Tag Archives: core

Three abs builders that also help your chin ups.

abs dogAre you including exercises that move you closer to doing things you’ve always wanted to do? Maybe you’ve never been able to do a chin up. Or you’d like to be able to do them better. Because chin ups are badass, of course.
There are a lot of factors that come into play when we pull ourselves up to a bar. A perfect chin up is a display of strength, mobility, and control over our bodies.

You might think that a chin up requires mostly upper body strength. You do need to have a strong upper body. Pulling your own weight isn’t easy.

There are all sorts of variations on chin ups. And they all get easier to do if you develop a powerful core. Your abs, your lats, and your glutes need to not only be strong. They need to be trained in a way that makes it easier for you to translate that stability onto the bar.

Strength + stabilizing yourself + proper positioning = better chin ups.

Today you’ll get a few big moves that will help your stability and positioning – and killer abs, of course.

Hollow Body Holds

Why you need them:  see that “hollow banana” shape my body is making? That’s the position that you’ll use on the bar. You can make this exercise easier or harder by how high or low you set your legs. 

Stick them in your workout: try 3-4 sets of holding as long as you can without your lower back kicking in. For me, 20 to 30 seconds is plenty.

Watch the video above to get a full tutorial on this one. Then set your abs on fire. 

Hanging Leg Raises

Why you need them: want to improve your chin ups? Spend time practicing perfect positioning at both the top and the bottom of the position. The photo above shows a flexed arm hang. It gives you more time holding the top of the chin up position, takes some pressure off your lower back, and helps you avoid stress to your shoulders if you tend to lose your position at the bottom while you crunch with your abs. 

You can do leg raises with straight arms too. Both versions require the hollow body position we talked about – avoid arching your back during this exercise and maintain tension through your abs and back. The link above will demo the flexed arm version. Or watch this full tutorial for the straight arm version of a  leg raise:

Make it easier by bending your knees. Make it harder by crunching with straight legs. 

How many: try 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps as one of your ab exercises for the day. 


Why you need them: for an amazing ab adventure, to learn to develop stiffness and control through your core, and as an easier alternative to the hanging leg raise. 

Think about what a hanging leg raise looks like. Now take that position back down to the floor. That’s essentially the starting point of the deadbug. I used to think this move was easy and dumb until I actually did it correctly. 

The most common mistake is bringing the knee too close to the chest. That lets your hip flexor do too much work and lets your abs off the hook. Instead, forcefully exhale your breath with every rep and make sure you feel your abs contract hard. Catch the demo above. And if you’re still not feeling your abs, it can help to try them with a band, as in the following demo.

As you can see, working your core stability translates to helping you do just about everything better – in and out of the gym. 

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Plank Party – Get More Out of the Plank in Less Time

Ready to change it up and have more fun with the plank? I know, the plank isn’t exactly synonymous with excitement. That’s because planking for a minute is really freaking boring. The truth is, you don’t need to hold a plank for eternity, and you probably shouldn’t. Read on for the basics on the plank exercise and how to spice them up to make them more effective AND interesting.

The plank is a great exercise to have in your fitness arsenal: it can help you learn to activate your core muscles, which will help stabilize your spine. It can teach you to feel what it’s like to brace your core, a skill that you’ll take with you into  the rest of your lifting workouts. For those new to fitness, building a solid plank will give basic core strength to build upon.

Learning to properly hold a basic plank is important: If your hips are saggy, your lower back kicks in and your abs won’t be properly firing. If your butt is too high in the air, the lower back and hip flexors do the work that your abdominals should be taking on.



Once you have the basic plank mastered, it might be tempting to try to increase the time you’re able to hold it. Fitness classes and online challenges often encourage us to try to hold the plank for as long as possible. While this might be fun for occasional bragging rights, these marathon sessions miss the point of the plank:

Planks should involve your entire body contracting forcefully. If you’re engaging your muscles properly, you shouldn’t be able to casually hold a plank while daydreaming. If you can, your hip flexors are likely doing more of the job anyway. The point of the core is to fire forcefully for short periods of time, not hang on for endurance.

Basic Plank Tips

  • Whether on forearms or hands, keep your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Make sure your elbows are lined up with your shoulders.
  • Your arms should be about shoulder width distance.
  • If your wrists hurt while planking on your hands, try the forearm variations or hold on to dumbbells.

So with that out of the way, how do we progress the plank to make it more challenging as well as more interesting? If you can hold standard plank for 45 seconds to a minute, you’re likely ready to move on. If you’re like me, you’d probably rather work really hard for a short period of time rather than hang on for 3 minutes while watching the clock. ZZZZZZZ.

silly pledge plank

Instead, check out these variations and give them a whirl. Pics from the video are outlined clockwise starting at the top left side! 

Pledge Plank
From a plank position on hands, bring your hand to the opposite shoulder, and repeat on the other side. Go back and forth for reps. Try 10 reps per side at first, trying to keep your body as stable as possible. Think about your hips being quiet so they don’t rock from side to side.

Push Up Plank
My coach Jordan gives these to me from time to time and they’re harder than they look! Again, the less movement out of your torso, the better. Move from a plank on your hands to a plank on your forearms. I like to go through half my reps leading with one side, and then switch to the other side for the rest. Try beginning with 4 or 5 per side.

Spider Planks
I don’t know if there’s an official name for these. “Knee to outside elbow plank” sounds wordy. I think about Spiderman’s crawling legs when I do these. Aim your knee to the outside of your elbow while you hold a plank on your hands or forearms. If your spidey sense is mighty, you might crank out between 10 and 12 reps per side.

Plank Roll-Out
In my mind, I move the ball waaaaay out. In reality, it barely slides forward. These are tough! Consider these an advanced plank variation but they’re a great challenge. Begin in a forearm plank on a stability ball. Push your forearms forward. Hold there for a second or two, then pull them back into your starting position. Yowzers! Start with as many as you can muster!

How to Fit Them Into Your Workout
Sets: 1-3
Timing: Try putting a set of these into your warmup routine. They also work well at the end of a strength workout or as part of a circuit.

Get out there and plank up! Leave a comment and tell me your favorite, or at least the most fun in that “I hate it at this very moment but I’m sure I’ll be ecstatic later” kind of way.