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Watch: 7 ab exercises to build a Superman core

Belfast PT Alan Waterman demonstrates the best exercises to build a strong core and protect yourself from injury

By Alan Waterman

If you think about your time spent in the gym, how much thought do you really put into your core training?

For most people, it’s maybe a few sit-ups and a handful of crunches tacked onto the end of a workout, almost as an afterthought.

As far as training the core effectively goes, we’re missing out on an awful lot. There’s much more to core-training than just a couple of lazy sets of crunches…

We tend to forget that the job of the core is to protect our spine, and a weak core leaves us open to risk of injury - we want it to be strong and stable, not just look good. What’s the point in having a chiselled midsection if you blow out a disc while feeding the cat?

Just like Superman, that core should be bulletproof.

Check out my seven ab exercises that will not only help keep you free from lower back injury, but also begin to build abs of steel that the Man of Steel himself would be proud of.

1. Walkout

There’s a handful of things that the spine doesn’t like, and too much movement is one of them - after all, that’s how our lower backs get hurt.

Training the core to help resist movement through the spine can help reduce our chance of injury, and the aalkout is a great “anti-extension” exercise, to help us learn to prevent overarching through the lower back (where most back injuries occur.)

Working to keep the spine in as neutral a position as possible throughout the movement will help build strength to resist that overarching, which in turn will do wonders for helping us stay clear of lower back pain.

2. Deadbug

Want a core exercise that looks easy but is actually tough as nails? Look no further than the deadbug.

As with the walkouts, deadbugs are a fantastic “anti-extension” exercise, but this time teaches us to resist lower back movement whilst our limbs around it move - you know, just like in everyday life.

Additional limb movements will try and force our lower back position to shift, so the challenge here comes from working to prevent that. Trust me when I say, it really is tougher than it looks.

3. Half-kneeling pallof press

Excessive twisting is a one-way ticket to lower back problems, and the half-kneeling pallof press is a fantastic “anti-rotation” exercise to help keep that twisting under control.

By working to resist movement, this time through twisting, we add another level to our core stability. But that’s not all - by performing this in a half-kneeling position, we actually drop into a very effective hip stretch. Tight hips can lead to serious lower back problems, but with this version of the pallof press not only are we strengthening the core, we’re also helping to loosen out those hips too. Two for the price of one.

4. Landmine

We already know there’s certain movements the spine doesn’t like and we can go ahead and add excessive side-bending to that list.

Luckily, the landmine gives us the perfect “anti-lateral flexion” exercise to help strengthen us against this.

As the movement of the barbell tries to force us into a sideways bend throughout the exercise, the more we train against it, the more we become capable of resisting that movement, increasing our likelihood of preventing injury both in the gym and everyday life.

Not got a landmine base to hold your barbell? Don’t worry, a 90-degree corner will do just the trick.

5. Reverse crunch

Got a larger-than-life arch through your lower back? It’s likely contributing towards your lower back pain (or setting you up for it down the line.)

Although the reverse crunch, unlike the other exercises, isn’t geared towards stability and encourages movement through the lower back, it is a great exercise to start to strengthen the core to help reduce that overarching, taking tension out of the lower back and pressure off the discs.

We can safely allow some movement through the spine when training the core without it being an issue- it just depends on what movements we choose!

6. RKC plank

Think regular planking is easy? Give the RKC Plank a whirl.

As another great “anti-extension” exercise, shifting the elbows forward makes this much more difficult than your everyday plank. Resist the urge to let your lower back overarch or sag, to make sure we get the full benefit of the exercise.

Oh, and as a heads-up, your body WILL shake. A lot.

7. Bottoms-up kettlebell carry

We spend a huge portion of our life carrying things, so it makes sense to ensure the core is strong enough to withstand it.

Just like the landmines, the bottoms-up kettlebell carry offers a great “anti-lateral flexion” exercise, while also giving us the added benefit of working to stabilize our shoulders.

Shoulders, just like the core, need a lot of stability work, so the bottoms-up kettlebell carry is going to help cover all bases as we work to stabilize both our core AND our shoulders.

Don’t go too heavy to begin with - you’ll be surprised how tricky this can be.

Man of Steel ab workout

  • Walkouts; 3 x 8
  • Half-kneeling pallof press; 3 x 8-10 each
  • Landmines; 3 x 8-10
  • Deadbugs; 3 x 10-12
  • Reverse crunch; 3 x 10-12
  • RKC plank; 2-3 x 20-60s
  • Bottoms-up kettlebell carry; 2-3 x 10-20 meters each

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