Here are the 12 best ab exercises to get a shredded core.
Nothing makes you look more ripped than a six-pack. When your abs show, you know you have low body fat levels. Moreover, a strong core carries over to all your lifts and will make you overall stronger and improve your athletic performance. This article will cover the 12 best ab exercises you should start doing.
Best Ab Exercises
- Decline Crunch
- Air Bike
- Advanced Kettlebell Windmill
- Ab Crunch Machine
- ¾ Sit-Ups
- Oblique Crunches
- Plate Twist
- Ab Roller
- Hanging Leg Raise
As the name implies, the decline crunch is performed on a decline bench. Performing crunches at a declined angle increases your core muscles and strengthen your hip flexor muscles. And it recruits more of your upper abs.
Benefits of the Decline Crunch
- This exercise strengthens your upper abs.
- Adding a decline to a crunch makes your abdominal muscles work harder.
- The decline crunch activates your hip flexor muscles.
How to Do the Decline Crunch
Lie supine on a bench and set a decline with your legs and feet secured under the leg and foot padding. Crunch up to lift your upper back slightly off the bench. After crunching slightly up, lower back down until your back touches the padding. Keep your hands stable at your sides or behind your head.
The air bike is a great full-body cardio ab exercise and increases your core’s muscular endurance. You can ramp out many reps and perform it for maximum time. It’s an ideal exercise to add to a circuit.
Benefits of the Air Bike
- This ab exercise increases your core’s endurance.
- It’s great for circuit training.
How to Do the Air Bike
Lie on the floor with your hands behind your head. And your legs a few inches raised from the ground. Slowly crunch to meet one leg to your opposite elbow (close to touching), and then extend your leg and torso and twist to do the other side. Repeat this for a set number of reps, time, or as long as possible.
Advanced Kettlebell Windmill
The advanced kettlebell windmill is a total body core exercise that engages your abs, shoulders, arms, and glutes. Holding a kettlebell overhead and bending your torso to your side simultaneously challenge your stability.
Benefits of the Kettlebell Windmill
- This movement is a full-body exercise that engages your core, upper body, and lower body.
- It strengthens your hip and hamstring flexibility and mobility.
How to Do the Advanced Kettlebell Windmill
Clean and press a kettlebell in one hand while placing your other arm behind your back. While pushing your hips to the side holding the kettlebell, keep your arm holding the kettlebell locked out and stable. Look at the kettlebell as you lower your torso to the floor until you’re close to parallel without squatting down. Then, bring yourself back to the starting position.
Ab Crunch Machine
The ab crunch machine is a weighted ab exercise performed on a machine. This allows you to use heavier weights to get your abdominal muscles to grow. Plus, the machine makes you use good form.
Benefits of the Ab Crunch Machine
- It strengthens your abdominal muscles and makes them bigger.
- The machine ensures your form is good.
How to Do the Ab Crunch Machine
Position yourself into an ab crunch machine with your back against the backrest and secure your feet at the bottom foot padding. Next, grab the handles at the top and lean your torso forward as far as possible to move the weight. Then, slowly lower the weight back down.
As the name suggests, the ¾ sit-up is a regular sit-up except stopping about 25% shy from the top. It’s slightly more than a crunch but not as high as a standard sit-up. This keeps the tension on your core while allowing you a fuller range of motion to engage more of your ab muscles.
Benefits of the ¾ Sit-Up
- It puts your rectus abdominal (abs) through more of a range of motion.
- This exercise keeps constant tension on your abs.
How to Do the ¾ Sit-Up
Lie on a yoga mat and bend your legs to bring them closer to you with your heels firmly on the ground. Next, with your hands behind your head or sides, raise your torso as you would with a regular situp. But don’t go up all the way(slightly past the halfway point). Lastly, lower yourself back to the mat.
The point of the oblique crunch is to target more of your oblique muscles rather than your rectus abdominus, and even though it is a targeted exercise it is still one of the best ab exercises. Your obliques help you rotate to the left and right and bend side to side. With this movement, you’ll strengthen your core, reduce back pain, and improve your stability and flexibility.
Benefits of the Oblique Crunch
- This exercise strengthens your oblique muscles.
- It helps you rotate and bend side to side, which can improve your athletic performance.
How to Do the Oblique Crunch
Lie on the right side of your back (slightly turned) on the floor (preferably underneath padding) with your feet on the ground (or elevated to challenge your obliques more). Place your left hand by the side of your head and extend the other arm on the ground. Crunch to your opposite leg to where your left elbow is, aiming towards your left knee. Repeat on the other side.
Crunches are similar to sit-ups, and they are certainly one of the best ab exercises. The difference between these and sit-ups are you don’t go nearly as high off the ground. This keeps the tension on your core and protects your lower back. In addition, this movement will strengthen your abs and improve your posture.
Benefits of the Crunch
- The crunch improves your posture.
- This exercise protects your lower back from injury.
- It keeps the tension in your core.
How to Do the Crunch
Lie supine on a mat with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. With your hands by your head or side, raise your upper torso slightly off the ground (below the halfway point of a sit-up), then bring your back down to touch the mat.
The plate twist is another one of the best ab exercises, it is an excellent movement for strengthening your obliques and upper and lower abs, improving your core strength and mobility. It’s a weighted movement performed with a plate, of course.
Benefits of the Plate Twist
- The plate twist improves your core mobility.
- It engages your upper, lower, and oblique ab muscles.
