We all want to feel great, stay healthy, build muscle and stay lean. Most of us also want to keep our midsection in check. Most people who are looking to reduce bodyfat and get in shape look at their stomach to see if they are making progress. It’s only natural. The coveted “abdominals” are the centerpiece of the physique. So, working on attaining a six-pack becomes a high priority.

I do want to make it clear that doing endless amounts of abdominal exercises will have literally no effect on your progress to trim your waistline. Spot reducing has been proven to be a myth a long time ago. Just because you work a body part hard in the gym with endless amounts of reps does not mean fat will fall off and improve the looks of that body part. It simply just won’t happen.

Your overall nutritional intake will determine how lean you will become and how your body will look.

That being said, proper exercise is a critical component to improve overall health, performance and aesthetics. In order to have a strong core and build a little muscle, you need to work the rectus abdominus (think 6-pack muscle) regularly.

The Coveted Abdominal Area

Obtaining a flat stomach or a set of 6-pack of abs takes a lot of work and discipline. You need to eat quality foods in the proper portions and workout hard at least three days a week to get in shape. But there is some so called “mental” benefits from training your abdominals. Feeling your midsection work hard for some reason gives us the feeling that we are making some progress to reduce our waistline. As a trainer, I know that just because I am hammering away at various abs exercises does not mean that I will magically get a nice six-pack.

But there are some strength benefits to performing various abdominal exercises. Having a strong core will help improve performance in sports, life and in the gym. Your abdominals (anterior core) are only one part of your core musculature. Improving your abdominal strength will help improve your posture by having an anti-extension affect on your lower back. It will teach you how to engage your core so that you do not compensate and experience lower-back stress.

When most people think of the core, they think of just the abdominals. The core is actually composed of many muscles, such as the glutes, hip flexors, and oblique’s. The anterior core is where the abdominals come in. The function of the anterior core is not flexion, also know as anti-extension. If you look at the “core genius” Stuart McGill’s work, you will notice that we need to avoid so much flexion from doing crunches, and focus more on anti-extension movements, for a healthy low-back and a strong core. By doing this, you train the abdominals hard, and improve the function, strength, and aesthetics.

Here are four of my favorite abdominal exercises to increase anterior core strength and function.

1. TRX Standing Rollout 

This is a great anterior core option for almost anyone of any level of fitness. You can vary the intensity of this exercise by decreasing or increasing the lever arm of your body by walking forward or backward. Make sure to keep your abs and glutes tight at all times. Your heals should not come in contact with the ground to keep continuous tension on the abs. Your lats also get a nice workout as well.

If the standing version of this exercise is too difficult, you can go down onto both knees to make it easier, yet still effective.

2. Ab Wheel Rollout 

Out of all the rollout variations, this one is my favorite. It taxes your abs quite a bit, and requires your core to be pretty strong without engaging your lower-back. I prefer to keep my feet up so I don’t cheat by pulling with my legs. I would start with a TRX strap or stability ball rollout before you try the wheel.

3. Valslide Push Aways on Feet

This has become one of my favorite abdominal exercises that also require a great deal of upper-body strength. You really have to brace your abs, squeeze your glutes and keep perfect prone posture the whole time. This exercise also mimics a push-up, so you get some good upper-body work in as well. Doing this on your feet is pretty tough. You can make this exercise harder by keeping your feet closer together, and make it easier by widening your stance or even going down on your knees.

4. Toes-to-Bar and Hanging Leg Raise

This is a great gymnastic movement that is an advanced version of the Knees to bar and hanging leg raises. It utilizes the lats, core, hip flexors, biceps and smaller muscles in the back. This exercise requires the body to bow from a global extension (hanging hollow body position) to a global flexion (pike position). I don’t recommend this exercise for everyone. You must master the hanging straight leg raise and a proper “kip” first. Once you get strong enough, I recommend doing low reps with NO kip action. Why did I choose this exercise as one of my favorite abdominal exercises? Just look at a gymnast’s midsection and you will know why this exercise works!