9 Effective ab exercises for people over 60
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The Most Effective Ab Exercises To Build Core Strength After 60

Focusing on core strengthening through the use of effective ab exercises is essential for healthy aging.

Especially for those in their 60’s and beyond, having a strong core is one of the best ways to improve balance and prevent the all-too-common occurrence of low back pain.

Furthermore, developing strong core muscles doesn’t require much. You don’t need fancy equipment or tons of weight; all you need is some open space and the will to work hard!

Importance of Core Strength as You Age

Ab exercises for those over 60

As the research into aging has advanced over the years, it’s become increasingly clear that being fit and strong is one of the best ways to avoid the common issues associated with old age (1).

For example, regular exercise helps to prevent the development of and decrease the severity of the following conditions:

  • Osteoarthritis (2);
  • Heart conditions (3);
  • Lung conditions (4);
  • Osteoporosis (5);
  • Cancer (6).

Naturally, there are many other conditions that can be prevented through regular exercise apart from those listed above. 

Core strengthening is specifically important for healthy aging, as studies have shown a decreased risk of balance issues, falls, and low back pain in those with strong abdominal muscles (7). These injuries and conditions account for a huge number of hospital admissions each year in people over 60. 

Therefore, a simple, free, effective prevention strategy such as core strengthening is the perfect solution for many of the issues faced by the older members of our society!

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Abdominal and Core Anatomy

Abdominal and Core Anatomy

When discussing the “core” of the body, many people immediately think of the most prominent, 6-pack ab muscle: the rectus abdominis.

However, the core encompasses a broader group of muscles from the abdominals, back, and by some definitions, even the legs.

Rectus Abdominis

This large muscle covers most of the front of the trunk. When you think of a shredded 6-pack, this is the muscle you’re picturing. The rectus abdominis is primarily responsible for flexing or bending the trunk, as when one does a sit-up.

Obliques

The external and internal obliques lie on either side of the trunk. These muscles allow for much of the rotational and side bending movements we perform. The obliques are critically important for many athletic movements, as well as for helping to stabilize the spine.

Multifidi

The multifidi are tiny muscles located throughout the back. They serve to “fine-tune” movements involving the trunk. These muscles are especially important for those tasks requiring twisting and positional changes.

Transversus Abdominis

Underneath the rectus abdominis, lies a band of muscle tissue known as the transversus abdominis. This muscle assists with the rotation of the trunk and it is vital for trunk stability. Many rehab professionals will place great emphasis on strengthening the TA, especially for those that have back pain.

Other “Core” Muscles

When it comes to the body, and especially with regards to the muscular system, nothing happens in isolation. There are many other muscles that work with the “core” muscles described above so that we can maintain a balanced, functional, and pain-free life.

Depending on how specific you want to get with your definition of the core, you may also include some or all of the following in your list:

  • Serratus anterior;
  • Glutes;
  • Lats;
  • Hip flexors.

Regardless of which muscles you consider to be part of the core proper, you need to ensure that you incorporate exercises that emphasize muscles throughout the entire body.

9 Effective Ab Exercises to Build a Stronger Core

The following 9 exercises will help anyone, at any age, achieve a strong, stable core. Depending on your exercise goals, you can perform the following 9 exercises as few as twice a week or up to 4 times a week.

I recommend performing all 9 exercises in a circuit. Circuits are my favorite type of workout as they provide an efficient means to work a ton of muscles in a short period of time. 

Furthermore, circuit training can lead to a slight cardiovascular response as well, depending on how it is structured. All in all, circuits help you to work a ton of muscles, get your heart pumping, and complete your workout in the shortest amount of time possible.

For this workout specifically, I suggest performing each exercise, one after the other, with little to no rest between movements. Once you’ve completed all 9 exercises, take a short, 30-second break, and start the whole series over. Complete the circuit 3-5 times.

Now let’s check out the specific exercises!

1. Crunches

Crunches

Sit-ups are a great exercise, there’s no doubt about it. But when it comes to emphasizing the rectus abdominis, crunches are king. These can be done anywhere, any time, and do not require any equipment. A truly versatile exercise!

Target Muscles: Rectus abdominis

Parameters

Perform 10-20 repetitions of this exercise, moving slowly and deliberately on every repetition. As soon as you complete this exercise, move immediately on to the next one. Repeat this process for the whole circuit, and complete 3 to 5 circuits in total.

How to Perform

  • Begin by lying on your back in the “hooklying” position (knees bent comfortably, feet flat on floor).
  • Place your hands across your chest and attempt to lift your shoulder blades off of the floor.
  • Return back to the starting position slowly to complete the repetition.
  • I do not advise placing your hands behind your head, as there is a tendency to pull with your arms, which can strain your neck.

