When you do a typical abs workout, you usually know exactly what to expect. The moves are focused on your midsection, and you can feel a burning sensation that tells you that the magic is happening. But even when you’re doing a workout that’s not targeted to your abs, you’re likely still working your core muscles. In fact, “sneaky” abs moves are really great for challenging your core muscles and ultimately, making them stronger.
“Anything that’s balance related is working on core stabilization,” Kira Stokes, a NASM-certified celebrity trainer and creator of the Stoked Method. Moves that isolate one side at a time, throwing off your center of gravity, work your core because you need to brace your midsection to avoid toppling over. “Core stabilization requires strength, but you’re not going to feel that burning sensation in your core,” Stokes says. People tend to disengage their abs when they don’t feel that burning, Stokes adds, but if you focus on your core and really use it to brace your movement, you’ll be firing up those muscles during most exercises that you do.
Other types of unexpected movements that engage the core include: jumping (because your body has to brace itself against the impact when you land, Stokes explains), anything that’s done in a plank position, and compound exercises (like squats and deadlifts) that engage multiple muscle groups at once.
Pretty awesome, right? We asked Stokes and a handful of other fitness pros to share their favorite moves that are known for strengthening other body parts but challenge your abs on the sly. Here are 7 that do serious work.
1. One-Legged Balance Taps
Stand with your feet together, arms straight at your sides.
Slowly hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back flat as you lift your right leg out straight behind you and reach your right arm down toward the floor.
At the bottom of the movement, your torso and right leg should be almost parallel to the floor.
Keeping your core tight, stand up straight. As you do, keep the right leg straight and bring it back to start, but keep the weight on your left foot. Start the next rep immediately.
“Lunges are great because they shape and strengthen quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, all at the same time,” Lisa Scaglione, a 200 RYT Baptiste yoga instructor at Lyons Den Power Yoga, tells SELF. When you’re using so many muscles in a move like this, your core plays an important role in keeping your body stable.
Stand with your feet together.
Take a big step forward with your right foot. Bend your right leg until your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your back knee is just barely touching the floor. Keep your chest lifted, core engaged, and back flat.
Push up through your back front heel to return to the start position.
3. Kettlebell Swings
“Kettlebell swings are my favorite secret core burner!” Christi Marraccini, a NASM-certified trainer and training manager at Tone House in New York City, tells SELF. “All the power for this movement comes directly from your hips and your core. The kettlebell swing is quick, short, and explosive.” Your core not only drives the movement, but keeps you stabilized throughout, Marraccini adds.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, gripping the top of the kettlebell handle with both hands.
Bend your knees slightly, then hinge at the hips to swing the kettlebell between your legs.
Stand back up; use the momentum from your hips to swing the weight to eye level.
Keeping your core engaged, allow the kettlebell to fall back in between and through your legs.
Avoid rounding your lower back, using your arms or upper body to pull up the kettlebell, or leaning back at the top of the movement, Marraccini says.
4. Bird Dog Crunches
If you can’t fit in any other workout, Stokes says to at least drop down and do a few reps of Bird Dog. It’s a great way to activate your core, and it’ll help improve your balance over time.
Start on your hands and knees in tabletop position with your wrists above your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
Inhale and extend your right arm forward and left leg back, maintaining a flat back and keeping your hips in line with the floor.
Squeeze your abs and exhale as you draw your right elbow to your left knee.
Extend back out to start.
5. High Knees
High knees engage your hip flexors, “which automatically engages your abdomen,” Stokes explains. “Any time you land in a jump, you have to contract your abs to stay upright,” she adds.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
Run in place, bringing your knees up toward your chest as high as possible while pumping your arms.
Keep your chest lifted, core engaged, and land lightly on the balls of your feet.
To learn more top abs moves used by top trainers, read the full list here: http://www.self.com/gallery/sneaky-abs-exercises
Here’s another resource you can look into: http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/abs/exercises/top-10-abs-exercises/
Here’s a related video to get you going:
Ready to do your ab workout now?