How to Do the Plate Twist
Sit on a mat, straighten your legs with a slight knee bend, and place your feet on the ground (or elevated to increase the intensity of the exercise). Hold a plate in your arms while sitting up slightly below upright, then twist to each side until the plate touches the ground.
The ab roller requires you to stabilize your spine to extend your ab muscles fully. And it requires you to roll your entire body weight and improves your stability.
Benefits of the Ab Roller
- This movement improves your core stability.
- It improves your upper body strength.
- This exercise strengthens your back.
How to Do the Ab Roller
Rest your knees on a yoga mat for knee support in a kneeling position. Then grab both sides of the ab wheel roller and roll out as far as you can until your body is parallel with the ground. Lastly, roll back up to the starting position.
The plank is one of the best ab exercises you can do for your core. It’s a total body exercise requiring you to support your entire body weight, dramatically activating your core muscles. And it helps alleviate lower back pain.
- The plank helps reduce lower back pain.
- This exercise activates other muscles in your body besides your core.
How to Do the Plank
Start in a prone position, then rest your body weight on your forearms and elbows while holding your hands together for support. And make sure your body is parallel to the ground with your feet together. Hold this position for a set time or max amount of time.
The sit-up is similar to crunches but allows a greater range of motion. It improves the flexibility in your trunk and hips.
Benefits of the Sit-Up
- This exercise is phenomenal for strengthening your entire core.
- It improves the flexibility in your trunk and hips.
How to Do the Sit-Up
Lie down on a mat with your feet slightly apart and your knees bent. Keep your arms by your side or your head, and lean your torso forward to complete a rep.
Hanging Leg Raise
Benefits of the Hanging Leg Raise
- This exercise strengthens your hip flexor muscles.
- It’s a great exercise that improves your upper body strength.
- It increases your shoulder mobility.
How to Do the Hanging Leg Raise
Hang on a barbell suspended from the ground with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Slowly raise your legs without using momentum until your body forms a 90-degree angle. Then, in a controlled manner, lower your legs back to the starting position.
About Your Core
Your abs are only one part of your core (1). Your abs are composed of muscles in your abs, hips, and back and include the following:
- Rectus abdominis: the central part of your abdominal muscles responsible for spinal flexion
- Obliques: the muscles that run diagonally along your core and are responsible for core rotation
- Transverse abdominis: a deep muscle that helps stabilize the core
- Spinal erectors: these are muscles on your lower back
Benefits of Strong Abs
A strong core will make you stronger overall and improve your posture. Strong abs are essential for all movements. Your core muscles move and stabilize your spine and pelvis. Your abs help stabilize the weight you use on exercises; it’s vital in many compounds lifts and improves athletic performance (2). For example, your core must be strong enough to remain stable during the barbell bench press, sprinting, and changing directions. The stronger you get your core, the stronger your other lifts will be and the faster you’ll be. Moreover, training your core will help you reduce lower back pain.
How to Train Your Core
You should train your abs with weight training to build strength and circuit bodyweight training to build endurance. Your abs are like any other muscle, so you want to perform weighted movements to increase the weight you’re capable of using in a given rep range–that’s a sign your core is getting stronger. For instance, doing an ab crunch machine with a weight for 10-12 reps, then increasing the weight the next workout. And training your core with movements for max time will increase your endurance and athletic performance. For instance, try performing three rounds of air bicycles for 45 seconds each as part of a total body circuit training.
Rules to Follow With the Best Ab Exercises
Here are some rules to follow when training your abs.
It would be best to warm up your abs like any other muscle. Otherwise, you risk injury and won’t perform as well as you can. So make sure you start with a light weight if you’re doing a weighted ab movement. And do some reps of the exercise you’re doing first (before starting the circuit) if it’s part of a circuit.
Incorporate Weighted Ab Movements
Many people make the mistake of only performing bodyweight ab exercises and circuit ab routines. But it’s essential to train your abs like you would other muscle groups like your chest and add weight to them. For example, for bodyweight crunches, add weight. Weighted ab exercises will make your abs stronger.
Implement Rest Days
Many people think they can train their core daily, but this is a myth. As mentioned earlier, your abs are a muscle group like anything else. So it’s critical to allow rest days in between ab workouts to let your core fully recover. Otherwise, you’ll risk injury and struggle to get them more robust.
Watch Your Diet
They say, “abs are made in the kitchen.” And that’s true. Although implementing the best ab exercises will strengthen your abs and make them pop more when visible, you must have low body fat levels to see them. And your diet is the key to low body fat levels (3).
More Training Tips for Abs
These are some of the best ab exercises you can do. But since your abs are just one part of your core, take a look at these other ab workouts:
- Best Ab Exercises You’re Not Doing
- Best Ab Exercises For Those Washboard Abs
- These Are The Eight Best Bodyweight Exercises For Abs and Obliques
Best Ab Exercises Wrap Up
So there you have it, our list of the best ab exercises. Now, you do not have to do every one for each workout, but pick a few and roll with them.
Which ab exercises are your favorite?
- Flynn W, Vickerton P. Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Abdominal Wall. [Updated 2022 Jul 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551649/
- Sharrock, C., Cropper, J., Mostad, J., Johnson, M., & Malone, T. (2011). A pilot study of core stability and athletic performance: is there a relationship?. International journal of sports physical therapy, 6(2), 63–74.
- Vispute, S. S., Smith, J. D., LeCheminant, J. D., & Hurley, K. S. (2011). The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 25(9), 2559–2564. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181fb4a46