2. Russian Twist

Russian Twist - weighted

For many of the core muscles, but especially the obliques, the Russian twist is one of the best exercises around. You can use a kettlebell, dumbbell, or anything heavy for this exercise. 

Target Muscles: Obliques

Parameters

Perform 10-20 repetitions of this exercise, moving slowly and deliberately on every repetition. As soon as you complete this exercise, move immediately on to the next one. Repeat this process for the whole circuit, and complete 3 to 5 circuits in total.

How to Perform

  • In a seated and slightly reclined position, hold a weight with both hands.
  • Slowly rotate your trunk and arms from side to side.
  • One turn to each side is considered a single repetition.
  • Be mindful of keeping your back straight throughout the duration of this exercise.

3. Bird Dogs

Bird dogs core exercise

While it’s important to stress the abdominal muscles during a core workout, the back muscles also need some attention. The bird dog exercise is one of the best ways to work the multifidi and to maintain spinal health.

Target Muscles: Obliques, multifidi, rectus abdominis

Parameters

Perform 10-20 repetitions of this exercise, moving slowly and deliberately on every repetition. As soon as you complete this exercise, move immediately on to the next one. Repeat this process for the whole circuit, and complete 3 to 5 circuits in total.

How to Perform

  • On hands and knees, slowly extend one arm forward.
  • Simultaneously, extend your opposite leg backward.
  • At the top of the movement, you should have made a straight line from your foot, through your back, all the way to your hand.
  • Return your leg and arm to the starting position to complete the repetition.
  • Repeat the exercises for the prescribed number of repetitions on each side.

4. Push-Ups

Push-Ups - ab exercises

I would say that if in some hypothetical world, you were only able to do 3 exercises for the rest of your life, pushups should be one of them (the other two will show up on this list as well in the form of pull-ups and squats!). 

Push-ups are an extremely functional movement and help to strengthen many different parts of the body. 

*Note: in the picture, he is using a resistance band to increase the difficulty. While this is an option, you do not have to use a band to get a great result from your push-up workout.

Target Muscles: Pecs, triceps, rectus abdominis, various stabilizer muscles throughout shoulders and the rest of the body.

Parameters

Perform 10-20 repetitions of this exercise, moving slowly and deliberately on every repetition. As soon as you complete this exercise, move immediately on to the next one. Repeat this process for the whole circuit, and complete 3 to 5 circuits in total.

How to Perform

  • Place hands on the ground, about shoulder-width apart.
  • Place feet on the ground, about hip-width apart (or narrower).
  • Beginning in the “up” phase of the movement, then slowly lower yourself down towards the ground.
  • Keep your back from sagging or arching during the movement and strive to contact the ground with your chest at the bottom of the push-up.
  • Once you’ve lightly touched the ground, or reached the bottom of the movement, push yourself back up into the starting position to complete the repetition.

5. Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups

Pull-Ups and chin-ups

I believe that you need very little equipment to achieve a great workout. However, every home gym should have a pull-up bar. Pull-up bars are relatively inexpensive and enable you to perform tons of different movements geared toward strengthening various parts of the body.

Target Muscles: Lats, biceps, various core muscles, and others throughout the body.

Parameters

Perform 10-20 repetitions of this exercise, moving slowly and deliberately on every repetition. As soon as you complete this exercise, move immediately on to the next one. Repeat this process for the whole circuit, and complete 3 to 5 circuits in total.

How to Perform

  • For the pull-up, you will grip the bar with your hands facing away from you (chin-ups are performed with the hands facing you).
  • Begin by hanging from the bar, keeping your shoulder and back muscles engaged (no “sagging”!)
  • Slowly pull yourself upward until your chest touches the bar or you are able to get your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position to complete the repetition.
  • You can make this exercise harder by adding extra weight with a weight belt/vest, and easier by using a band to assist the movement.

6. Squats

Resistance Band Squats

Squats are one of the best leg exercises around, but also an excellent core exercise. This movement forces you to stabilize your spine throughout the duration of the exercise. Along with pull-ups and push-ups, squats are, in my opinion, an essential exercise to include in your routine.

Target Muscles: Glutes, quads, calves, various core muscles for stability.

Parameters

Perform 10-20 repetitions of this exercise, moving slowly and deliberately on every repetition. As soon as you complete this exercise, move immediately on to the next one. Repeat this process for the whole circuit, and complete 3 to 5 circuits in total.

How to Perform

  • Begin by standing with feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your heels on the ground, slowly bend your knees and bring your hips downward, keeping your back straight and your chest facing forward.
  • Once you’ve reached the bottom of your range of motion, stand back up, reversing the movement, to complete the repetition.
  • This exercise can be made harder or easier in many ways. In the picture, he has a band around his thighs, which will incorporate some extra hip muscle activation in the movement.

