Abs are possibly the most coveted physical feature in American society but with that popularity comes a plethora of people looking to cash in. There is an overabundance of poorly put-together “programs” and “secret guides” to getting six-pack abs.
Unfortunately, these programs often don’t incorporate exercises that actually work. It should be noted that hitting your abs regularly is not the only element required to obtain a six-pack. Good nutrition, sleep, and managing your cortisol levels are all crucial parts of an ‘ab-friendly’ program.
What Exactly Are Abs?
The first thing to mention is that abs are already a part of everyone’s physique. This may sound misleading, but it’s true. The issue is that most of us have fat covering up our abs, which makes them all but invisible.
Without abs, we’d have a whole myriad of problems like not being able to stand up straight, for starters. The abdominal muscles, as they are technically known, play an important role in connecting your upper and lower body.
What Are The Best Ab Exercises?
In fact, there are a wide variety of exercises which hit your abs in different ways. Upper and lower body exercises will both work your abs, however, they will all hit them in slightly different ways.
Compound exercises work your abs even though they are not typically thought of as ‘ab’ exercises. This means movements like push-ups will actually work your core, which is another popular name for the set of abdominal muscles we all have.
Static holds will also work your abs - this is most popularly seen in planks, which are a staple in all types of workouts. Deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, and other compound movements all help to train your abdominal muscles to become stronger.
Of course, there are also targeted ab exercises, as well. These are the most famous, and most people only perform these types of exercises for their ab workouts. Your upper abs, lower abs, and side muscles (usually called ‘obliques’) can all be targeted by different isolation exercises.
Ab circuits where all these different types of muscles are targeted are very popular. Typically these are performed as a finisher to your workout. The thinking is that by making your abs work harder with no break, muscle growth will be greater.
Ab Exercise #1: Sit-Ups
The classic sit-up is still popular for a reason: they work. No doubt you will feel the burn very quickly, once you’ve performed 50 (or so) of these. While there are endless variations of the sit up, let’s start with the classic version.
With both feet on the floor, and your knees bent, lay on your back. Slowly come up, placing your hands wherever they're comfortable. Make sure to come all the way up to a 90-degree angle, and then slowly lower yourself back down.
Be sure not to rock back and forth using momentum instead of your abdominal muscles. If you rock back and forth instead of utilizing the proper form - you’ll only be cheating yourself.
A popular variation of the sit-up is performed by holding a weight in your hands, while you perform the exercise. This sounds easy until you’re up to a 25-pound plate, at which point each sit-up may feel like the last movement of your life.
While you can hold this plate close to your body, for the hardest variation, keep your arms fully extended, and perform the exercise with the weight in that position. It is a very quick way to ramp up the difficulty, so you don’t have to perform so many reps, to achieve the same result.
Ab Exercise #2: Planks
It should come as no surprise to see planks on our list. They are a great, full-body exercise, which almost anyone can perform. Planks are highly effective (when done right) because they work more muscles than most other abdominal exercises.
But this is, again, when the exercise is done properly. What most people end up doing instead is resting on their forearms. This won’t do much of anything. The two most commonly overlooked aspects which are critical to getting good results are tightening your glutes, and squeezing your abdominal muscles.
Suddenly, your 60-second plank becomes infinitely harder now that you’re actually engaging your core, rather than just resting.
Another common mistake that people make is dropping their butt. This usually is a sign of a weak core, and won’t do your spine any favors, either. Your shoulder blades should also be kept down and back, and your spine and elbows should remain in a perfectly straight line. If you follow all of these pointers, you will likely have perfect form, and see much better results.
Ab Exercise #3: Modified V-Sit
Ah, the v-sit. One of our worst enemies but also a best friend for truly developing abs. If you’ve never performed a v-sit, you’re in for both pain and pleasure. Start by lying on the floor, and then lift your arms and feet about 3 inches off the ground.
From here, slowly bring your head and knees up, so they meet in the middle. Hold this position briefly, then lower back down to the starting position.
It is crucial to not allow your feet and arms to ever touch the ground. You’ll also want to maintain control throughout every step of the exercise. Always keeping your abs contracted will make this movement extra beneficial. It will not take many reps before your abs are on fire.
Ab Exercise #4: Hanging Leg Raise
This is a slightly more advanced exercise. Start by hanging from a pull-up bar and then point your toes. Keeping your legs straight, bring them up slowly, and move them until you form a perfect L shape.
Slowly lower your legs back down, always maintaining pressure on your abdominals. Your back should remain straight during the entire exercise, and you should move slowly, not quickly.
Resist the urge to use momentum to make the exercise easier. If this feels pretty difficult, you’ve found the proper form. By performing the hanging leg raises on a regular basis, you will very quickly improve your abdominal strength.
Ab Exercise #5: Russian Twists
Russian twists are a move straight out of a Rocky movie. With your knees bent, and in an upright position, move from side to side while holding a small weight in your hands.
Each rep is the complete movement from the right side, where the weight will touch the ground to the left side, and back. You can ramp up the difficulty by using progressively heavier weights, as well as by keeping your feet off the ground, for the entire duration of the exercise.
Ab Exercise #6: Bicycle Crunches
This classic abdominal move is easy to perform and works nearly every muscle in your core. Start by laying down flat on the ground, and place your hands behind your head. Move across your body, with your right elbow being brought up, to touch your right knee.
Return to the starting position, and alternate sides. Be sure not to twist your head, and keep your core engaged for the entirety of the exercise.
Ab Exercise #7: Toe Touches
With your toes pointed straight up in the air, and your back on the ground, reach up with your hands until they come close to the tips of your toes. Slowly return to the starting position.
Make sure your core is engaged throughout, and don’t use any extra momentum to cheat. You can ramp up the difficulty by using a small weight and doing more repetitions.
How To Combine Them All
These 7 ab exercises are some of the best you can perform and are easily scaled up in difficulty. One popular way to combine them all is to do them back-to-back with no break in between.
After one round of this, take a one minute break. Continue until you can no longer maintain proper form. Of course, if you are just starting out, it may be better to stop after 1-2 circuits.
This will help you ease into regular ab workouts and allow you to adapt to the small muscle tears, which are a part of any strenuous workout. The next day DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) can be brutal, when you’re first incorporating new exercises and muscle groups, into your routine.
You can also simply incorporate a few of these exercises into your daily routine, inserting them in whatever order you’re comfortable with. No matter how you choose to add these abdominal exercises to your routine, they will help build your abdominals quickly and start to give you the results you’re looking for.