilizer but also deal with the force of external resistance and incorporate a vastly different complex of muscles and joints versus a static position. For example, if you get into position to do a push-up, your core has to keep you stabilized and aligned in that position. Your chest, shoulders, and triceps are sharing the load as you lower down towards the floor and again as you come back up to starting position, all while your core continues to work keeping your back flat and your hips from dropping to the floor. Performing challenging dynamic core exercises, movements, and ab workouts will exhaust your energy stores extremely quickly, causing your body to start dipping into your fat stores to help complete your exercise. This is why it's important to keep the repetitions high with clean mechanics for whichever core exercises, movements, or ab workouts you choose.
A Circuit for Core and Ab Workouts
Start with three dynamic core exercises and two static core exercises. Remember that completing one set of each exercise equals one round.
1. Start with a static core function - 30 seconds/12 - 15 repetitions
2. Dynamic core function - 45 seconds/12 - 15 repetitions
3. Dynamic core function - 45 seconds/12 - 15 repetitions
4. Dynamic core function - 45 seconds/12 - 15 repetitions
5. Static core function - 45 seconds/12 - 15 repetitions
Rest 1 - 1.5 minutes and complete another round. There should be no breaks between ab workouts or core exercises, only between rounds; however, rest depends on stamina and endurance level. Beginners should start at 1.5 minutes and work their way back to minimum time between rounds.
Exercises: 5 -7
Every other week, switch up the order and/or movements for both dynamic and static core exercises to keep the body from adapting to the ab workouts and core circuit program and thereby hitting a plateau. Keeping the repetitions high with an overall round time between 4 - 7 minutes will keep your heart rate in a cardiovascular/fat loss mode. The idea is to keep your heart rate between 65-70% of your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR), which will maximize your opportunity for fat loss while strengthening major muscle groups, and most importantly, your core.
Examples of Circuit Movements, Core Exercises, and Ab Workouts
Dynamic Core Function
1. Wrap tube or band around a sturdy object and stand to the left, holding handles in both hands.
2. Keeping the arms straight, swing the arms across the body and rotate towards the left, contracting the abs.
3. Repeat for 10-12 repetitions before switching sides.
Dumbbell Pushup Row
1. Start by placing the dumbbells onto the ground and getting into a pushup position holding onto the dumbbells.
2. Proceed into a pushup and then extend your arms into a completed pushup.
3. Then, row one dumbbell up to chest level and return to the ground. Repeat with the other arm. This is considered one repetition.
4. Make sure you keep your abs tight and back flat throughout this movement.
Medicine Ball Lunge and Twist
1. Start with feet hip width apart and a medicine ball or dumbbell in your hands.
2. Lunge forward with one foot as your back knee drops down into a proper lunge. Make sure you keep your back straight so that you aren't leaning forward.
3. Extend your arms in front of you about chest height with the ball in your hands and twist your torso towards the leading foot. This will cause everything from your torso up to twist with the ball, which causes a nice contraction for the abdominal area. Inhale and bring the back foot up and twist back to starting position.
4. Make sure to keep your back straight, along with the proper breathing technique through your sets.
Medicine Ball Crunch and Toss
1. Begin seated on the floor, legs and spine straight, and the ball extended out in front of you.
2. Pull the abs in and engage the pelvis as you roll down onto the mat, feeling each vertebrae make contact, while taking the ball over the head.
3. Roll back up to start taking the ball up and releasing the ball forward as you come back to sitting.
4. Repeat for 10-12 repetitions and bend the knees to modify this move if your back is arching off the floor.
Static Core Function
1. Lay on the ground on one side. Raise your body using one forearm and support it in this raised position for the required time.
2. Lower your body and repeat on the other side.
3. Remember to keep your head, neck, and body in a straight line.
1. Start by lying face down on the ground. Place your elbows and forearms underneath your chest.
2. Prop yourself up to form a bridge using your toes and forearms.
3. Maintain a flat back and do not allow your hips to sag towards the ground.
4. Hold for the required time limit or until you can no longer maintain a flat bridge.
Noticeable benefits to core exercises and ab workouts include better balance, stability, and posture, more energy (a stronger core will require less help from major muscle groups), elimination and prevention of back pain or other pain related to poor posture, and a decrease in cardiovascular limitations as well as an increase in fat loss and overall strength.
The core exercises and ab workouts you choose to put in your circuit will depend on your personal fitness goals. If you are using strength and fitness training to tone your upper body, choose dynamic core exercises and movements that target chest, back, and/or shoulders. For lower body, focus more on dynamic core exercises and movements like the lunge and twist, standing bicycle kick, or other similar exercises.