Try this to spice up your core routine and firm up your abs...

Having a rock solid torso and a ripped set of abs is not the only reason you should include core training in your exercise routine. As well as looking great, a strong core is there to stabilise your spine and pelvis during everyday movements such as lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling.

Typical core routines consist of planks and crunch variations, which have their place, but it's important to understand what each is achieving in terms of function, aside from focusing on the purely aesthetic benefits.  Both these exercises work to strengthen the core in the sagittal plane (fore-aft movement), so are only part of the 360 degree capability of the core muscular unit. (As a footnote, I would also recommend you read my post on the full Sit-up, as the evidence suggests there’s no real benefit over safer alternatives).

The Plank is a great core exercise, but only works against forces acting in a single plane.

The Plank is a great core exercise, but only works against forces acting in a single plane.

But one great exercise that will bring a 360 degree dimension to your core routine is the Pallof press. This movement works to stabilise the spine, and to resist rotational forces: think pulling or pushing a heavy door open, or walking a real beast of a dog on a long lead! Like all core exercises, it will also work towards firming up your middle, but without the risks associated with more dynamic movements like the full Sit-up, or the Russian Twist.

The Pallof press requires a cable pulley machine, or a resistance band - selected to suit your current strength. First grasp the band or handle in both hands just above the belly button, or with elbows at 90 degrees; stand perpendicular to the weight stack or anchor point, then move away a little ensure there is tension on the cable, or a little stretch in the band. Next, adopt a shoulder width, or slightly wider stance (a narrow stance will increase the challenge), and brace the abdominal muscles a little (remember, bracing the abs is not sucking your belly button in, it's more like the tensing action you'd instinctively adopt if you were about to receive a blow to the stomach). At the same time, squeeze your butt muscles a little to ensure your pelvis is not tipped forward excessively (butt sticking out). Then picture an imaginary centre-line running perpendicular from your body, take a breath in, and as you breathe out, push your hands out in front of you while resisting the band or weight that will want to pull you into rotation. You'll find that you have to brace your core and glutes harder as the hands move outward in order to avoid deviating left or right. Once the arms are extended, return to the start position and repeat 10 to 15 times, maintaining the abdominal brace and glute tension throughout. 

The video below shows the Pallof press performed correctly. Just be sure to start on an easy band or weight and progress gradually as your strength increases. It's normally time to move up the resistance if you can perform 15 or more with good form.