Getting your abs in shape is one of the best ways to build a great-looking body. Along with dumbbell-honed shapely glutes, and exercises for a strong chest, ab work is some of the best exercise you can do to get sexier.
Let these workouts en-CORE-age you to build the abs of your dreams.
In today’s roundup, we’re going through the best weighted ab exercises you can do to build a stronger core.
Anatomy of the Abs
The transversus abdominis, aka transverse abdominis is the deepest of your core muscles.
This muscle protects your internal organs and is also a key stabilizer for your spine and pelvis.
The Rectus abdominis has 6 bumps that make up your six-pack. This muscle sits at the front of your trunk. When you work out to get lean or do aesthetic workouts for a more balanced body, usually, this is one of the main muscles that people aim to define.
The external obliques are your twisting muscles. These muscles sit at your waist and are responsible for the rotation of the core and trunk. When you twist to your right or left side, you will feel the obliques at work.
Your internal oblique muscles work to rotate and flex your torso.
Benefits of Training Abs
For many of us, abs are an afterthought.
Af the end of a tough push, pull, or leg day, we may throw in a set of crunches for good measure.
Maybe we’ll hold a plank for a minute and call it a day. Abs feel like the side dish, not the centerpiece of your feast.
But working on your core specifically comes with loads of beneficial perks.
Research shows that especially for older individuals and those with disabilities, trunk stability is essential in helping to maintain an upright posture while sitting, standing, walking and playing sports.
That being said, working out your core in whatever capacity you can is a good idea for people anywhere on the fitness spectrum.
Burn Belly Fat
Okay, so this one’s a little confusing. No, ab workouts alone will not help you burn belly fat. What working the abdominals does is tone and strengthen the abdominal muscles. As much as you may want to, you can’t spot reduce fat from your body.
That being said, weight training and cardio certainly help to burn fat overall. If you’re performing high-rep, high-intensity, dynamic ab work with weights, you can absolutely burn fat by working up a sweat.
The combination of tummy toning through targeting the core and full-body fat burning through working with weights dynamically can help you reduce fat overall, including on your belly.
Less Back Pain
Core strength may be a way to keep your back pain at bay. Research shows that increased core strength, particularly in the deep trunk muscles may help alleviate chronic pain in your lower back.
Keep in mind that back pain is a multifactor issue. Other contributing factors can include genetics, prior injuries, nerve damage, or other factors.
However, especially in back pain that is caused by sitting too much or leading a sedentary lifestyle, working the muscles of your core can be part of a pain management strategy to keep your back less sore.
As early as age 40, research shows, your balance starts to decline.
In older adults, dynamic core work can be part of maintaining better balance and stability to prevent falls or other accidents that are likely to cause injuries.
Even if you are young, though, it’s a good idea to train preventatively. Working on total-body core moves like the plank or abdominal exercises that include weights can be a great way to maintain solid balance.
Less Risk of Injury
There is research to support the idea that core stability may help lessen your risk of injury, however, we have yet to discover which (if any) specific ab exercises are the best for injury reduction.
Improved Performance in Sports
A strong core is one of the best ways to tighten up your performance on the track, court, or wherever else your sport of choice takes place.
A study from Behavioral Sciences found that maintaining core strength was one of the best ways to keep your strength and balance for athletic performance.
As a link between the torso and the limbs, a strong core is the best way to deliver the force that you build up in your trunk to your arms and legs to power your body for sport-related movement.
Can You Spot Reduce Your Abs?
Although we all wish we could take a few inches off our guts and tack them on to our booties to get a round butt, unfortunately, the human body doesn’t quite work that way.
Best Weighted Ab Exercises
Keeping all these core work health benefits in mind, how can you train your ab muscles for maximum benefit using resistance training?
Let’s take a look at 5 of the best weighted ab exercises you can perform to achieve a strong, functional core and to reduce belly fat to lessen your risk of heart disease.
Weighted Russian Twist
The Russian twist is one of the best and simplest exercises you can add to your fitness routine to target the obliques.
You can try it with no weight, but adding resistance to this move will cause some serious core burn.
In this workout, grab a large dumbbell, kettlebell, weight plate, or medicine ball and clutch it to your chest. Sitting up, plant your feet on the floor with your knees bent. Twist at the waist to drop your equipment piece of choice from side to side. You should feel the work across the sides of your abs. Continue alternating sides for 30 seconds, then rest.
