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The abdominal muscles are your foundation.

Without a strong core, you leave your body susceptible to an array of injuries. For instance, back pain is frequently caused by a weak core - more specifically, a weak transverse abdominis muscle.

So, how can you train the abdominals efficiently and effectively? How can you lower your risk of future injuries or pain?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily need to perform hours of crunches. And no equipment is required either.

The following 4 exercises target all your abdominal muscles, including your rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, external oblique muscles, and internal oblique muscles. In fact, they may be the only abdominal exercise you need.

Let’s dive in!

1. The Plank

The plank is a common go-to exercise when it comes to building core strength.

Why? It’s essentially a full-body workout - one that primarily works your rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae muscles. It also engages your shoulders, your glutes, and your legs.

How do you do it?

  • Begin on all fours. Position your hands directly under your shoulders.

  • Send your legs straight back, so that you are up on your toes.

  • Your body should form a straight line from your toes to your head. Keep your gaze slightly forward and down, so as not to strain your neck.

  • Make sure to consciously engage your core. This means pulling your belly button toward your spine and squeezing your glutes.

  • If you’re new to the plank, try to hold it for 15-30 seconds. If you already have a fairly strong core, aim for a minute or more. And if any pain occurs in your low back, take a break and try again. You may also choose to begin this exercise with your knees touching the ground. From there, you can gradually build up to holding a full plank.

2. The Bicycle Crunch

Move over regular crunches. Bicycle crunches are where it’s at. This exercise works not just your 6-pack muscles, the rectus abdominis, but also your obliques. Your obliques are your side abdominals. These muscles help you twist your trunk from side-to-side.

How do you do it?

  • Begin lying face-up on a comfortable surface.

  • Position your hands behind your head, with your elbows bent out to your sides.

  • Bend your knees to 90 degrees. Position them directly above your hips.

  • Lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground.

  • Bring your left elbow to your right knee. At the same time, straighten your left leg.

  • Straighten your right leg. At the same time, bend your left leg toward your chest. Twist your trunk and bring your right elbow to touch your left knee.

  • Continue to alternate sides.

  • Aim to perform about 10-12 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

3. The Reverse Plank

The reverse plank is often overlooked. Yet, it’s a great way to target all the abdominal muscles. It further strengthens your posterior chain, including the glutes and hamstrings - which is important for overall muscle balance.

How do you do it?

  • Begin lying face-up with your legs straight in front of you.

  • Place your hands on the ground directly under your shoulders.

  • Carefully and slowly push up, lifting your hips and buttocks off the ground. Make sure to squeeze your glutes here and engage your core. Your body should form a straight line from your toes to your head.

  • Similar to the regular plank, try holding for 15-30 seconds. If you want to challenge yourself, aim for 1 minute or more.

4. The Dead Bug

The dead bug aims to target the often neglected transverse abdominal muscles. It also activates your rectus abdominis, and it encourages a proper posture. In turn, it strengthens the muscles you need to thwart injuries before they happen.

How do you do it?

  • Begin lying face-up.

  • Bend your knees to 90 degrees and position them above your hips.

  • Bring your arms straight up, so that they are above your shoulders.

  • Remember to consciously engage your core. Think of bringing your belly button in toward the spine, as well as keeping your low back on the ground.

  • Extend your right leg and left arm at the same time.

  • Alternate extending opposing arms and legs.

  • Aim to perform 10-12 repetitions for 2-3 sets. If the full exercise is difficult, start by just extending your leg or just extending your arm at one time.

Try ‘em out. See how they work for you and your body!

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