When we think of abdominal exercises, we like to think of crunches, sit-ups, and maybe even the supine bicycle. The truth is, these exercises do little to indicate how well your core strength functions when it is put to use the way it was meant to be: stabilizing the spine in unstable environments. Exercises that involve your arms being held over your head are truly some of the best ways to not only get a strong set of abdominals, but to also give them that toned, chiseled look we all love.
When we raise our arms up, we immediately have to extend our spine (stretching out the chest and the abdominals), and tighten up our back side. In order for our bodies to ensure that our spines don’t just snap backward, we have to tighten up our abdominals just as much as we tighten our back. Think Newton’s Third Law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When we create an unstable environment by raising our arms during exercises, we are essentially forcing the abs to work, despite them being stretched out. And you know what? They really rise to the occasion!
When we add weight to the overhead movements, our abs learn to adapt to the load and start to enlarge. Larger abs are not only stronger, but they are more likely to show their shape through the skin. Let’s be honest: whether you’re rail thin or have a little extra body fat than you would like, few things in this world are more rewarding than seeing your abs peak through and expose themselves to the world.
But which overhead exercises should you do? Here is a list of my favorite ones that anyone can start practicing:
Overhead Squats – In a standard squat stance, raise your arms so that they are directly over your head and parallel to your ears. Maintaining their elevated state, slowly lower into a deep squat. For beginners, just practice the form, and for intermediate to advanced individuals, try to use increasing amounts of weight, be it a barbell, kettlebells, or dumbbells.
Overhead Lunges – Just as with the squats, your arms should be raised up all the way and parallel to your ears. Maintaining their elevated state, take one large step forward and drop the rear knee until it is almost touching the floor. Squeeze the glute in the front leg and push off to return to a standing position. For beginners, just practice form, but for intermediate to advanced, use increasing amounts of weight.
Overhead Press – Using the amount and type of weight that makes you comfortable, (barbell, kettlebells, dumbbells), starting from your shoulders and engaging your abs, press the weight over your head until your arms are fully straightened and parallel to your ears. Just bring then right back down to start the movement again.
About Rui Li
Rui Li is a certified personal trainer who focuses specifically on training clients to move properly and mindfully. Rui blogs about fitness and how you can transform your life over at CakeBlog.