OPTIMISE YOUR AB MOVES
Two exercises keep proving to be gold standards of core strengthening: the crunch, which firms the more superficial abs – the rectus abdominis down the centre and the obliques along the sides – and the plank, which works the deep, corset-like transverse abdominis.
The crunch is so effective at activating these superficial muscles because their fibres all have a vertical orientation that lets them fire in sync with the exercise’s straight-up motion, says Martin Eriksson-Crommert at Orebro University in Sweden. His research found that women who place their hands behind the head – instead of atop the chest or reaching forward – get the biggest activation. Speeding up the pace of crunches can double the activation of the rectus, other research has shown; add a twist to further engage obliques.
Now, about those planks. The variations shown here – plus the core-stability challenge of the double-leg stretch – elicit transverse activation that goes off the charts, according to lab research by Michele Olson, a senior clinical professor of sport science at Huntingdon College in Alabama, who has tested ab exercises for over 20 years. Work them in with your crunches or any of the ab-focused routines and tips in this package for your fittest, firmest core.