5 Butt-Kicking Core Exercises

STACK Expert Rick Scarpulla provides five tough core exercises that will build serious ab strength and core stability.

Peyton Manning performs Seated Med Ball Twists

Athletes need core strength. This shouldn't be hard to understand. Most take pride in strength, and core strength should be no different.

That doesn't mean you're going for a six-pack. Let me be the first to tell you—don't try to be a bodybuilder if you want to be an athlete. Bodybuilding is an entirely different game, one that requires little or no athletic skill. Bodybuilders are not in football or basketball shape.

Yet even if you never see those bricks on your stomach, you still want to develop your core.

As I have said many times before, ab work involves a lot more than three cheap sets of crunches at the end of your workout. Proper diet and aerobic work are also a must. So if you like to eat Chips Ahoy and chug Mountain Dew, you're probably not going to get ripped abs.

Most guys work abs like little girls. They do a few Crunches and hope that does it. That won't work.

That said, here is my list of top butt-kicking ab exercises. Be sure you squeeze each rep hard at the bottom or crunch part of the rep.

And remember: If you work your core like a baby, you will have the core strength and development of a baby.

5. Seated Med Ball Twists

Number 5 on the list is a tried-and-true favorite. You can add variations to make it more productive.

  • Holding a med ball with both hands, sit with your knees bent toward your chest.
  • Lean back to almost 45 degrees.
  • Keeping your lower half still, twist your upper body from side to side.

The key to this one is to keep your nose moving with the ball. As you bring the ball from side to side, follow the same pattern with your head so as the ball moves, your eyes go with it. That hits the abs much better than just moving your arms, as many people inadvertently do.

Variation: This involves the lower abs as well. Every two reps, extend your legs fully, then bring them toward your chest for two reps, then continue to do the twists. This one can be done on the floor or on a bench. Don't use too heavy a med ball or you will take the tension off the abs and end up working your shoulders more than your abs.

Remember: Different exercises hit different parts of the abs. Any time you move your legs during an ab exercise, you should be working your lower abs. This is the hardest part for most people to activate correctly. If you don't engage your abs correctly, you can feel it more in your hip flexors.

To work your lower abs, focus on moving your legs with your abs rather than throwing up your legs with your hip flexors. You will have to consistently think about this, or you will not maximize your reps.

Holding the squeeze or contraction in the abs for a second or two is another way to increase difficulty and improve results.

4. Hanging Leg Raises

This one is for the lower abs. It's difficult. Many of you won't be able to do it because you can't hold your body weight while hanging from a bar. If that's the case, put your arms in straps. That will make it easier.

Hang at a full arm extension from an overhead bar. Keep your legs together and hold them straight (no bent knees). Focusing on your abs, raise your legs up at a 90-degree angle to your torso. Start by raising them to the 90-degree point and then lowering them. As you progress, hold at that point for a short count—maybe a three- or four-count on each rep. You can even do what is called a "flutter": hold your legs straight out and do a small swimming flutter-kick motion.

To progress further, you can add twists and even go all the way up to a toes-to-hands CrossFit-style movement.

3. Reverse Deadlift

This is one of my favorite exercises. When you work your abs, some exercises should be done standing up. This will be a much different approach for many of you.

Take a rope or handle attachment and hook it to the lat pulldown machine. Grip the handle with both hands with a reverse grip (palms toward your face). Pull the handle down behind your head to the back of your neck and hold it firmly against your neck. Bend over while keeping the bar against your neck. Squeeze your abs at the bottom of each rep.

Use a good amount of weight. Remember, the abs are muscles and respond well to weighted movements. This one hits the upper and center parts of the ab muscles.

We like to mix up the reps. Mostly we use heavier weight and lower reps. But sometimes we do more reps with less weight.

This is a muscle-builder, so use some weight! It's good for strengthening your lower back, too.

2. Hovers, V's and Bikes

In our gym, we do this one the most. It's a three-exercise rotation, a complex set of movements that we call "Hovers, V's and Bikes." We start with camel hovers:

  • Get down into a plank position.
  • As you hold that position, touch your hips to the ground, moving just your middle half.
  • Quickly reverse it by sticking your hips and butt way up in the air (kind of like a humping motion).
  • Focus only on moving your torso. Try to keep your shoulders still.
  • Immediately flip over onto your back.
  • Raise your legs straight up and hold your arms over your head with your hands together.
  • Engage your core and raise your hands up to your feet, holding them together in a V position.
  • Go back down to the starting position. Keep your legs straight and try not to bend your knees.
  • For added difficulty, hold the top position for a three-count before going back down.
  • Go right into a basic bicycle crunch, twisting your body to bring your right elbow to your left knee and then your left elbow to your right knee while pumping your legs in a bicycle motion in and out.

We normally do 50 to 100 of each movement for three to five sets. We use this as a high-rep complex movement and do it several times a week.

1. Board Sit-Ups

The top spot goes to an exercise that is a real strength builder, one in which you can use a good amount of weight. For this one you will need a sit-up board.

Get on the board and position yourself correctly. Have someone hand you a heavy dumbbell and hold it at chest height. Do conventional sit-ups but sort of roll up so you bring the weight toward your thighs more than your feet. The rolling action will help you crunch your ribs down toward your hips.

Again, this is a heavy weight movement. We use 100 pounds+. If done correctly, it builds tremendous core strength. Remember to focus on pulling from the abs, not the hip flexors. If you feel any of these movements anywhere but the abs, you're not firing your muscles correctly

Bonus: This one's not for anyone who's even close to weak. If you are not bull strong, you will not be able to do it at all! Most people can't. I do this one with my military guys at West Point and some of the studs at my training facility.

Standing up, bend over, grab a 135-pound barbell and roll out until your body is completely straight and parallel with the floor. Then roll back. Easy to say; extremely hard to do.

Good luck!

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