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How to Spice Up Your Ab Life

By Alexander VanHouten, Master Trainer & Life Time Education Specialist

Are you suffering from gym-COREDOM?

In Alex’s dictionary of fitness and nutrition terminology, Coredom is defined as:

“the condition of being disenchanted with, or uninterested in, core exercises due to approaching the millionth set completed of the same boring exercises for the midsection, often resulting in a lack of motivation to exercise the rectus abdominals, transverse abdominals, obliques, and/or the erector spinae.”

Serious stuff.

This phenomenon is plaguing gym-goers everywhere and threatening the would-be abdominal elite of our nation with a brutal apathy that could result in the catastrophic loss of athleticism, injury buffering and fit-looking abs.

It’s a nasty outbreak, and I can’t let it happen to you.

So it’s time to throw off the chains that bind you to your Coredom and step outside of your comfort zone.

Here’s just what the doctor ordered:

Lateral Scooter Walks – “Around the World”

What it is: Get ready for some kindergarten fun as you’ll need two mats and a scooter (yeah, like the ones you did relays on as a child). Your objective is to target obliques and transverse abdominus while integrating the lateral mobility of your shoulders and chest with the extension of your quads. Party city.

How To Perform: Place two 6-foot yoga mats the long-way on the ground with a bit of overlap forming a 10-foot runway. With your hands on the mat and feet on the scooter, hold a push-up position as you walk your arms, hand-over-hand, from one end of the mat to the other.

When you get to the end of your runway, don’t change directions, instead navigate around keeping your core engaged and feet on the scooter so that you travel an oval until you reach your starting point. Then switch directions until you reach the starting point again.

Complete 4 reps without rest.

Where to Start: This intense exercise requires your entire body to work as a unit. However, there are some key abilities you should develop in order to accomplish a full set with great form.

Shoulder strength and stability is an important component. Since those wily joints need to stay stable while you walk around the mat, you’ll want to be able to complete at least five push-ups with good form (shoulders out of your ears, no sagging back, no protruding head).

AND your core and quads will need to integrate like never before. Adding a scooter under the feet of your garden-variety plank will teach your body to stop relying on the friction of the ground to hold you up and will place the work in your transverse abdominals and legs.

Then all that’s left is to give it a shot. When you’re done, superset this with a few good reps of panting on the floor. Breathing works your abs too.

Boat w/ Object Rotation – “Rocky Twists”

What it is:  “Boat” in yoga class sounds non-threatening enough. Balance on your tailbone and breathe while your core magically holds you in place. Have you ever balanced a horseshoe on the curved side? Yeah, me neither. Mostly, because physics deems it improbable, though not impossible. Quantum mechanics, unlike the classical model of the universe, doesn’t rule out much definitively, but with some work you can make this improbable skill function for some killer abs.

How To Perform: Start with a mat doubled under your booty (trust me, that area is sensitive to the hard ground) in an upright sit-up position. Lift your legs with your lower abdominal muscles and hold your upper body in position, perhaps leaning back slightly to off-set the weight of your legs. This is boat.

While you float here, the fun begins. Stack some objects (I like 10 risers with a kettlebell and medicine ball hiding in the middle of the tower for variety and added torturous effort) on one side of you and work to twist, grab, and transfer the objects one-by-one, from one side to the other. Keeping your thumbs touching while you rotate over and over again, rebuild your tower on each side. That’s 1 rep.

Try to get through 3 reps without sinking your “boat”.

Where to Start: This evil dose of abdominal DOMS hinges on two primary skills. Hip flexor and lower abdominal strength and activation to lift your legs without an arching back, and the ability to maintain a neutral spine while twisting.

To work on hip flexors and lower abdominals, lying leg raises without an arched back will build strength and lying toe touches (where you lie completely flat and sit up all the way until you fingers touch your toes then lay back on the floor one vertebrae at a time) will build activation.

For a neutral spine while twisting, transfer the objects slowly but let the feet rest on the ground in front of you while all of your focus is on your lovehandles. The movement should begin and end in the obliques. Work up to faster speeds until you can perform the movement without feeling any work in your back.

Barbell/Dowel Climbs

What it is: Ready to defy gravity? So are your abs. Climb up and down a barbell, face down, hand over hand, while the rest of your body holds a plank and keeps the barbell from tipping over. You are a human Teepee. Except there are only two poles holding each other up. And one of the supports is on a mission for a core powerful enough to not to bend to the forces of space and time.

How To Perform: This one’s hard to picture. Find a place to wedge a dowel or full-size 45-lb barbell (a dark corner in the gym will work fine). Start with two hands gripping the top as the bar leans 20-40 degrees. Let the bar support your weight as you transfer from standing to a sort of leaning — it’s really a plank in midair. Then climb down hand-over-hand as far as you can, (the bar will pivot upright as you descend) then climb back up. That’s 1 rep. Complete 5 reps.

Where to Start: Defying gravity is no joke. You’ll need ninja-strong arms and shoulders on top of an unfailingly steady midsection.

For your upper body prep, barbell skullcrushers, TRX tricep extensions and diamond push-ups will all aid in your endeavor to steadily climb up and down the tower.

For a midsection that stays steady under duress, scooter roll-outs (first on knees to full extension, then on your feet), swiss ball planks (elbows on the ball), and weighted v-sits should do the trick!

Now, to the grand finale.

Single-Arm Hanging Leg Raises

What it is: In my quest to redefine Dad Bod, I have taken on the challenge of preparing for the American Ninja Warrior. Since most of the obstacles require insane grip strength and body control, many of my personal workout movements are designed to train exactly that. This one is my favorite.

How To Perform: Find a sturdy bar or tree branch. Establish a strong, single-arm grip. Flex your grip-arm, lat, chest, core and quads to lift your legs up passing your hips. Fight the rotation and the swing to maintain control through the movement. Complete 6 on each arm.

Where to Start: Of all the exercises on this list, this is the most difficult to master. You need grip strength, lat and oblique stabilization and lower abdominal activation.

Grip strength is very intuitive to train. Hang from a bar for 60 sets, then practice single-arm hanging, single-arm DB snatches, deadlifts, and single-arm lat pull-downs. These exercises will all train the right muscles to give you a death grip!

Lat and oblique stabilization is more tricky. Transverse ViPR lunges, single-arm DB rows and plank with overhead, single-arm cable pulls can all get the back and side muscles synergizing.

And finally lower abdominal activation can be achieved with any of the recommendations under the “rocky twists”. Additionally, double-arm hanging knee raises (or captain’s chair knee raises if you’ve trained grip strength hard today) will teach your lower abdominals to fire even from a stretched position. Control that swing!

Add Some Zest to Your Ab Life

Coredom is a very real and very awful condition.

In a world where we athletes in training are in the minority, we must ban together against things that threaten to rip away our motivation and resolve so that we can continue to better ourselves.

My momma always used to say that only uncreative people get bored. And if that is true, I hope sharing these unusual, but extremely effective exercises has sparked your mind out of a rut.

Now you can practice mastering Lateral Scooter Walks, Rocky Twists, Barbell Climbs and Single-Arm Hanging Leg Raises.

Get to work. Don’t be a victim of Coredom.


The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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