Here is the long awaited follow up to the Top 10 Best Ab Exercises Part 1 and the precursor to the Top 10 Best Abs Exercises Part 3.
I would like to introduce 5 of my favorite 10 ab exercises, that you can use to get a 6-pack abs look. Do these exercises regularly, mix it up, use different speeds, tempos, angles, and positions to get a full workout. Always try to progress from workout to workout.
Here are 3 ways you can gauge progress with abdominal exercises:
- Try to complete more reps in a given time period. For example, do as many fold ups as possible in 60 seconds. Try to break your personal record (PR) each workout.
- Try to complete more total reps each time you perform the exercise. For example, week one do 3 sets of 10, week 2 do 3 sets of 12, week 3 do 4 sets of 10, week 4 do 3 sets of 15, etc…
- If it applies, try to add weight to the exercise by holding a plate or dumbbell on your chest or behind your head, or use a weighted vest. You can also add weight to your legs with ankle weights. Try to use more weight, or complete more reps with the same weight, each time.
Part 1 of this series was long and tedious, so I won’t put you through any babble-writing. On to the exercises…
- The Bicycle Maneuver
The Bicycle is the best exercise to target the abdominals and the second best exercise to target the obliques according to the ACE study. If this exercise is too easy, you can use ankle weights and you can hold a plate behind your head for added resistance.
To set up: Put a mat on the floor and lie down flat.
Put your hands behind your head, with your fingers touching your head lightly. Do not lock your fingers together at all.
Lift the shoulder blades off the floor without using your arms to pull on your neck. Only use the abdominal muscles for this.
Bring your knees up to a 45 degree angle so that your thighs are perpendicular and your calves are parallel to the floor.
To bike: Slowly pedal your legs as if you were on a bicycle by alternately extending and flexing your knees so that your feet move in an elliptical motion. As each knee approaches your chest, attempt to touch the opposite elbow to the knee by flexing and curling your trunk up and to the side as though you were performing a side crunch.
Your shoulders should remain off the floor for the duration of the exercise. Remeber to breathe.
I like this video because it demonstrates how you should keep your shoulders off the floor throughout the movement. This is still a basic bicycle maneuver.
Here is an advanced bicycle maneuver that is harder on the abs because more of the upper body stays off the floor throughout the movement. This method also takes the hip flexors out of the movement by kicking the legs straight out instead of cycling them.
- Captain’s Chair Vertical Leg Raise
The Captain’s Chair is the second best exercise to target the abdominals and the best exercise to target the obliques according to the ACE study. I don’t know how this targets the obliques better than the bicycle, but I guess the electromyography (EMG) equipment can’t lie.
I personally like these for the lower abdominals, although as we know the abs are a single unit, and you can’t technically target upper or lower abs independently.
To set up: Climb up onto the captains chair. Press your back against the pad and support your body by placing your elbows and forearms on the horizontal pads. Grip the hand holds provided. Let your feet hang straight down.
To leg raise: Lift your knees up and in towards your chest. When your thighs are parallel to the floor you should use your abdominal muscles to pivot your hips up and away from the back padding, so that your knees move vertically and horizontally closer to your chest.
Pause for half a second and return your legs to just short of the starting position, but don’t let them free fall and dangle straight down as it takes all the resistance away from the abs. Instead, you should maintain a tight midsection throughout the movement always keep a slight bend in the knees.
One key to keeping this move safe and effective is to avoid swinging the legs or using momentum to raise the legs or knees. You should also keep the knees slightly bent help you focus more on the abdominals and less on the hip flexors.
A huge mistake most people make, is to use the hip flexors to swing the legs up and down. This is counterproductive and can lead to muscular imbalance, overtrained hip flexors, and ultimately injury.
Here is a slightly annoying example of this exercise from UCLA, which also mentions the alternate variation where you rotate your hips at the top in order to further target the obliques.
Don’t have access to a captains chair? No problem. Hang from a bar and raise your knees to your elbows.
