Exercise Demo: Abdominals

Firing up that core

Let's get back to basics for a minute. 

Everything you do requires a strong foundation and, in terms of your body, that means having a strong core. 

It is important to note that Ab exercises alone won't give you a six-pack. A six-pack comes from a lot of hard work and rigorous nutritional regime. So don't think that a thousand sit-ups will reveal your abs... That's a whole other discussion.

Activating and strengthening your core is essential for everyone and should be part of any training regime. It isn’t called “core” for fun. You need a strong core for just about everything you do.

In this ab series, I've put together some basic exercises that you can do pretty much anywhere (with some bonus builds thrown in). They all work on your base core strength and will variously hit all of your core muscles along with some great upper body strengthening and stability work thrown in.

Who should do this series?

These exercises are for everyone. Everyone needs a strong core. 

I've started with beginner movements and levels, and included plenty of advanced builds and extensions as you improve or if you are already at an advanced level. 

Why should I do this series?

This series is wonderful for improving your posture, stability and upper body strength. It will help you with all of your regular movement. 

Improving your trunk strength also has many overall positive knock-on effects, it will even help with your other lifts in the gym.


How should I incorporate this into my training?

As part of your warm-up: It’s a great starting point to get your abdominal section switched on and to get you ready for training. 

As a finisher: Add it on the end if you have been doing a simple cardio session like running.

Just this: Use it as a quick standalone session if you don't have much time to train. You can also run through the whole lot and repeat.

Have fun!

Grace xx


Ab Series

Forearm Plank

Why I like it:
I use it as a test in my consultations to see where people’s strength is at. It helps my clients become body aware - thinking about what your hips and shoulders are doing, learning how to stack their body and all about alignment. 

It’s not too demanding on the wrists as long as you’re in the right position, so injuries are unlikely.

Being a full body exercise makes it a great addition to any programme, especially for beginners. It  loads the shoulders without causing any damage. 

How it’s done: 
Lie on the ground on your stomach. Place your forearms on the ground, palms down, at a 90-degree angle. Lift your hips, staying on your toes. Legs straight and everything engaged. 

Align your shoulders over your elbows (very important!). Your hips should be lifted slightly higher than your shoulders. Make sure your elbows are shoulder width apart. Keep your fingers pointing straight ahead. 

Suck your belly button in as far as you can (activating those abs!) as if you're trying to make it touch the ceiling.  You should feel like you can't be pushed over if someone bumps you.

As it gets harder, as you're holding the position, people tend to drop their hips. Keep them up to keep your spine in line. 

Squeeze those glutes as hard as you can. This also helps you keep your abs engaged and your hips high. 

Keep your chin down to keep your neck aligned with your spine, - don’t be looking up or ahead, look down at the mat (tip: keep your timer, phone or whatever there to watch the clock if you need to).

Reps and sets: 
Start out holding the position between 10 and 30 secs, increasing the time if/when you can do 60-90 seconds.  Do 3 sets.

Straight Arm Plank

Why I like it
This is a great to do after the normal plank as you force the weight over your hands and wrists (which are now warmed up from the forearm plank). This movement helps with wrist mobility. It puts more focus on your arms. 

This movement loads the upper body more than the forearm plank. It can be just as challenging, if not more. 

As you push the floor away beneath you, it teaches you to switch on your triceps. 

The movement creates mobility in the shoulders, elbows and wrists while controlling the core. 

How it’s done
Different to the forearm plank, this time raise yourself up on your hands without fully locking your elbows. Align the shoulders over the wrists and feel that stretch. 

Keep a nice neutral spine from neck all the way down. Slightly lift the hips but not as high as before, making sure they don't sink down. 

Create tension in the quads, squeeze the bum and suck in the belly button. And hold!

Reps and sets
Start by holding between 10 and 30 secs and do 3 sets.  Aim to build up to 60-90 seconds. 

Side Plank

Why I like it
This is more advanced than the forearm plank, also called single-sided plank. If you’re new to the side plank, definitely start with the modified version. 

You’re loading through just one side which can be challenging for the shoulder. It really works your balance and forces you to stabilise. The focus is more on the oblique abs, on your sides. 

Another great whole body exercise with the extra challenges of balance and stability.

How it’s done
Modified Side Plank: Roll onto your side, put your foreman under your shoulder, knees bent and stacked under each other. Lift the hips.  

Keep a nice straight spine from head down to hips. 

Squeeze your bum and suck in the belly. You should feel very solid like someone can’t push you over. 

Make sure your shoulder is over your elbow. Place your other arm along your side or you can also lift it up and point to the ceiling. 

Full Side Plank: Instead of bending your knees, keep your legs straight and stack your feet and legs. You’ll need to activate your quads more for added stability.

