Use This Core Workout Plan To Gain Functional Fitness

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The six-pack may be the goal of many, but it won’t do much for your functional fitness. True fitness lies not skin deep or even muscle deep but way, way down in your body's core. The truth is that you can be supremely fit without having a six-pack.
The muscles in your abdominal area and around the spine stabilise the body's movements and guard against spine and joint injury. For true fitness you need to target the core as much as the abs when training your abdomen, which is what these abs workouts do.

How To Do These Workouts

These sessions are designed to be done on different days. Leave two to three days between each to give your muscles time to recover properly. You can add these workouts into a longer gym session or focus on the three exercises in each, so long as you make sure you maintain enough intensity to fully exhaust the muscles. 

Before you start the workouts, warm up with five minutes on a treadmill and some press-ups. Rest for two to three minutes between exercises.

Workout 1

1 Plank

Sets 3  Time 30-40sec

Target core, abs

Hit the muscles deep in your midriff area to strengthen your core.

  • Get into a press-up position and rest your weight on your forearms.
  • Your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your neck. 
  • Tense your abs and hold for 30-40 seconds without letting your hips drop.  

Why it works This classic static hold is an excellent way to train the proprioception muscles deep in your core, which fire the larger abdominal muscles to stabilise your torso. Your abs will then be ready for the next two moves.

2. Medicine ball woodchop

Sets 3  Reps 6

Target core, abs, obliques, lats, arms, quads

Hit your abs and core with this diagonal move.

Medicine ball woodchop

(Image credit: Unknown)
  • Hold a medicine ball in both hands and stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  • Drop down slightly, moving the ball to beside your right knee, then drive up through your feet, swinging the ball up and across your body.
  • Swing it back down again.

Why it works The woodchop is a functional compound exercise and one of the few moves that can hit your abs and core with the high-to-low diagonal movement.

3 Swiss ball prone jackknife

Swiss ball prone jackknife

(Image credit: unknown)

Sets 3  Reps 8

Target abs, core, hip flexors, shoulders

This exercise hits your lower abs to ensure balanced gains.

  • Start in a press-up position with your feet resting on a Swiss ball.
  • Contract your core and draw your knees in towards your chest.
  • Squeeze your abs for a second, then return to the start.

Why it works The rectus abdominus is one sheet of muscle so it can be hard to target specific areas of it. Some exercises, such as this one, are particularly good at hitting its lower portion. And because the Swiss ball is unstable, your core has to work hard to maintain your body position.

Workout 2

1 Side plank

Sets 2 each side  Time 30-40 seconds

Target core, obliques

This is a static hold like the plank but this time you're working your obliques.

  • Lie on your left side, but rest your weight on your forearm and raise your body off the floor.
  • Form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Contract your abs and hold.
  • Slowly lower yourself down and repeat on the other side.

Why it works Much like the plank, this exercise will train your deep core muscles to activate the larger obliques to be ready and waiting for the call to stabilise your torso during exercise. Your obliques will be armed to take on the next exercise.

2 Lower-body medicine ball Russian twist

Lower body medicine ball Russian twist

(Image credit: unknown)

Sets 3  Reps 8

Target core, obliques, thighs

Train your abs and core along the rotational plane of motion.

  • Lie on your back with your arms out to your sides and hold a medicine ball between your knees.
  • Without taking your shoulders off the floor rotate your hips and legs to the left as far as you can.
  • Then go back to the middle and as far right as you can.

Why it works Training these muscles along the rotational plane is very important for sport and functional movement but it often gets neglected in abs workouts. This move will teach your muscles control under load and improve your core strength.

3 Weighted Swiss ball crunch

Weighted Swiss ball crunch

(Image credit: Unknown)

Sets 3  Reps 8

Target abs, core

Finally, exhaust your abs across their whole range.

  • Sit on a Swiss ball holding a weight plate or medicine ball with both hands across your chest. 
  • Lower yourself all the way back.
  • Crunch up by contracting your abs as if you were trying to curl your body around a ball.

Why it works Your abs work across a plane of motion that includes the point where your torso is arched back slightly. Doing weighted crunches on a Swiss ball rather than the floor allows you to exhaust the abs across their whole range for increased muscle growth potential.

Nick Hutchings worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Nick worked as digital editor from 2008 to 2011, head of content until 2014, and finally editor-in-chief until 2015.