To get an insane midsection, you’ll have to get a little bit crazy
By Nick Nilsson
The abdominal area is the most complex area of the body in terms of movements and function. Beyond aesthetics, the abs are critical for athletic performance, strength, and force transfer from lower body to upper body. This series of exercises targets these critical functions of the abdominal area with complex movements and resistance patterns in a hybrid fashion. These exercises are not about novelty. These combination movements will hit your abs in ways you’ve never even imagined.
These five exercises are going to hammer a wide variety of functions and movements in your entire midsection, from your deepest “strength” muscles to your most superficial “show” muscles. I recommend performing this workout no more than two to three times per week. These exercises are extremely challenging and many use added resistance that will require additional recovery.
To perform this exercise, you’ll need a high pulley, a dumbbell, and a bench. You’ll be performing a one-arm pulldown while doing a one-arm dumbbell bench press at the same time.
Start by setting the bench underneath the high pulley so that one end is right below the single-handle attachment. You’re going to be lying with only your upper back on the bench (perpendicular to the pad) during the exercise.
Use a weight on the stack that is approximately the same as the dumbbell you’re going to be pressing. Start fairly light on both at first to get an idea of how to get into position for the exercise and how to perform the movement.
Sit on the bench with your left side to the pulley. Pick up the dumbbell in your right hand, then set it on end on top of your thigh. Grab the pulley handle with your left hand. Move your butt off the bench and rest your upper back on the bench. Your knees should be bent, butt down, and your upper arm resting on the bench like a floor press. Now press the dumbbell up and pull the handle down at the same time. You will immediately feel massive cross-tension running through your midsection.
Perform two sets of six to eight reps of this exercise on each side, with 60 seconds of rest in between sets.
Bench-End Leg Raise Cable Crunch
You’ll need an adjustable-height pulley with a straight bar or EZ-bar attachment and a flat bench for this exercise. Set the pulley to the same height as the bench you’re going to use. The weight should be fairly light. Now set the bench lengthwise in front of the pulley. Lie back on the bench and grasp the bar with an underhand grip. Get into position as though you were going to do a lying cable crunch on top of the bench.
Next, slide your body down a little so that your hips are hanging off the end of the bench, with your feet held off the ground. The waistband of your shorts should be right on the edge of the bench.
Perform a full cable crunch. After the crunch, hold that cable in the bottom position and maintain tension in the abs. Then, using that cable as your anchor, perform a leg raise, bringing your hips up and around the bench. Raise the legs until they’re vertical, then thrust your feet up toward the ceiling as though trying to stamp footprints onto the ceiling. Lower your hips back down toward the bench, then lower the legs down toward the floor, curling your hips and lower back around the end of the bench again.
You will get no release in tension through the entire exercise as you use your rectus abdominis to work from top to bottom (with the crunch) and bottom to top (with the leg raise). Your abs will be screaming.
Perform two sets of as many as reps as you can handle with this exercise, with 60 seconds of rest in between sets.
Single-Dumbbell Curl Squat
This exercise combines an off-center, isometric static hold with a simple squat movement. This is going to target the deep muscles of the core with a very functional movement pattern that going to develop your obliques while building “support” strength for your other heavy training.
You’ll need a moderately heavy dumbbell for this exercise. Use both hands to get it up to the top position of a dumbbell curl in a standing position. Set your feet a little outside shoulder width, in your normal squat stance.
Hold the dumbbell in that “top curl” position and then squat. Come down as far as you can and bring your elbow down inside your thigh. Pause for a few seconds, then come back up. It’s deceptively simple and incredibly challenging to the muscles of the core, shoulders, and biceps. The loading in front of your body is similar to a front squat or goblet squat, while the single-arm hold demands incredible torque through the core to stabilize the load.
Perform four to six reps with the dumbbell in one hand. After that, immediately switch hands and perform four to six more reps. Take a 60-second rest, then repeat for one more set on each arm.
Incline Bench Hanging Leg Raises
The addition of a strategically placed incline bench essentially changes this into a combination of a “lever” exercise, an incredible bodyweight exercise that focuses on the upper abs, and a hanging leg raise, which primarily focuses on the lower abs. Normal hanging leg raises lose that tension at the bottom.
Set the incline bench with the top end just slightly forward of the chin-up bar. You can also use a Smith machine if you need to change the height of the bar. Set your feet on the seat and sit as high up on the bench as you can. Reach up and grab the chin-up bar and lift your feet off the bench. Your lower back will be the only part of you in contact with the bench. This is the lever portion of the movement, which will already be challenging to your abs.
Now do a leg raise. As you bring your legs up, bend your knees somewhat and bring them in toward your chest like a hanging knee raise, rolling your lower back over the top end of the bench. Bring your knees in all the way to your chest. This will give you a full contraction of the rectus abdominis.
Perform as many reps as possible. This number may be fairly low the first few times you do it. Rest for one minute, then repeat for one more set.
You’ll need a single barbell for this exercise. Wedge one end of the barbell against something solid, such as the corner of a room or power rack. Load the end that’s away from the pivot point with a few plates. If you have a “landmine” apparatus, you can use that, but it’s not necessary for performing the exercise.
Stand parallel to the bar, just outside the plates, then squat down and grip on the end of the bar with your closer-side hand. Deadlift the loaded end, coming up to a standing position.
This works like a suitcase deadlift; however, because you don’t have to balance the bar in your hand and fatigue your grip (which can potentially limit the overall work you can put on your core with that exercise), you can really push your abdominals hard as the focus of the exercise.
Perform six to eight reps on one side, then turn around and perform six to eight reps on the other side. Take about 60 seconds’ rest and then repeat.