Reps and sets
Start with 10-30 seconds on each side and aim to get up to a minute on each side. Do 3 sets. Once the modified version feels very comfortable at one minute each side, go to the advanced, straight leg version, starting with the shorter times at first.

Modified V-Sit

Why I like it
This movement creates balance between upper and lower body while involving many muscle groups. 

It’s very hard and very rewarding! 

It challenges your back muscles, especially the stabilisers along the spine. 

Because there is an element of balance and stability, the abs work harder. As you’re balancing on your coccyx, it forces you to use your whole core and back muscles to try to extend your spine and keep your position neutral. 

It’s a tough one! Keep an eye on the mirror to help you watch your alignment. 

How it’s done
Sit down on the floor with your feet on the floor and knees bent. 

Hands by your hips with palms on the floor, fingers pointing forwards. Your arms are resting gently, not exerting pressure onto the floor. 

Lift your feet off the floor, keeping your knees bent and your legs at 90 degrees. You want to think about lengthening the spine, keeping your spine and head straight so that it is as long as possible. Push your shoulder back and chest out.

 You want to aim for your back to be as straight you as are able. 


Reps and sets

Hold this position, building up from 5 to 30 seconds. 3 sets.

Modified Sit-Up

Why I like it
Lots of people now say sit ups are pointless. I disagree! A full sit-up is a basic movement that everyone needs to be able to do. 

Think about getting up out of bed or getting up off the floor. This is especially important as you age or as you recover from a C Section (speak to your medical professional about when to start working out again after a C Section). 

Grace Brown Demonstrating the Modified Sit up

It’s a functional movement that is essential for everyday life. I use the modified version to help people learn how to activate and engage their abs. It’s a good gauge of core strength. I want everyone to be able to do a full sit up from the floor with feet flat but feet not held down. 

You need to be able to get up using your abs without assistance. You’d be surprised by how many people can’t do this so let's start with the modified version.

How it’s done
Sitting on the floor, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your trunk is sitting up straight. 

Cross your arms across your body, keeping your elbows high up. 

Lean your body backwards, only as far as you can so that you can still get back up to bring your elbows over your knees. This might be half way, three quarters or just a little way back initially. Worry about form, not about depth here. You will build up the depth. 

You may still need someone to hold your feet down or pop your toes under the sofa initially, but you want to build up to not needing assistance.

Reps and sets
3 sets of 12 reps. Each week, work on trying to go a little bit deeper (but don’t forget form!) and with no assistance on the feet.

Modified Leg Raise

Why I like it
This move hits your internal abs which are often weaker and harder to activate. The modified version of the leg raise helps you build a quality movement rather than jumping right in and doing it poorly.

Grace Brown demonstrating the modified leg raise

If they’re not strong, the lower abs tend to be used less - that seems pretty obvious! But the side effects are the other muscles compensate which cause all sorts of imbalances in your alignment as well as lower back pain.  They are crucial to functional movement. This move can help with your pelvic floor activation which needs to be strong in both males and females (contrary to popular belief).

How it’s done
Lie on your back on the floor, arms by your side. Bring your legs up straight as high as you can. Pointed or flexed toes - up to you. 

Push the small of your back into the ground and keep that contact, that position, as a matter of priority. To do this, suck your belly button to the floor and push the bottom of your back down. Tilt your hips towards you to help get into position. If your glutes are in the way, adjust your position so your back can hit the floor as much as possible.

Keeping your legs nice and straight and tight. Lower them slowly but ONLY so far that your lower back stays glued to the floor. This might be the tiniest movement initially. Be a tyrant with yourself here. Make the movement smaller. You need to be able to complete 6 to 8 reps without your back gapping up.

Reps and sets
3 sets of 6 to 8 reps. Try to go lower each week but always stay vigilant on your back position. Quality over quantity!!!!

BONUS: Plank on Swiss Ball

Why I like it
This is an advanced movement. This can be added, or it can replace the forearm plank in your programme. For those that want to take their planking to a new level, add some more instability! 

Through the added wobbles, your muscles get feedback that they need to work harder to keep you on the ball. This increases the intensity all over. It makes it more Neural (engaging your central nervous system). Neural movements often make you feel more tired afterwards.

Grace Brown demonstrating the swiss ball forearm plank

How it’s done
Start with your knees on the floor. Place your arms on the exercise ball (or Swiss Ball) in a forearm plank position. Then lift your knees off the floor.
You can have your feet slightly wider than hip-width for more balance. Get into a nice, neutral spine plank position. 

You’ll feel some wobbling and rocking, and your body will react to it.

Keep your bum, belly and quads engaged (squeeze them, suck it in) to help you stay stable.

Reps and sets
If you can do over 30seconds or more on a normal plank, start with 10-25 seconds on the swiss ball and build up to a minute. 3 sets.