Arguably no area of the body garners more attention in the fitness world than the abdominal muscles. Having a chiseled six-pack is the ultimate goal for many fitness enthusiasts. Although the term "core" has become more popular than "six-pack" in recent years, the goal of attaining a sculpted midsection has endured.
Many people incorrectly presume that the core and abdominal muscles are the same. The truth is, the abs are just one of the many muscle groups that make up the core. The muscles that show up as a six-pack are the rectus abdominis muscles, a pair of vertical muscles that run the length of the abdomen whose primary job is to flex the spine. Also included in the core musculature are the internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominus, the erector spinae and the pectoralis major. Despite these other muscle groups, though, the rectus abdominis invariably gets all the attention.
While all these core muscle groups have their own specific and individual functions, they are collectively responsible for moving, supporting and stabilizing the spine. A vast majority of this moving, supporting and stabilizing occurs while you are in an upright position, and yet, a majority of the most common abs exercises are performed lying on your back.
While supine, isolated exercises like crunches are not necessarily wrong or useless, they are not the most effective way to train the abs and core. A much better alternative is to perform compound exercises in an upright posture that requires coordinated movement and stabilization of the spine by all or a majority of the core muscles.
When it comes to this type of training, the kettlebell is the perfect tool. Kettlebells are ideal for compound movements like swings, squats, presses and cleans. They also add an extra element of instability due to their unique shape and design, which requires more coordination, stabilization and control, primarily through activating those core muscles people love so much.
A Core-Blasting Kettlebell Burn
To perform this workout, you will need two kettlebells. Men should grab a 10- to 12-kilogram or 22- to 26-pound kettlebell, while women can pick up a six- to eight-kilogram or 13- to 18-pound kettlebell.
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds back-to-back in a circuit, then rest 30 seconds. Complete four circuits total. For the swing, front squat and around-the-world exercises, alternate sides each circuit.
1. Single-Arm Swing
Stand upright with your feet about hip-width apart. Place a kettlebell on the floor about two feet in front of your feet.
Hinge at the hips with a neutral spine and grab the handle with one hand. Pull the shoulder down and away from the ear to set your lats and upper back in position. The free arm will lightly tap the top of the kettlebell in the starting position and will mimic the working arm throughout the lift.
Swing the kettlebell back between your legs, making sure the bell stays above your knees and the shoulders stay at hip level or slightly above. Knees can be slightly bent.
Powerfully extend your hips, contracting the glutes and abdominals at the top of the lift. The kettlebell should float up to about shoulder height, with elbow slightly bent.
Let gravity pull the kettlebell back down, only hinging at the hips when your arm hits your waistband.
2. Single-Arm Front Squat
Clean the kettlebell into the rack position. The wrist should be straight, and the elbow tucked into the body.
Squat down, sending the hips back while maintaining a neutral spine. The elbows should come off the body to balance the weight of the kettlebell in the squat position. Lower hips down until thighs are parallel with the floor or slightly lower. If you have knee problems, only go down as far as you can go without feeling pain.
Push into your heels to engage the posterior chain of the legs and return to the upright position.
3. Around the World
Stand upright holding the kettlebell in your right hand just between your legs with your arm straight.
Swing the kettlebell out and around to the side of your right hip, then behind your back.
Switch hands behind the back and continue to swing the kettlebell around to the side of your left hip.
Switch hands again in front of your body to complete a full circle and repeat the circular motion.
On your second round, change direction, swinging the kettlebell to the left to begin.
Stand upright with your feet slightly narrower than hip-width distance apart, holding a kettlebell in each hand with your arms by your sides.
Hinge at the hips and lower the kettlebells down to tap the floor. You should maintain a neutral spine with a very slight bend in the knee throughout the movement. If you cannot reach the floor maintaining a neutral spine, bring the floor up by placing boxes underneath the kettlebells on either side of you.
Push through the floor and contract the glutes to fully extend the hips and come back to the starting position.
5. Straight-Leg Sit-Up
Lie on your back with your legs straight, holding the kettlebell in both hands at your chest with your elbows bent.
Roll your upper body off the floor, coming into an upright position while holding the kettlebell steady at your chest and maintaining straight legs.
Slowly lower your upper body back down to the floor one vertebrae at a time, controlling your speed for the best results.
Lay the kettlebell on the floor.
Place both hands on the ball of the kettlebell and come into the top of a push-up position with your feet wider than shoulder width for balance.
Engaging your core and upper body, hold this position for 30 seconds. Maintain a straight line from your head, shoulders, hips and feet while keeping your arms straight throughout the time.
Perform this kettlebell routine two to three times a week in addition to your regular workouts. Using kettlebells in your daily exercises will not only help you develop strong abdominals but will also build strength and stamina to help you reach your fitness goals.
About the Author Amanda Perkins works with Kettlebell Kings as a senior writer. She has been put on this earth to inspire people to achieve their health and fitness goals with enthusiasm. Kettlebell Kings is a premium-quality kettlebell and kettlebell content provider based in Austin, Texas.
What is your favorite kettlebell abs move? Share it in the comments below!