Best exercises for six-pack abs and back health

Everyone wants a six-pack. Few people want to do the work. Even fewer have the slightest idea how the abdominal muscles actually work, and how they should be trained -- for appearance, for performance and for optimizing stability and motor control.

We all know what the rectus abdominis is. Maybe not by name, but we know what it is. This is the external layer of the middle of the abdominal muscle group, the three boxes on either side of the middle of the abdomen, i.e., the six pack.

And yes, you can have a visible six-pack if you train your abs intelligently AND follow an otherwise well-designed exercise and nutrition program. (Put down the Diet Coke and Swedish Fish, please.) But there is so much more to core training, and so many more functions than aesthetics alone.

In this post, Meghan Callaway explains how to follow a complete core training program that doesn't just focus on endless, mindless situps, crunches and v-ups. The most effective exercises are often not the sexiest, and this is especially true with the core. The simpler the better, and the key is to train all the functions of the abdominal muscles -- rotation, anti-rotation, anti-flexion and anti-extension.

My favorite ab exercise is the 90-Degree Vertical Plate Press. Not only will it bring out your six-pack, but more importantly, it will develop stability and responsiveness in the transverse abdominis -- the inner, cross-sectional layer of the abs that's responsible for stabilizing the spine. And if you're trying to exercise safely and increase performance in your workouts, what could be more important than protecting your lower back? 

This exercise can target the abs to produce some serious results through the core. 1. Position the hips and knees at a 90-degree flexed position to eliminate involvement from the superficial hip flexors. 2. Hold a weight plate directly in front of your chest with arms extended and press vertically under control.

Try some of the movements in this essential post about sensible, effective ab training. Let us know in the comments how they change your core training for the better.