It’s no secret that athletes tend to have amazing abs. Have you ever seen the sprinters at the Olympic 100 meter finals and noticed the guys warming up before their race? You’ll often see them with their shirts off before they put on their competition gear. It’s easily noticeable how incredibly well-developed their abdominal muscles are from very low levels of body fat. It’s truly impressive!
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 multi-joint, compound 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 and core stabilization and anti-rotational work.
I would like to share with you what I consider to be six of the best athletic movements you can perform for developing leaner and more muscular abs. These 6 athletic movements should supplement your strength training work, which should be made up of the compound lifts, such as squats, deadlifts, pressing and pulling movements, as well as unilateral (single arm and single leg) work.
Exercise #1 – Sprinting
Sprinting is not just an excellent metabolic tool to use for fat loss, but it’s also excellent for developing 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.
Personally, sprinting is my number one exercise for fat loss and abdominal development. However, if you have any sort of orthopedic concerns, are severely overweight or are currently poorly conditioned, I would recommend you leave out the sprinting work 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 speed parachutes. They are fine for a wind-free day, but if the wind picks up, they are a nightmare! There’s no need to waste your money on those type of devices.
Exercise #2 – Jump Exercises
Jump exercises such as squat jumps, burpees, alternating split squat jumps and tuck jumps are excellent metabolic movements to use for fat loss, as well as abdominal development. Most people perform way too many floor-based abdominal exercises. I like to incorporate more ground-based work and include some jump exercises via circuit training or mini-jump circuit routines to really tax the abdominals, legs and overall metabolism.
Exercise #3 – Overhead Exercises
Any exercise where you have to hold your arms, or an object, overhead will naturally require you to tighten up the muscles throughout your 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 will become much more engaged by simply extending your arms above your head.
Now I want you to stand up and perform a bodyweight squat with your hands by your sides and take note of how you feel throughout your midsection. Now stop and extend your hands over your head so that they form a “Y” position and now perform a “Y-Squat”. Your midsection will definitely be more engaged!
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.
Exercise #4 – Bodyweight Exercises
People have developed the notion that bodyweight training is easy and they feel like they must do weights in order to tax themselves sufficiently. I beg to differ! Just because you can do 10 basic push-ups does not mean you can master your own bodyweight with more difficult movements!
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 anyone 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 a goal of being 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 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.
Exercise #5 – Stabilization Exercises
Stabilization exercises are fun and challenging to perform. There are numerous stabilization exercises you can do and most are performed in either a prone (face down) or side position. Let’s take a look at a few basic stabilization exercises.
Below you will see the basic plank exercise 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.
Now we can also progress some of these 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 certain level of coordination.
Performing side planks is a great way to target the obliques (love handles) and further challenge yourself due to the increased difficulty that’s created from being in a side position, which means there are 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 kneeling 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.
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 or 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 worked with this one as well as your inner thigh muscles. Perform this one with caution!
Exercise #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 weight to start off with) 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 with 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 repetition with your right arm and then 1 repetition with your left arm. When returning the dumbbells to the ground, do not allow the weight to pull you down with the weight smashing into the ground. Make sure you lower the weight and do so with it under control. The movement doesn’t need to be slow, just controlled!
Again, this is just a short list of several non-traditional abdominal exercises I personally like to use myself and with my clients. Keep in mind that the main things you need to do for getting those shredded abs is to eat clean and train metabolically for fat loss. All the exercises pictured in this article should be supplementary and not the focal point of your six-pack abdominal development program.
Take what you have learned here and combine it with the information provided in my article called 6 Tips For Developing Athletic Six Pack Abs & Lean Abdominals and you will be well on your way to carving out ripped abs faster than you ever thought possible!