When it comes to developing a strong and sexy core many people will use a pull-up bar or go straight to the ground for some leg raises – but did you know that the bench can be a very effective tool?
The bench is a unique piece of equipment that will help you to best isolate the core muscles. Why? There are two main reasons why a bench is great for developing solid core strength.
1. Mild Instability
Although a bench may seem stable, the shape and thin nature of a traditional bench provided a level of instability that makes regular exercises slightly more challenging.
Don’t forget, this extra challenge stimulates more core strength and better ab development.
2. Increased Range of Motion
The only other tool that can get close to the range of motion possible on a bench is the pull-up bar, but the bench is far more versatile. Since your legs can go below the level of the bench this leads to a greater range of motion and higher activation of core muscles – perfect for rock-hard abs that also provide functional strength.
This might have you thinking; okay, so I can train my core on a bench – but why is core strength even important?
Importance of Core Strength
Regardless of the type of training you are involved in, powerlifting, bodybuilding, callisthenics – all of them have one component in common in order to grow stronger.
This common element is a solid core.
Think about it – your core is the muscular system that links the upper and lower body together. If the core is weak, not only will your back strength suffer, but you will also struggle to piece together and transfer strength from the lower body to the upper body – especially in heavy compound movements like squats and deadlifts.
Additional to your core strength being important for other exercises – it is also important for limiting injury. In the same way as it being a system that guides strength from upper to lower body, if that link is weak you are open to injury.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer to stay clear of injury and muscle weakness whenever possible.
For this reason, I like to use 5 great exercises on the bench to develop solid core strength. Here are our favourites.
5 Little-known Ab Exercises on a Bench For Solid Core Strength
This is your bread and butter exercise. Those new to core training should use this exercise because it helps to develop stability and strength throughout the entire core.
For best results, we recommend keeping your sets and reps in a moderate range and using slow movement. For your first workout – try a 12×3 set scheme. Take it slow and maintain strong posture and a full range of motion – no cheating!
Perfect for developing the sexy six pack of your dreams, incline sit-ups are great for isolating the rectus abdominis. This is an exercise you should attempt at a much lower volume.
When we say lower volume we mean lower reps and easier rep speeds. Try counting to 3 seconds every time you do a rep, and keep your reps/set below 6-8.
Once you start to get stronger and find that you are not fatigued by this you can either increase the time under tension to 4 seconds or increase the reps/set.
Incline Twist Sit-Up
If you have dreams about having perfect abs with cut serratus anterior muscles this is the exercise for you. The main thing to keep in mind for this exercise is that it is built to strengthen the obliques and serratus anterior not the rectus abdominis.
Your mental cue should be to get the elbow to knee without your butt moving off the bench. This will require some twisting in your thoracic spine – be sure you are properly warmed up before attempting this exercise in a high volume.
WARNING: This is a more advanced exercise and should only be completed in lower when you are strong enough to do traditional incline sit-ups.
Many people underrate the benefits of isometric exercises, but when it comes to developing complete core strength an isometric hold can stimulate the most muscle tissue.
Your best bet for getting solid core strength is to use this exercise in the same way you would do a plank. This means starting off with 30 seconds and NEVER sacrificing form – it’s just not worth it.
As you get stronger you can increase the time you spend in a hold or lengthen the lever by extending the legs and arms in opposite directions.
TOP TIP: You can use this exercise as a superset with your other exercises for a great burn and faster strength returns.
Last and certainly not least, the oblique twist, better known as the Russian twist is a personal favourite for developing great transitional strength to more functional exercises.
Using a medicine ball or weight you should keep your shoulders stable and turn from side to side – increasing the tension with more weight or for more time. Your cue here is to bring your shoulder over the midline of the body and rotate back.
This is an exercise you should do for time, rather than reps, since the entire duration of the exercise you will be under tension. Start with 30 seconds with a lighter weight and work your way up to more time and more weight when you are strong enough.
TOP TIP: if you feel pain or discomfort in your lower back doing this exercise you are either not strong enough or rotating too far.
Developing A Solid Core
When it comes to developing complete core strength there are not many pieces of equipment that match the versatility of a bench.
They’re cheap, effective and can be used for a variety of exercises that target the full development of solid core strength.
Who knows, you might just get strong enough to start doing full incline dragon flags like this guy!