7. Toes to Bar

Toes to Bar

If you’ve ever watched or participated in a CrossFit workout, you’ve probably done some toes-to-bar movements. This is a tremendous exercise for the core and can be modified in many ways to make it easier or harder.

Target Muscles: Hip flexors, rectus abdominis, obliques, lats, various muscles throughout the body for “fine-tuning” and stability.

Parameters

Perform 10-20 repetitions of this exercise, moving slowly and deliberately on every repetition. As soon as you complete this exercise, move immediately on to the next one. Repeat this process for the whole circuit, and complete 3 to 5 circuits in total.

How to Perform

  • Grasp the bar with whatever grip you prefer (palms facing you, palms facing away, one of each, etc).
  • From an active hanging position, attempt to lift your legs and touch your toes to the bar. 
  • Reverse the movement until you’ve returned to the starting position. This will complete the repetition.
  • If you are limited by flexibility, lack of strength, or fear, you can modify this exercise by simply tucking your knees toward your chest instead of touching your toes to the bar.

8. Body Saw Plank

Body Saw Plank - effective ab exercises

Planks are an awesome exercise for core endurance and strengthening. The “body saw” version is one of many variations on the traditional plank and really kicks the abdominal muscle activation into high gear.

Target Muscles: Rectus abdominis, obliques, lats, various shoulder, back, and leg muscles for stability.

Parameters

Perform 10-20 repetitions of this exercise, moving slowly and deliberately on every repetition. As soon as you complete this exercise, move immediately on to the next one. Repeat this process for the whole circuit, and complete 3 to 5 circuits in total.

How to Perform

  • Start in a plank position, elbows underneath shoulders, forearms resting on the ground, back straight, feet on the floor.
  • Rock backward slightly, towards your toes.
  • Pull yourself forward slightly by using your lats and abdominals.
  • Repeat this “sawing” motion throughout the exercise.

9. Supermans

Supermans - Ab Exercises

Like you’re flying across the sky, this “man of steel” workout will get your back muscles stronger and will help with your posture. However, if you have any back discomfort with this exercise due to the hyperextension, be sure to modify it by placing a pillow or two under your waist.

Target Muscles: Multifidi, lats, erector spinae, various core and shoulder muscles to assist and stabilize.

Parameters

Perform 10-20 repetitions of this exercise, moving slowly and deliberately on every repetition. As soon as you complete this exercise, move immediately on to the next one. Repeat this process for the whole circuit, and complete 3 to 5 circuits in total.

How to Perform

  • Lying on your stomach, extend your arms straight overhead and your legs straight backward.
  • Keeping your arms and legs straight, attempt to lift your chest and legs off the floor simultaneously.
  • Hold the raised position for 10 seconds, then slowly lower back down to the ground.

Conclusion

As the saying goes: “aging ain’t for the weak.” Having a strong core is one of the best ways for people over 60 to stay strong and healthy later in life. Try this core workout and see what you think!

References

  1. Moreno-Agostino, D., Daskalopoulou, C., Wu, YT. et al. The impact of physical activity on healthy ageing trajectories: evidence from eight cohort studies. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 17, 92 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-020-00995-8
  2. Villafañe J. H. (2018). Exercise and osteoarthritis: an update. Journal of exercise rehabilitation, 14(4), 538–539. https://doi.org/10.12965/jer.1836352.176
  3. Pinckard, K., Baskin, K. K., & Stanford, K. I. (2019). Effects of Exercise to Improve Cardiovascular Health. Frontiers in cardiovascular medicine, 6, 69. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcvm.2019.00069
  4. Bedard, A. (2020). Physical activity and lung function: cause or consequence? Plus One. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0237769
  5. Benedetti, M. G., Furlini, G., Zati, A., & Letizia Mauro, G. (2018). The Effectiveness of Physical Exercise on Bone Density in Osteoporotic Patients. BioMed research international, 2018, 4840531. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/4840531
  6. Robert Thomas, Stacey A Kenfield, Yuuki Yanagisawa, Robert U Newton, Why exercise has a crucial role in cancer prevention, risk reduction, and improved outcomes, British Medical Bulletin, Volume 139, Issue 1, September 2021, Pages 100–119, https://doi.org/10.1093/bmb/ldab019
  7. Hsu, S. L., Oda, H., Shirahata, S., Watanabe, M., & Sasaki, M. (2018). Effects of core strength training on core stability. Journal of physical therapy science, 30(8), 1014–1018. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.30.1014

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