We women spend a lot of time designing workouts that properly target muscle groups like quads, glutes, and shoulders. We pay careful attention to exercise selection, periodization, frequency, intensity, and tempo. But when it comes to ab training, we usually just toss a random movement or two at the end of our workout and call it good. You can do better than that.

Making these changes to your program that will get you the solid core you're after. Get moving now; bikini and tank-top season is just around the corner!

The Ab Exercise You Shouldn't Be Doing

I'm going to take a wild guess and assume that while you might want good abs, you don't want a thicker waist. If that's the case, avoid performing weighted side bends

The problem with this exercise is that it directly targets the oblique muscles with large amounts of resistance. To understand why this is a "negative," you need to understand a bit of abdominal anatomy and how the obliques function.

The obliques are two different muscle groups (internal and external obliques) that originate from the lateral (side) portion of your lower ribs and insert into the linea alba, pubic tubercle, and the anterior (front) portion of the iliac crest. The obliques wrap around your sides and help you rotate and bend your torso, and help with your spinal stability. 

Anatomy Of The Abs Infographic

Normally, the obliques are visible only when you start getting rid of layers of body fat. But targeting these muscles directly with added resistance makes them bigger. Because the obliques are positioned mainly along the sides of your torso, the effect is to actually thicken your waist. Probably not the effect you're going for.

It's important to note that the weighted side bend isn't a bad exercise; in fact, many people like it because it strengthens your core, and some lifters actually want to increase the size of their waist. But if you're looking for that hourglass figure, you're better off skipping this move on ab day.

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Ab Exercises to Whittle Your Waist

Target your heavier, added resistance exercises on your main ab muscles (the rectus abdominis or "six-pack muscles") themselves. You can still do exercises that target the obliques, but ditch the added resistance and stick to higher volume (more reps) that don't add mass.

Hanging leg raise on a jungle gym

Here are a few of my favorite exercises to light up your core up without bulking up your waist:

How often should you train abs?

If you regularly do compound movements like lunges, squats, and deadlifts, you're most of the way there. These exercises involve a good deal of core engagement and stabilization, so you're getting a good ab workout without doing any ab-specific exercises. But if you want to get your abs in shape for summer, consider doing one or two of these ab exercises a couple of times per week.

There's absolutely no reason you need to have a full "core day." If you start now by working these ab exercises into your regular program (and avoiding weighted side bends), you'll have a more defined core, and your summer body will be ready to go!

About the Author

Melissa Edmonds, CSCS

Melissa Edmonds, CSCS

Melissa Edmonds is the founder of ProShape Fitness, a healthy-living company that specializes in online fitness and nutrition coaching for people who want to get in the best shape of...

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