No you can’t spot reduce the fat around your middle by doing a bazillion crunches or sit ups…

BUT focused ab work can help you get that lean, defined core when your nutrition is dialed in.

Yet too often we skip the core work.

If we add it in, it’s an afterthought.

And too often we think we’ve done even enough core work because we’ve included heavy lifts like squat and deadlift.

And while those moves do benefit your core, they’re working it only in one way…to stabilize.

But our abs power spinal flexion and don’t only resist extension or stabilize.

Not to mention our obliques twist and turn, and laterally flex not to mention help us prevent unwanted rotation.

This means we want to target all of these movement patterns to see the best results.

That’s why I want to share a few of my favorite core moves, specifically two moves focused on your abs, to train these muscles both with flexion and anti-extension exercises to not only help you build a stronger core but a more defined one.

However, first I want to touch on two essentials to core training that will help you see better results faster and are too often IGNORED…

I’ll then also show you how to use my favorite moves while addressing these two key components…

#1: Make sure your abs are ACTUALLY working!

You can’t just rush through moves and let your hip flexors and lower back compensate. 

And you may just write this off, labeling those others weak.

But, if these areas are compensating, THEY are getting the work from the moves you’re including…

Not your abs.

What you feel working in a move is what is BENEFITING from the move.

So whether your hip flexors and lower back are actually weak or whether they are taking over because a move is too advanced and your abs have to rely on these other muscles to keep up because they aren’t strong enough…

You have to address this compensation if you want results.

This may mean changing your form or it may mean regressing the move to build up!

But if you don’t feel your abs, your ab exercises aren’t paying off and you’re wasting time and energy.

#2: If it challenges you, it will change you.

Just like building up any other muscle, you need to progress the moves you’re doing to see results. 

And no, we aren’t trying to bulk out our middles, which is why we may not just focus on heavy loads.

But we need to advance moves to drive that muscle to change which will help us see that definition as it is revealed through proper nutrition.

This also means strategically designing your workouts to include core work you can progress as too often core work is just an afterthought in our training.

We add a move here or there. And we may add a rep or two but don’t really do anything to continue to progress the exercise.

While you can add weight to progress a move, we often want to progress through the same but different, changes in types of loads or loading placements, ranges of motion or even instability as we keep the reps higher, even in that 15-25 rep range often. 

Now I want to share a 2 of my favorite ab exercises to work your abs with spinal flexion AND anti-extension movements.

These moves are especially amazing if you’re looking to target your lower abs.

Yes, your lower abs.

If you’re about to say, “There is no lower ab muscle.”

You’re right. There is no separate lower ab muscle.

But we can target different portions of different muscles to greater extents based on the postures and positions used.

And leg raise type movements, if you can avoid overusing your hip flexors, as well as extended plank positions, have been shown to activate the lower abs, or lower portion of your rectus abdominis to a greater extent.

With both of these moves, I’ll show you how you can make sure your abs are actually working and even progress, or regress, these moves to fit your needs.

The first move is the Reverse Crunch Roll With Overhead Hold.

This lower body crunch variation is a great way to target those lower abs while also helping you prevent your lower back from engaging or relying on your hip flexors over your abs.

The key tweaks this move makes off the basic lower body crunch is the overhead hold and the heels locked back into a roller. 

Both of these help you avoid compensating to better target your abs.

The overhead hold helps you more easily engage your abs without your lower back compensating because it creates tension through your lats to protect your back.

You want to pull down hard on the pole or even edge of a bench you’re holding onto.

This slight move to even flex your lower abs will help you protect your back further.

Then using the roller locked between your lower legs and hamstrings, you’ll be able to engage that posterior chain, especially your hamstrings, to prevent those hip flexors from activating.

With even these two tweaks, you still want to focus on ROLLING one vertebrae at a time up. Curl those knees in toward your elbows FLEXING your spine.

If you don’t have a roller, you can still do this move by just thinking about pulling your heels in toward your butt and hamstrings. That activation will help inhibit your hip flexors to focus on your abs.

But these two tweaks to that basic lower body crunch can help you really make sure you’re focusing on your abs with spinal flexion.

And then to progress this move, you can change tempos.

Or you can even do a straight leg variation, but not only perform a leg lower but an extra LIFT at the top.

This lift at the top as you raise your legs up is what gets that extra spinal flexion. But you have to make sure you’ve built up to this move and you’re not just relying on your hips to lift and lower.

While your hip flexors are working with hip flexion, the raise of your legs back up, you want your abs engaged using that posterior pelvic tilt, or tilt of the hips up toward the ribs to round the back toward the ground.

This protects your back and supports those hips so you aren’t only feeling them working. And that plus part of the movement and lift at the top further work the abs.

To further advance this move and even target your adductors and pelvic floor more, you could hold a med ball between your legs.

Or to even make this move tougher on your abs, you could use an incline bench.

This way you’re working more against gravity to even tuck up!

But the key is to progress only once you’ve mastered that basic variation.

And even as you progress, never think you’re above returning to this move as sometimes changing things up is the progression we need to see results as we can focus even more on really activating our abs with those basics!

The second move is Plank Extensions.

I also call these the Body Saw when done off the forearm over the hands. 

You’re trying to brace your abs so you don’t get sawed in half…just kidding…but seriously!

This move is freaking DECEPTIVELY hard. 

By extending your plank position, your abs and especially your lower abs, have to work very hard to prevent extension of your spine and stabilize.

This takes that basic plank up a notch!

You should NOT feel your lower back engaging or arching. If it arches, you may start to feel yourself even overusing and resting on your hip flexors. 

So to modify this move, start off an incline, such as a bench. 

Focus on engaging your abs as if you’re going to be punched in the gut as you even flex your glutes to walk back. That glute flexion helps protect your back and disengage your hip flexors.

If you can walk back into that extended position, maintaining that brace, lower the incline. 

You can then move to this walk back from your hands on the ground before moving to your forearms. 

These changes in postures can really help you target those abs and progress the move.

Then you can start to implement different tools even instead of adding loads to make the move more challenging for your core.

You can use sliders to slide over walk back (towels work too). 

Or you can even really vary the move by changing the way you’re extending the plank, using a ball to roll out under your forearms instead of the sliders on your feet.

It’s not just weights that can make moves harder and drive progression! Those different postures, tools and even placements can have an impact!

If you’re looking to take your core definition to the next level, use these moves and tips to really work those abs and progress your training.

And yes, dial in that diet to truly reveal your hard work in the gym!

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