This 30-Day Challenge Will Transform Your Abs

Photographed by James Farrell.
This article was originally published on October 5, 2015.

Here’s the thing about abs: Whether you care about getting ripped or not, your core goes way beyond those six-pack muscles in both form and function. The muscles of your mid-torso — the ones on your back, sides, and underneath the more superficial rectus abdominis muscles — are the support system for your spine. Translation: They’re the foundation for almost all movement, in and out of the gym. “Strong core muscles assist in everything you do physically, in ways that would surprise you, from lifting a box over your head, to pulling a suitcase, to twisting your body while parking your car,” says Luci Gabel, an exercise physiologist and fitness coach and founder of LuciFit. Because they're so essential, when abs and back muscles are weak, it can cause all kinds of trouble: bad posture, back pain, and even spinal injury, Gabel says.

That’s the main reason you won’t see a single crunch during these 30 days. It’s not that crunches are bad, but they really only activate those front six-pack muscles. “Since the abdominal muscles' main function in life is to hold the core stable, it’s important to train them to work with the back in ‘stability mode,’ so they do their job well,” Gabel says. In other words, you want to train your core muscles to resist movement, rather than give in to it.

By having you slowly move your limbs in ways that challenge the core to hold strong and balanced, the four exercises here do just that. “When we extend an arm or a leg, it becomes harder to hold the body in place,” says Gabel. “This is very functional training, since in life, sometimes we work our arms and legs in parallel and sometimes we don’t.” The key word is “slowly” — you’ll notice that the rep counts are very low, maxing out at 6. That’s because you should be taking your time with each movement (quite a bit more time than the GIFs below might suggest!).

Take a 30- to 60-second rest between sets (denoted with a “x2”) before beginning again. On days that include more than one exercise (denoted with a +), move from one exercise to the next without much of a break.

Read on for the calendar in full and for more detailed instructions on how to do each exercise.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Here's the calendar in full!

Download it here.
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Photographed by James Farrell.
Dead Bugs (“Dbugs”)
On your back on a mat, extend your arms and legs up into the air. It’s ok if you have a small bend in your knees, especially when you’re first starting out. Again, brace your abs by pulling your belly button in. Slowly lower your right arm and your left leg toward the floor without letting them touch the floor. Keep bracing through the core so the back stays flat. Hold the limbs there for two seconds, then slowly bring them back up to start. Do the same with the other arm and leg to complete one rep.
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Photographed by James Farrell.
Knee-to-Nose (“Knee”)
Set yourself up in a forearm plank, shoulders right over your elbows. Pick up one foot and point the toe, then slowly bend the knee and bring it underneath you, up toward your nose. Your hips will come up slightly, but try not to let your butt stick up a lot. Hold your knee forward for a beat, then return it out straight and back to plank. Do the other side in the same manner to count one rep.
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Photographed by James Farrell.
Leg Lowers (“Low”)
Lie on a mat on your back, arms down by your sides. Raise your legs straight up, keeping them as close to each other as possible. Slowly lower your heels toward the ground, stopping at about 45 degrees, or before your feel your lower back pop up. Pause for a beat with the legs extended, then slowly bring them back up. To keep yourself from racing through it, count to four on the lowering and again on the raising. If you feel any strain in your back, don’t lower your legs quite as much or place your hands, palms down, underneath the top of your butt for support.
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