Strengthening your core is arguably one of the best things you can do to improve your overall fitness. That's because most movements (both in and out of the gym) rely on the core muscles for stability. Think about it: Even when you do squats and deadlifts, which primarily target your legs and butt, you're relying heavily on your core muscles to help you stay balanced and move in a controlled way.
The core is made up of multiple muscles, including your rectus abdominis (what you think of when you think "abs"), transverse abdominis (the deepest internal core muscle that wraps around your sides and spine), erector spinae (a set of muscles in your lower back), and the internal and external obliques (the muscles on the sides of your abdomen). To have a strong, balanced core that can get you through all of your workouts, you need to work all of these muscles.
Fortunately, many exercises will engage your core muscles, whether or not they specifically target them—the squats and deadlifts I mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. But if you want to show these important muscles some extra love, it's never a bad idea. (As always, though, it's a good idea to talk with your doctor before doing a new workout or starting a new fitness routine.)
To give you another great abs workout to add to your arsenal, we asked Kimmy Carlson, certified personal trainer and instructor at Shred415, a bootcamp-style fitness studio in Hinsdale, Illinois, to show us how to strengthen these muscles using just a stability ball.
The workout below includes four moves and works a handful of core muscles all at once. "It does not solely focus on one particular abdominal area, but the core in its entirety, which is a huge benefit for spinal support as well as core stability," Carlson explains. "It requires a lot of the deeper abdominal muscles to be utilized," she adds. She also explains that she organized the workout to begin with a more basic movement (crunches) and gradually advance to the more challenging moves. "This will help you properly [and slowly] warm up the core muscles, which in turn helps prevent injury when you progress to the more advanced movements."
One last thing! Carlson suggests really focusing on form, which is always important but even more so when you're using a tool that throws your balance off kilter, like a stability ball. It's a great way to work on and improve your balance, but does require slow, thoughtful, and controlled movements.
Ready to strengthen your core and challenge your stability? Grab a stability ball and get started.
- Oblique Crunch — 8 reps each side
- Plank Rock — 30-45 seconds
- Ball Pass — 8 reps
- Pike-up — 8 reps
After doing 8 reps of each (except the plank, which you hold for time), you'll repeat the circuit 2 or 3 times, for a total of 3 or 4 rounds.