Most gym-goers have preferred workout days. Push day is easier for some while leg day is easier for others. But the one common punisher for all these fitness groups and levels is a core or ab workout. As the popular saying goes, working out your abs never gets easier. It can however, get repetitive, and mundane. It can make one feel that there is no marker of progress apart from that seen in the mirror, which again might not equate to core strength at all.
And if there are ways to measure progression, they come in the form of increasing reps and reduced rest times, but the resistance of how much the core is pushing and pulling is static. Which is exactly why you should start including weights and resistance to your core workout. This will mean your core is not just maximising on how many reps it can do, but also how much weight it can move. The idea is to make weights part of the training, rather than replacing conventional bodyweight ab exercises.
“Your abdominal muscles are like other muscles of the body and grow and become stronger in the same way, using resistance training that progressively gets more challenging as you continue to train consistently. For this reason, you should train them the same way you would train your biceps or your chest, for instance,” says a verywellfit.com article titled 5 Facts You Should Know About Working Your Abs.
Here are a few resistance and weighted ab exercises you should start doing:
Weighted/cable high-to-low wood chop: Adding rotation-based exercises is a must for your core routine. The low-to-high wood chop, which mimics the movement of chopping wood, can be done by pulling a dumbbell from a high and slightly overhead position on one side and bringing it down to the other side in the motion of swinging an axe. You can do the same using a cable machine. The best part is you can do the same exercise in a low-to-high motion for a slightly different challenge. The exercise works your trunk, hips, and shoulders and also helps lower-back injury prevention.
Plank drags and rows: This has a foundation position (the plank) which most people into fitness have tried at least once. Adding drags and rows will make your plank way more effective than static holds. The row is easier, where you plank with two dumbbells close enough to your hands to grab and pull up in a row or even a side rotation. The kettlebell drag is the more advanced move but is totally worth learning. “Now while in the plank position, reach with one hand across your body, past the midline of the chest, and drag the weight to the other side. Now the kettlebell is on the opposite side, so you will have to use the other hand and drag it back to its original position,” says my Mint piece on how to learn the kettlebell drag. Both these exercises will add more load to your stabilisers and that will make your conventional ab moves stronger.
Around the worlds: Another exercise that is worth mastering, like this Mint piece suggests, is the ‘around the world’. Done using a kettlebell as you rotate it around your trunk switching the weight from one hand to the other sounds the simplest way to work on your core. Once again, this is a stabiliser and its effects will be felt when you can, after a few weeks of incorporating this move, start feeling stronger even when doing a simple crunch.
This video by TheProactiveAthlete shows you how to do the exercise while also teaching you another variation which involves decelerating when you’re moving the kettlebell from one end to the other.
Ab pull-downs: If this was a piece for advanced athletes, the list would have ended with weighted hanging leg-raises. But the pull-down is beginner friendly given you can control the weight you are pulling with your abs. It might take you a while to nail the starting position with a narrow-grip attached to the cable, but once you do, it can quickly become a favourite ab exercise.
Start with your body a couple of feet away and in front of the cable. Get into a kneeling position with the cable set to a high position and pull down the narrow-grip to just behind your neck, with your forearms just passing underneath the ears. The key now is to use the core to pull down the weight in a reverse sit-up motion. The video below is an easy guide.
The ab pull-down works your entire core with a focus on the upper abs. You will also be able to quickly overload in this exercise with a decent progression scale.