Sit-ups get a bad rap as being “too simple” for some. But even if you’re at an advanced fitness level, you can get your burn on during sit-ups by incorporating extra weight.
Sitting on the floor with your knees bent, grab a medium-weight plate. Curl through your spine, rolling your torso down to the floor then sit up, explosively driving your plate up over your head to straighten your arms. We recommend 3 sets or 8-12 reps but this can vary based on the weight you use.
This exercise is unique in that it targets both your abs AND your back. Two for the price of one! Renegade rows are equipment-dependent.
For this move, you’ll need hexagonal dumbbells, so you have a flat surface to balance on in your plank.
Grab a set of hexagonal dumbbells at a challenging, yet comfortable weight for you. You can also use a kettlebell if available, however, these have higher handles that elevate your body, so be careful of your wrists with kettlebells.
Remember, you are doing ab work at the same time, so use a lighter weight than you would for rows in an upright position.
Come to a high plank position, balancing on the straight edges of your dumbbells or kettlebells. Widen your stance slightly beyond hip-width to give you a solid base.
Keeping your abs and glutes engaged, balance on one weight and pull the other weight back towards you, bending the elbow into a row. Squeeze your back muscles at the top.
Slowly, with control, lower your weight back down to return to your plank position, then repeat on the other side. Continue alternating sides as needed. Performing the row on both sides concludes one rep. We recommend 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
Pro tip: Make sure you’re not swinging your torso to the sides while you row. Think about keeping your gaze down and slightly ahead of you, while driving your elbows back so your body doesn’t twist.
Also called the kettlebell around the world (not to be confused with a dumbbell around the world, where your arms move like a snow angel over your head), the kettlebell slingshot involves the rotation of a kettlebell around your body to work the abs.
Grab a heavy kettlebell and with your feet planted shoulder width apart, spin it around your body, passing it off from one hand to the other in the middle of your movement to make a continuous circle.
Training tip: Remember to always stretch your abs after you do weighted ab exercises. Although stretching is another component of working this muscle group that also goes neglected, having an abdominal strain can be unpleasant and painful.
To stretch, try a lateral bend: Reach one arm up in the air and bend at the waist towards the opposite side of the body to stretch your waist. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. This helps alleviate sore obliques.
To stretch your Rectus abdominis, try the cobra stretch. Not only does this open up the abs, but it helps your hips too.
Lie on your stomach in a prone position. Plant the hands next to your ribcage, then push up, driving into your palms to elevate your body and straighten your arms. Hold for 30 seconds, then lower your body down, rolling out your spine.
Training tip: Remember not to crunch your neck when your body is elevated. This can cause nerve pinching or pain. Think about keeping a long neck and spine.
Your core is one of the most important parts of your body to develop for functional mobility, stability, and athletic performance.
This region is home to some powerful muscles— the Rectus abdominis, Transversus abdominis, and internal and external oblique muscles. All of these muscles work together to help support you so you can run, walk, jump, or lift weights pain-free.
A strong core may help alleviate lower back pain and it’s a component of injury prevention, especially in older adult populations. That being said, a strong core can help anyone and everyone.
To improve your core strength, weighted ab exercises are some of the best moves you can perform.
Try weighted sit-ups, kettlebell slingshots, weighted Russian twists and renegade rows to target different parts of the core. Some of these exercises ever incorporate back, arm, or leg strength with core work so you get a more well-rounded workout.
Add these moves to your routine a few times a week as a way to build strength. With these core workouts, you may even begin to see weight loss if you’re also able perform them at a speed that gets your heart rate up.
Recovery and Safety
Remember to always stretch and recover. On top of a regular stretching practice muscular recovery like foam rolling, massage or muscle scraping.
Make sure you fuel your body when strength training too. If you’re feeling too lazy to work out, supplementing your work in the gym with a pre-workout (that has not expired) may help you improve your energy for tough workouts.
Talk to a doctor or sports nutritionist if you are making significant changes to your diet or introducing fitness supplements to your routine.
Flex offers an all-in-one workout platform to help you learn new exercises, visualize your fitness journey and keep all your PRs in one place.
We’ve made it simple to work on customized fitness plans or to introduce a little friendly competition to your fitness community by sharing exercises with your friends. Try it for free through the Flex fitness app.
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Dong, K., Yu, T., & Chun, B. (2023). Effects of Core Training on Sport-Specific Performance of Athletes: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 13(2), 148. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs13020148
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