As a professional athlete, I know core strength is important. But it’s not just important for me in the gym — it’s a critical part of daily life. From simply picking things up to even standing and sitting, our core muscles are engaged in almost every movement we make.
My philosophy with ab workouts is that they can be integrated into just about any exercise because if I’m doing the exercise correctly, my core will be engaged anyway. Oftentimes, I’ll throw in some ab work at the end of a workout just to mix things up. If I’m using the bench press, for example, I’ll add some ab-focused exercises because I’m already lying on the bench. It’s a nice way to do some superset exercises.
I do like to specifically train my core some days because I feel like I’m giving my muscles an extra boost to help me perform other movements. Technically, because abs recover more quickly than other muscle groups, we could exercise them five days a week — but I’d say I do ab-focused workouts about twice a week.
If you want to add abs to your weekly workout schedule, or even just change up your regular ab routine, try this partner circuit for a fun but effective session:
1. Partner Plank Supermans
Face the bench in a plank position about arm’s length from the bench. First, hold a regular plank for a count of 10. Then, extend your arms until you’re pressing on the bench in a Superman position, and hold it for a count of 10. Switch between the two positions for 1 to 2 minutes.
To make it a little easier, you can move your feet closer to the bench so your arms aren’t quite as extended. Make sure you keep a hollow position, that your hips don’t sag, that your abs are pulled tightly to your spine, that you are pushing up and out of your shoulders, and that you don’t drop your chin to your chest.
2. Plank With a Twist
Hold a plank from your elbows while your partner pushes down on your hips. Resist that pressure, using your abs to push back up through your hips. Hold this for 30 seconds, then switch roles, repeating this for three rounds. When you are holding the plank, be sure you pull your abs tight to your spine, flex your glutes, and round out your shoulders.
Work with your partner to determine the amount of pressure each of you needs for this exercise. Less pressure makes for a gentler exercise. If you can’t handle any pressure, that’s OK. Just hold the plank on your knees during your rounds.
3. Hanging Knee Raises
Hang fully extended from a bar, and lift your knees. Then, slowly lower them down to your starting position. Repeat this action for three 30-second rounds. When you’re going slowly through the movement, concentrate on the muscle that you’re trying to work. When you’re exercising, form is more important than speed.
If you want to feel the burn a little stronger, try placing a weight or a medicine ball between your feet. And if you want to make it even more interesting, try making a circular motion with your knees instead of just moving straight up and down. Twist to the side, then circle all the way around to your starting position, then switch directions.
4. Partner Throwdowns
Lie faceup on the ground while your partner stands behind you with his or her feet on either side of your head. Raise both of your legs as straight as possible up to your partner. Have your partner push your legs away in a random direction. Use your abs to control your legs and stop your feet from hitting the ground, then raise them up again. Repeat this motion for three 30-second rounds.
If you’re new to this motion, start off with a simple forward push and see how it feels. You can also start with bent legs instead of straight legs, as the straighter your legs, the harder the exercise. Don’t hurt yourself by going too extreme right off the bat. Work up to the unpredictability of having your partner push your feet in an unknown direction.
Abs are a critical muscle group to develop for elite athletes and weekend warriors alike. With this exercise circuit, you and a partner will be well on your way to a stronger core that will affect the rest of your workouts and your daily routine.
Jennifer Tavernier is a Team Ninja Warrior athlete and a personal trainer based in Minnesota. She’s a mom and a fitness enthusiast working to encourage people of all walks of life to follow their dreams and gain strength.