Despite the catchy lines from scam fitness plans and claims of questionable ‘lifestyle’ influencers, developing strong, solid-looking ab muscles takes time and work.
Thankfully, the old marketing ploy of easy, instant abs is widely known to be a fiction–but that doesn’t mean that every single training session in your own ab routine needs to take hours and hours to be effective for long-term success. If you know what you’re doing, you can build the core you want using ab workouts that take as little as 15 minutes.
The key for these quick sessions is understanding that throwing round after round of crunches at your core won’t result in a six-pack. You need to approach your ab training with the same level of careful planning that you apply to the rest of your workout (and if you don’t have a strategic plan or know what we mean by ‘programming’, now might be a good place to start for smarter, more efficient workouts).
To make a comprehensive ab workout plan, even one that takes just 15 minutes, it helps to understand exactly what your core does, specifically, the role the muscle group plays in your everyday life. In short, your core is essential for posture. That’s not just to say you need your core for good posture; your core and abs support your spine, which means that the muscles should be active whenever you’re upright, whether you’re standing or sitting. That means that just about every exercise is a core exercise–but there are some movements that are more important for core training than others.
Let’s break down some more important information about the core, the particular movements that are essential for core and ab training, and how you can design an efficient workout in 15 minutes or less.
What Is Your Core?
Don’t just train your abs, because your abs are only part of the battle. Instead, focus on training your entire core as a unit. That means abs, obliques, spinal extensors, and glute muscles all functioning together. That’s how your core acts in real life, and that’s how you’ll use it in this workout.
The Makeup of Core Training
In order to train your core in a tight window of time, you have to understand what it’s capable of. I break core training into four different buckets. A well-rounded core program hits on all these ideas in some fashion or other. You can do that quickly, though, especially since these ideas often cross over into each other.
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Your entire core, including abs, lower back muscles, obliques, and glutes, braces your spine, keeping it tight and structurally sound and immovable. Staying braced prevents you from rounding your lower back, and it also prevents you from overly arching your lower back, too. Think of planks and hollow holds; these moves have your core muscles tightening to brace your spine into a fixed position.
Your core is also responsible for rotating your torso. Turn from side to side while keeping your legs pointed forward; your abs, obliques, lower back and hip muscles drove that motion. Rotation is a key everyday action that we sometimes underestimate. But it’s also worth training. Your core needs to be strong enough to rotate your torso, and to rotate it against a force or weight that might not want to rotate it. Think of woodchops or Russian twists as exercises that teach your core to rotate.
Your core is also responsible for preventing your torso from rotating, a concept known as “anti-rotation.” Try this: Stand straight, keeping your hips and shoulders facing forward. Have a friend push your right shoulder. Resist that push. Your core is what helped you resist that push — and it takes serious strength to resist that push. You build that strength by battling rotation in core exercises. Think of plank reaches, or off-center hollow hold variations as examples of anti-rotary exercises.
Yes, spinal flexion gets a bad wrap, as the root of all back pain. No, it’s not a bad thing. Truth be told, your torso is meant to be capable of spinal flexion, and it’s your abs that drive that motion. Key thing here: Your body must drive be in control of that spinal flexion. Spinal flexion is bad when you intend it. It’s only problematic when it happens because you’re not in control of it. The basic situp is an example of a movement that incorporates spinal flexion.
Your 15-Minute Abs Workout
You’ll incorporate the above ideas into this 15-minute core workout, which you can do every day. You can do it as a standalone workout (and you can do it at home or at the gym), or you can tack it onto the end of a strength workout or cardio workout for some extra ab burn.
You won’t count reps in this workout; instead, you’ll focus on moving with precision for time. For the first two exercises, do each move for 45 seconds, then rest 15 seconds. Follow the rep instructions on the final move. Rest one minute between each exercise.
Get your heart rate going and work on bracing your core more than you think with basic mountain climbers. Do 2 sets.
3-Step Core Getup
Hit spinal flexion and more anti-rotation work than you may expect with the 3-step core getup. Do 2 sets per side.
Hollow Rock To Superman Series
Finish with this hollow rock to Superman countdown series, which has you doing five hollow rock reps, then rolling to do 5 Superman reps. You then roll back for 4 hollow rocks, followed by 4 Supermans, and follow that progression all the way down until you’re doing one hollow rock and one Superman. You wind up hitting both abs and also your lower back muscles and glutes on the Supermans. Each set will take about one minute; rest one minute between each set.
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