There are hundreds of ab exercises that you could do without any equipment, anytime, anywhere. Throw in an exercise ball, medicine ball, dumbbells, barbells, a pull-up bar and all the other gym equipment and the possibilities are nearly endless. Based on sheer volume, picking out the best ab exercises can seem like trying to take a drink from a fire hose.
To make matters worse, six pack seekers have to tone out all of the clever marketing of wonder pills and the newest fads in ab training and exercise products, which always seem to guarantee six pack results. Remember the As Seen on TV Ab Belt? Give me a break.
Lucky for you, we’ve crunched the list down to the five best ab exercises to to bring you the skinny on ab training. Our list of the best ab exercises was built assuming you have a gym membership, but each exercise or a slight variation can be performed with minimal equipment.
Not worried about how to lose fat? If you’ve already dialed in the diet, cranked up the cardio, and abandoned the bulging belly for a flat stomach, congratulations. You’re in the right spot.
If you’re one of those lucky people that can eat whatever they want, never pick up a weight, and never have to worry about how to lose belly fat, you’re also in the right spot, but none of us like you.
And now, on to the best ab exercises…
5. Hanging Leg Hip Raise: The hanging leg hip raise is our first of the best ab exercises and is a more effective variation to its popular cousin, the hanging leg raise. This belly buster forces your abs to statically contract as you bring your knees parallel to your waist (the hanging leg raise portion of the lift) and dynamically contract as you complete the exercise by further bringing your knees in to your chest. Throughout the exercise, your forced to stabilize your core as your body weight and hanging legs serve as a natural source of resistance.
To do the ab exercise, grab a pull-up bar and allow your body to hang straight down with your legs dangling below. Next, bring your knees up to waist height by flexing your hips, pause for a moment, then bring your knees in to your chest by flexing at the waist, pause again, then slowly return to the starting position.
Make the leg hip raise easier by doing the exercise on a captain’s chair (pictured right), an incline, or on a flat surface.
Make the leg hip raise more difficult by holding a light dumbbell between your feet. Remember however that added resistance is a poor substitute for correct form.
4. Incline Oblique Crunches: Like the hanging leg hip raise, our second of the best ab exercises uses your body weight to add resistance to an already effective abdominal exercise. The incline oblique crunch keeps tension on your abs throughout the lift with two types of muscle contraction. When you lift your torso, the abs are shortening; whereas in the trunk lowering phase, your abs are lengthening. The incline of the bench makes these muscle contractions more intense than crunches or oblique crunches on flat ground.
To do incline oblique crunches, lie on your back on an incline, secure your feet in place, and put your hands behind your head. Next, exhale and crunch your body upwards, driving your right shoulder towards your left knee about halfway up. Your elbow will ultimately touch your knee, but make sure you’re twisting with your abs and obliques and not just repositioning your arms to make it easier for your elbow to touch. Return to the starting position by untwisting and lowering your torso back on to the bench. Next, do the same thing but to the other side.
Make the exercise easier by Decreasing the incline or lying flat on the ground with your quads and hamstrings raised so they’re perpendicular to your back and the floor.
Make the exercise more difficult by increasing the angle of the incline or adding resistance. To add resistance, hold your arms straight behind your head or hold a medicine ball, dumbbell, or weight plate at your chest or behind your head (see weight position during ab exercises). Even a small amount of weight can make the exercise much more difficult.
3. Bicycle Crunches: Bicycle crunches are one of the best ab exercises but also one of the most difficult exercises to get the hang of. I mean, you’re lying on the ground with your hands behind your head pretending to ride a bicycle for gosh sakes. More specifically: lie flat on the ground with your hands behind your head. Then, raise and bend your knees so that your calves are parallel with the floor and form a right angle with your quads and hamstrings. To start “pedaling,” simultaneously kick your right leg straight forward and bring your left knee towards your chest. Crunch by driving your right shoulder towards your left knee and touching your left knee with your right elbow. Then, slowly return to the starting position, pause, and repeat the motion by simultaneously kicking your left leg straight forward, bringing your right knee in towards you, and crunching your left elbow to your right knee.
Lot of stuff going on. Thank god for picture and video. No matter what, make sure to fully concentrate on your abdominals and each movement and move in a slow, controlled manner.
We’re not the only ones to rank the bicycle crunch highly.
2. Plank: The plank is a great ab exercise that forces you to keep your abdominals and back in a straight line while holding your body weight above the ground. This exercise tests your core strength and endurance more than any of the other best ab exercises.
To walk the plank, lie on your stomach and position your forearms below your shoulders and parallel with your legs. Then, push off the ground and raise your torso and legs so that you are supporting all your weight on your forearms and toes with your back and abs in a perfectly straight line. Make sure your butt is not raised or sagged and hold this position for 20 to 60 seconds.
Make the exercise easier by supporting your weight on your forearms and knees rather than forearms and toes or elevating your upper body onto a platform or bench.
Make the exercise more difficult by using an exercise ball. An exercise ball can be utilized in a lot of ways for abdominal training (see Exercise Ball Jackknife below) and can create some other tough variations of the plank. These are great to have at home too as their only about 20 bucks. Try placing your forearms on the ball and your toes on the mat or resting your feet on the ball and your forearms on the ground. Also try the alternating plank on an exercise ball or flat ground as well as the walking plank for even more intensity.
1. Exercise Ball Jackknife: Another great abdominal annihilator is the Exercise Ball Jackknife. To begin this balancing act, position your body so that both your shins are on the Exercise ball and your hands are shoulder width apart on the floor in front of you. Your back and abs should be in a straight line from your head to your toes. Next, roll the ball toward your upper body by crunching your abs and bringing your knees into your chest. Pause for a moment then slowly roll the ball back to the starting position with your legs extended.
The act of rolling the ball into your chest and flexing at the waist fires on the abs to dynamically contract while your arms, chest, and shoulders have to stay strong to stabilize your body. Your abs and obliques are constantly under static tension as your weight shifts from the movement of the ball.
Make the exercise more difficult by: supporting yourself on your forearms and toes rather than shins, alternating legs, or adding a pushup (See Exercise Ball Jackknife with pushups and best core exercises).
So there you have it.