Woman performing a plank on a yoga mat

Strength training: this ab challenge takes just four minutes and works your whole core

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Want to up your strength training? Build a stronger core with this quick four minute ab challenge that will leave your muscles burning without completing a single crunch

In a roster of running, weight training and HIIT, core work is easily neglected. The irony here is that a stronger core will improve your performance when doing all of these workouts, as your abdominals stabilise your body during jogs and keep you upright in movements such as squats

Before you begin begrudgingly adding crunches onto the end of your workout, we’ve found a way to make your ab training challenging, quick and, dare we even say, fun.

We’re fans of any workout that puts us through our paces but doesn’t waste any time, meaning we get that tell-tale satisfying burn once we’re finished. And this four minute ab challenge definitely ticks those boxes. 

If you’ve already given the plank challenge a go, this workout could be a great next step to your ab training. But don’t fret if you haven’t tried that one yet – moving through these dynamic plank variations will strengthen your core to help you hold the isometric position

“This is a proper burner,” says fitness trainer Emma Obayuvana, who shared the workout with Strong Women. She’s put together five core exercises to be performed as a four-minute AMRAP – meaning you need to perform as many rounds as you can in four minutes. We’ll get to that bit in a minute, but first, let’s go through these exercises. 

“I’ve got my feet on gliders here, but you can do the exercises with your feet on towels or simply wearing socks. If you only have a carpeted floor, then you can step the feet towards your elbows rather than glide them in. For example, the knee tucks can be little steps with each foot all the way in to meet your arms, and the opposite knee to elbow can become mountain climbers,” says Emma. 

Knee tucks

The real challenge here is making sure that your bum doesn’t rise up towards the ceiling. “Imagine you have a glass of water at the base of your spine, and you’re trying not to spill it. If your hips move side to side or your bum lifts up to the sky, the glass will go over,” says Emma. “You need to really pull up through your belly button and use your core to pull the knees in.”

  1. Start in a high plank position, with your shoulders directly over your wrists and core engaged.
  2. Squeeze through your abdominals to slide your feet in. Your knees should come in line with the inside of your elbows.
  3. If you aren’t sliding, slowly step both feet in towards your elbows, keeping your back flat, until your knees line up with your elbows.
  4. Slide or step your feet back out again to starting position.

Repeat 10 times.

Pike tucks

  1. “It doesn’t matter how high up comes your hips go or how far in your feet are so long as you are pulling through your core the whole time. Even if your pike is very small and you’re not going all the way up, it doesn’t matter, that is something you can progress to,” says Emma.
  2. Starting back in your high plank position, squeeze your core to lift your hips up towards the sky as your feet slide or step in.
  3. Your legs should remain as straight as possible and your shoulders remain over your wrists as you tuck your head to look at your knees.
  4. Slowly slide or step the feet back to your high plank position.

Repeat 10 times.

Opposite knee to elbow

“This is working into your obliques and deep abdominals, but you need to keep your hips as still as possible and your abdominals tight,” says Emma.

  1. From the high plank position, squeeze your core to pull your right leg in, either using the slider or hovering above the floor.
  2. When your right knee meets your left elbow, push it back to the starting position. Remember not to tip the hips from side to side. 
  3. Alternate your legs so your left knee comes in to meet your right elbow. 

Repeat five times on each side.

Knee to tricep

“This one really works the obliques so try to squeeze your knee as close as possible into your arm to activate through your side abdominals,” says Emma.

  1. Starting from your high plank, slide or hover your right knee in and out to the edge of your right elbow. The outer side of your right knee is facing the ceiling.
  2. Slowly slide or step back to the starting position, then repeat with your left knee going to your left elbow.

Repeat five times on each side. 

Both knees to elbows

“This one is saved for last because it’s a killer,” says Emma.

  1. From high plank position, slide or slowly step both legs in to meet the outside edge of your elbows.
  2. Slowly slide or step back to starting position.

Repeat 10 times.

The challenge

Back to that AMRAP. The idea is to do these exercises for the allotted reps with no rest in between for four minutes straight and see how many sets you can get in. Don’t rush – it’s important to maintain form, but count the rounds and challenge yourself to do more each time. “You can drop to the floor whenever you need to, as it could be tough on your wrists,” says Emma. “The idea is to progress.”

For example, the first time you try this you might get two sets of these exercises in the four minutes. You might be able to progress that to two rounds plus an extra round of knee tucks. 

Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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