The core. The abs. The midsection.
Whatever you call it, it’s the most focused on piece when it comes to building a better looking body and it’s tough to find a fitness magazine without someone flaunting a chiselled stomach.
Not only that, people just love to feel their abs in a workout. This seemingly universal truth transcends not only gender and goals, but even age.
Below is a list of no less than 17 exercises — they are some of the best core exercises I know with full length tutorials. They provide an orderly progression plan for your core work.
If you’re starting at the top – and many of you should – it could take you anywhere from 6-12 months of consistency to get through the whole thing. Maybe even longer.
See this as your core training plan for the next little while. Refer back to it as you need and let me know if you have any questions.
Also, avoid getting fancy, you’re best to check off the earliest progressions first, then move on. The rollout variations in particular are not only challenging, but risky if you aren’t ready for them.
It’s as close to the way I guide my online and in-person coaching clients as I can make it for you. There are, however, many many many more options and variations – I figured 17 was enough for today.
Not only will following this list of progressions build up your abdominal muscles and make you feel firm and tight in this area it’ll also do great things for your posture, your mobility at the hips and shoulders and *could* even help alleviate symptoms of stiffness or pain at the low back.
The Early Progressions
Dead Bug Progression
- Chin is tucked
- Back flat on the floor
- Not moving limbs are still
- Tighten abs to keep back flat
- Slow and controlled
- You should not feel these in your back (same with the exercises below). If you feel the first one in your back email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via any other social platform.
- Once you can easily do 3-4 sets of 8 reps for each, you’re ready to move on
- Chin tucked
- Butt is tight to support the abs
- Should be able to breathe while you hold butt and abs tight
- Once you start shaking, struggling or feeling it in your back STOP.
- Don’t forget the broomstick – have a partner use one or something like it to check you out
- Once you can hold this easily for 30 seconds, move on. I fall asleep bored at 31 seconds – I bet you do too.
- This one looks harder than it is
- Just be mindful to use your butt and abs to control the lowering
- Don’t go too low
- 3-4 sets 8-12 reps is great
Dead Bug Pullover
- No idea why I’m raising the roof here before you press play. Wouldn’t be the first time I looked like this post-midnight.
- This one can be progressed in a variety of ways (see Dead Bug Progression video above) or just with heavier weights (or heavier weights and more limbs moving)
The Pretty Hard Progressions
Long Lever Plank
- There will be more tension here then the first plank.
- Stop the set once you feel in back or have to fall out of position to hold it
- Holding 3-4 sets at 30 seconds and feeling it in abs and not losing position? Move ahead.
Dumbbell Assisted Leg Lifts (plus Leg Lift with Hip Pop)
- Control, control, control
- Keep back flat on the floor
- Heavier the dumbell the easier it is — I usually start people with 45-50 pounds
- You can also use a fixed piece like a post or a partners lower legs.
- You can progress this all the way holding nothing behind your head but once you can do it with a good 15-20 pounds at 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps you’re more than ready to move on
Hanging Leg Lifts
- In this case, the heavier the object, the harder it is
- Also, if you’re here and you’ve gone through the rest of the progressions above…you’re probably ready to Stability Ball Rollout.
- This is a fun exercise regardless and loads can be increased significantly for greater challenge
Stability Ball Rollout
- Crucial that you keep butt tight
- Knees, hips, shoulders in line the whole time
- Chin tucked the whole way
- You may want to start with half the range of motion as you get into this one
- The smaller the ball, the harder it will be. Start big.
- You can do 3-4 sets of 12-15 FULL rollouts? Move ahead.
The Hard Stuff
- Same as rollout above
- Avoid shaking side to side
- Once you can hit 3-4 sets of 12 you can move ahead to the Band Assisted Ab Wheel Rollout OR maybe even give the Ab Wheel a try if you don’t have bands.
Hollow Holds (Short Lever (easier) – Long Lever (harder))
- Emphasize the smashing of your lower back into the floor — you’ll probably have to remind yourself throughout the set as well
- Avoid holding arms and legs too high off the ground
- Hold the short lever until you can hold for 30 seconds and then go long
- If you can hold the long lever, you can play with light weights in the feet and hands — VERY light weights to start.
Band Assisted Ab Wheel Rollout
- Make sure the band isn’t ripped or fraying — that would be, uh, dangerous.
- As an aside, you can even reverse this one to create a progression from the Ab Wheel Rollout below. Instead of the band helping, it would be making it harder.
- If you can hold 3-4 of 12-15 clean….definitely get rid of the band.
The Pretty Damn Hard Stuff
Ab Wheel Rollout
- Chin tucked
- Abs/Butt tight
- 3-4 sets of 12-15? Very impressive.
Note: I probably could have gone a little deeper with these.
- Abs tight/butt tight
- Start with short movements and progress to longer
So there you have it – a total of 17 different core exercises that’ll shred you up in the stomach. Done right, they’ll add firmness to your midsection, free up mobility in your hips/shoulders and make you look like a badass in the gym.
Not only this, once you actually get to the end, you can keep this stuff with the simple purchase of an ab wheel and/or ValSlides (paper plates on the right floor works too) for the home.
Got any questions? Drop me a message anytime. Honestly.
PS. Don’t those guys in the picture above make you so happy?