- Ab Wheel / Roll Outs
Whether you do them standing or from your knees, the ab wheel will rock you. This is definitely one of my core ab exercises. Do 100 of these a day with varying angles and positions, and watch your abs bust out washboard-style.
The ab wheel can really be a tough exercise for those with a weak lower back. Be sure not to over extend yourself unless you are sure that your core and lower back can handle it. If you collapse in the middle and feel it in your back, you have gone too far.
By now I can do full reps with my arms straight out from my knees. Back in college I could do reps from my feet, but never to full extension. Work within your abilities, but always attempt to push yourself as you get stronger.
To set up: Most likely you will be doing this exercise from your knees. It helps to have some padding under your knees or you will get bruised. Either an aerobics pad, a rubber mat, a thick rug, or a thrice-folded towel should suffice.
Get up on your knees and hold the ab wheel in front of you with elbows extended just short of lock out. Your body will be slightly bent over the ab wheel from the start of the exercise.
To wheel out: Let the wheel roll out in front of your body as far as you are comfortable. Use your abs to pull the wheel back towards your knees. It is best for your upper body to stay forward of your knees in order to keep tension on the abs at all times.
Kneeling ab wheel done properly:
I found this one woman using the ab wheel standing. I have seen people do this, and have done it myself, with an 80% roll out, but never with a full extension. Give her props.
Aka: Bar Roll Outs…
- Fold-Ups / V-Sit / Clothespins
The fold is a compound, full-body abdominal and core exercise that works the rectus abdominis and obliques. Initially you will have a hard time doing this correctly, and you might need to practice the v-sit, or up-position of this exercise, separately in order to learn how to keep your body off the floor throughout the movement.
To set up: Find a mat and lay down on it. Straighten your legs. You are ready.
To v-sit: The basic v-sit begins in a seated position. Contract your abdominal muscles and core, and lift your legs up to a 45-degree angle. Reach your arms straight forward or reach up toward your shins or toes if you are able. It is important to maintain good core posture and a strong spine.
Hold this “V” position for several seconds to begin. As you get stronger, hold the position longer. Return to your starting position slowly.
To fold up: Eventually you will be able to do this exercise as a sit-up alternative starting by lying flat on the floor, up into a v-sit and touch your toes, back down to a flat position on the floor. In this way your entire body fully extends then folds completely up.
Here is a great explanation of the basic v-sit and the v-sit-up:
- Lying Leg Kicks / Flutter Kicks
Flutter kicks really work your abs, but they are definitely an endurance exercise. All the same, you can really feel this exercise in the lower abs and they will leave you feeling sore the next day.
The point of flutter kicks is to either max out on reps, meaning try to do more reps each workout, or to complete more flutter kicks in a certain amount of time, for example, each workout you might try to finish 5 more flutter kicks in one minute.
To set up: Start by lying flat on the floor, then use your arms (elbows and forearms) to prop your upper body off the floor. Place your hands down by your butt, just on the outside of your hips.
Keep your legs straight, at least 10 inches off the floor throughout the exercise. If you feel too much tension in the lower back, raise your legs higher off the ground.
To leg raise: To flutter kick, simply raise one leg up about 18 inches, and return it to the starting position while alternating with the other leg. Both legs should be in constant motion. When the second foot comes back to the starting position, that’s one rep.
To integrate these exercises into a 5 day split workout routine, pick one different exercise each day and do 3-5 sets. Try to alternate targeting rectus abdominus and obliques.
To integrate these exercises into a 3 day full body workout routine, pick two to three different exercises each day and do 2-3 sets of each. Consider performing the exercises as one giant superset with little to no rest between sets.
Remember to train your lower back in addition to your abs. You can use the 5 best hamstring exercises to do that. I have to get around to writing a 5 best lower back exercises one of these days.
That concludes the 10 best exercises for abs part 2. Stay tuned for part 3 in a couple days and you will have all 10 exercises to add to your arsenal.