Research study reveals the best exercise for targeting core strength and definition - and it’s not crunches or sit-ups.
Many of us, personal trainers and fitness aficionados alike, do exercises like sit ups and crunches to target the abdominal muscles. A whopping 92% of respondents to a recent fitness poll chose ‘sit-ups’ as the most efficient core exercise, and 91% said that abdominal crunches were their ‘go-to’ core exercise. That’s not surprising, given how sit ups have been enshrined as the best exercise for toning the stomach in literally every workout video ever made.
The sit-ups dominance is likely going to change however, after a new research study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research has discovered that the most effective way to work the abs and core and help flatten the stomach doesn’t involve any of the most common, floor based exercises like sit-ups, crunch variations or planks at all. The best way to activate your core is a standing based move that doesn’t immediately come across as an ab exercise at all.
The study, which focused on 19 women, each of whom had at least 5 years of strength training experience, discovered that squatting with a bar & weights is the best way to workout your core.
The researchers used electrodes to measure the women's abdominal muscle contractions while they performed various exercises. The results showed that squats triggered the most core activation, beating out more traditional core exercises like sit-ups.
This is great news for beginners, who typically find that performing standing exercises is easier and less awkward given that mobility and flexibility challenges can make getting down into floor based exercises more challenging. Squatting exercises to work the core muscles also speaks to the benefits of taking a ‘full body’ approach to your workouts. BodyRockPlus.com coach Sean explains. “A lot of beginners want to focus on fixing what they consider to be ‘problem’ areas - and the stomach area and core are usually at the top of peoples priority list. People want to get down on the floor and onto their backs and start crunching away, because this is what they know from watching TV or seeing crunches in a workout video - but as the study points out, there are much better ways to blast your stomach area. I build squats into almost all of my workout classes on BodyRockPlus, because not only are you giving your abs the best workout possible, but you are also simultaneously activating those big, fat burning muscles in your legs - it's a smarter way to train because you are toning and strengthening multiple muscle groups at the same time. Most people don’t even realize that they are getting their ab work in while this is happening, which if you struggle with sit-ups is kind of a pretty amazing bonus”.
Most beginners and even intermediate level BodyRockers struggle with crunches because they haven’t developed their core strength enough yet, and when attempting crunches, they burn out their ability to compress and contract the core muscles very quickly. Exercising the abs from a standing position while squatting with a bar and weights or holding a pair of hex dumbbells allows you to leverage the larger leg muscles to target the core.
Coach Sean is a big fan of the squat. “There are a lot of squat variations and tips and tricks that you can do to target different areas and muscle groups, you can even hit the love handles, which can be challenging for people just starting out when they are down on the floor. I typically include at least one squat variation in my classes - people like them because they are also just amazing for toning the legs, inner and outer thighs and nothing lifts the butt better than a good squat.”
Ideally, you have a set of hex dumbbells at home, or better yet, a bar & weights. Coach Sean also suggests squatting in the BodyRock weighted vest if you are just getting started. “The vest gives you added resistance which is going to result in a better burn, and it’s great for beginners, because you just snap it on - and it leaves your hands free for balance, or to grip a bar & weights or hold a set of dumbbells. You really want to have some resistance during your squats because we are working the largest muscle groups in the body.”
With the best core activation possible, and the added benefit of also targeting the legs, butt and thighs, it’s no wonder that squat variations are a cornerstone exercise in our BodyRockPlus workouts, and if your not already, you should be incorporating them into your fitness routine.
P.S. If you want to get your squat on, and learn how to do loads of squat variations, you can join Coach Sean, and the rest of our trainers on BodyRockPlus.com, our fitness streaming platform (think NetFlix, but for workouts). We have a variety of beginner level programs that have been designed to get you up and moving again - even if its been years or decades. If you have been considering working out but don’t know where to start, we have a great article here that explains how you can get started with an achievable program that will meet you at your current fitness level and help you progress in a manageable way towards your fitness and weight loss goals.
If you feel like you are ready to get started, we are here to help you. We are offering a fully year of access to BodyRockPlus for just $69 with code: NY22. We’d love to have you join us!