Core Concepts

Steal just a couple of MHP athlete Sarah Grace’s moves for a strong core and taut, tight abs.

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Photography by Robert Reiff

When it comes to her training, Sarah Grace is all business.

Though she is dedicated to her daily CrossFit workouts, she has taken her training to a different level, using her knowledge about weightlifting to tweak her workouts. “Each time I train, I have a strength focus, such as squats or pull-ups or bench presses, which I do before the Workout of the Day (WOD),” Sarah Grace says. “Not a lot of CrossFitters do that, but I find it extremely beneficial for injury prevention and aesthetics.”

She also does not follow a typical CrossFit Paleo diet, sticking instead to the clean-eating style she learned from Figure. “Paleo really has no carbs, and I find I need that energy to sustain my workouts and get the physique — and abs — I am after,” she says.

CrossFit lifts such as the clean, power clean, deadlift and snatch rely heavily on the core and abs. Because of this, Sarah Grace does not give her abs their own training day but rather incorporates one ab-focused move in her pre-WOD training to keep her core strong. “The movements I like to do are not isolation exercises; they are total-body moves that are ab-intensive,” she says. “I always go for high reps, pushing for the failure, which initiates change.”

Some of Sarah Grace’s moves use momentum — not a typical technique in standard strength training — but it’s perfectly OK when done correctly. “If your form is on point, momentum will serve to help you get in more repetitions,” she says.

For more about Sarah Grace, go to Amazing Grace.


Click on workout to print.

Barbell Floor Sweeper


Setup: Lie face-up on the floor and hold an Olympic barbell straight up over your chest with your hands shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your legs together and raise them about 6 inches off the floor.

Action: Sweep your legs just above the floor over to the right, keeping your shoulders on the ground. As you get closer to the right side, sweep your legs up and try to reach the end of the barbell with your toes. (Note: You won’t actually touch the barbell; this is only to give you a target.) When you’ve come as far as you can, sweep your legs back down and through the centerline over to the left side. Continue, alternating sides.

Tip: As your legs come to the right, press your left glute down to keep your hips as square as possible. When your legs come to the left side, press your right glute down.

Plank Pike and Dip


Setup: Get into a full plank position with your elbows underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels all in line.

Action: Lift your hips as high as you can while keeping your back flat. Then drop your hips down until they almost touch the floor. Continue, alternating between the two moves for reps.

Tip: If you want a bigger challenge, try doing this move on your hands, arms extended. And if the move in any way hurts your lower back, avoid it altogether.

Sarah Grace’s Top Tip: Do one or two of her moves per training day rather than doing them all at once. “Because you’re going for high reps, you’re going to burn out if you try to do them all in one workout,” she explains. “If you make each rep deliberate and complete, you’re going to reach failure with just one or two moves — I promise!”



Setup: Take an overhead grip on a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and your legs straight.

Action: Generate a little momentum by swinging your legs behind you slightly, then quickly raise them in front of you and kick the bar with your toes. Use the descent of your legs to generate another round of momentum and continue doing reps, maintaining an even rhythm.

Tip: Don’t generate so much momentum that you’re hyperextending your lower back by throwing your legs behind you a mile. Rock them back a little, then use your abs to pull your legs up the rest of the way.

Butterfly Sit-Up


Setup: Lie on the floor and place the soles of your shoes together. Allow your knees to splay out to the sides and reach your arms overhead.

Action: Sit up and reach forward to touch the floor just beyond your shoes, then curl back down and reach overhead to touch the floor behind your head. Continue using your arms for momentum, if needed.

Tip: Keep your feet grounded at all times. Anchor them underneath a dumbbell rack or with a weight plate, if needed.

Note: CrossFitters use an AbMat for this move to support the lower back while also creating a slight hyperextension, which works the abs through a little extra range of motion. Modify it! If you don’t have an AbMat, try using a folded towel secured underneath your lower back.



Setup: Lie flat on the floor with your arms overhead and your legs together.

Action: Fold in the center like a jackknife, and raise your upper and lower body up at the same time, pivoting on your tailbone. Reach your hands for your toes, keeping your back, arms and legs as straight as possible. Slowly lower to the start and repeat right away.

Tip: If this is too challenging, bend your knees and reach your arms parallel to the floor.