The Best (and Worst) Ab Workouts if You Want Six-Pack Abs
Want to get six-pack abs and shred belly fat? Want good posture? Then know the difference between ab workouts that actually matter and ones that are wasting your time.
Whether you’re trying to lose belly fat and build rock-solid six-pack abs or just want to tone your body, building a strong core is essential.
But not all ab exercises are created equal for helping you get the best results.
Abdominal exercises can be done from anywhere and often require no equipment at all—just endurance and creativity.
That’s right, it can be a home workout.
Furthermore, HIIT workouts, or high-intensity interval training, helps to complement ab exercises.
Science shows that the best way to burn fat in your midsection is to mix and match these exercises.
In this article, we’ll share our pro tips on the best and worst abs workouts out there for building core strength and a chiseled midsection at the same time.
You can do most of them with your body weight to build a better body shape, and construct a home ab workout.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind When it Comes to Ab Workouts
Training your rectus abdominis (front of your stomach muscles) doesn’t build a visible six-pack.
But losing abdominal fat does!
Abdominal training alone won’t drive enough belly fat loss.
Losing fat on your belly is 80% nutrition, 20% exercise.
In the same way, to build a lean midsection, 80% of your effort should be on burning fat, and only 20% on working out your abs.
The core exercises you’re going to see complement a great fat loss program.
They will not only help you see your abdomen, but strengthen your entire core, which includes your obliques (side abs), lower back, diaphragm, and transverse abs.
Having a strong core will improve your posture as well, giving you even more confidence. That’s why you should use different core exercises to build a well-rounded abs workout.
Core training also improves lower back pain. Working out your abs isn’t just for the six-pack muscles, it’s also for your health.
The Best Ab Workouts to Get Those Abdominal Muscles In Shape
Keeping these tips in mind, let’s begin your new ab workout routine. Be sure to wear comfortable workout clothing that doesn’t inhibit your movement.
This workout routine may involve being on the floor, so make sure you have a workout mat or a soft surface to work with. This will make your reps more focused on your abs.
The Best Ab Workouts for Six Pack Abs
1. Hanging Leg Raise
This advanced ab exercise requires upper body strength and builds your six-pack muscles from top to bottom. All you need is a stable pull-up bar. It’s one of the best lower ab exercises.
In order to do a hanging leg raise, you simply lift your hips and your feet up to the bar, using your core. You will feel it in your lower abs and upper abs the next day.
Since this exercise isn’t for beginners, you can make it easier and add a progression. Instead of lifting your legs, only lift your knees.
Make sure to use proper form and really lift those knees, ankles, and thighs up high! If that’s too hard, just lift your left knee up, then your right knee, alternating.
After you can do 10 reps of that easily, add dumbbells or a medicine ball as an extra challenge. Once you can do that easily, move on to the hanging leg raise.
Leg Raise Variation – Ab Workouts
Another regression is to do a simple leg raise on a dip/leg raise combo machine commonly found in most gyms.
One of our top pro tips for this exercise is to make each rep count by using a full range of motion.
Imagine your navel pointing slightly behind you. Cheating on your reps isn’t a good idea because you’ll build less muscle and spend more time in the gym than necessary.
Lift your entire legs up from a dead hang all the way until your feet touch the bar gently. Only then does your rep actually count. Imagine the soles of your feet touching the sky.
A dead hang is important because it stretches out the rectus abdominis and gets them ready for a forceful contraction. This body also strengthens your wrists, forearms, and lats.
2. Ab Wheel Rollout
Like the hanging leg raise, this next move is not for beginners, but you can start small until you get the hang of it.
Also, like the hanging leg raise, it involves a hinging motion where you hinge at the hips.
In order to successfully complete an ab wheel rollout, you must engage the rectus abdominis to get your torso back to the starting position.
To do it:
To perform this exercise you can use a barbell or the standard ab roller that you can find at your gym. If you want to use a barbell, put weight plates on either side and then place a thick mat underneath your knees.
From there, while in a kneeling position, place your hands on the bar or ab roller. From there, roll out until your abdomen is parallel with the floor. Keep your hips down and pelvis tucked.
As you contract your rectus abdominis to get your torso upright again, try not to use your lats and forearms too much. Even better, do a bunch of pullups beforehand to tire out your lats before using the ab roller.
This one strengthens the transverse abs, which you need for a strong core. If it’s easier, do it on a mat. When you go down all the way, it becomes a great addition to your lower ab exercises.
Keep your wrists straight with your forearms, and do not flex or extend them during the rollout.
Your next move is the plank. It looks so easy but it’s a killer. If you can’t do this exercise for at least 45 seconds, you need to add this to your ab day.
Planks require you to engage your whole core and even your lower body and quads.
Unlike the traditional crunch or the hanging leg raise, in the plank, your rectus abdominis contracts isometrically.
This is one of the core’s core functions… no pun intended. Isometric ab exercises help you learn stabilization.
Stabilization is an essential core function for helping you keep your torso tight while using your limbs. When you use your abs this way, you also engage your transverse abs.
This muscle improves overall core stability. It’s a layer of muscle lying underneath the rectus abdominis.
To do it:
The best way to do a plank is on your forearms in the forearm plank position with your palms clasped together.
Keep your torso parallel with the ground, and your pelvis tucked, and hold. To make it harder, lift one foot off to the side and repeat with the other foot.
One variation of the plank is to have your feet suspended in TRX straps. It’s a killer.
One of our pro tips is to go for time rather than reps. Planks should be held for at least 30 seconds at a time. If you’re a total beginner, go for 20 seconds.
If you want better posture this exercise is a must. As an extra challenge, lift one foot off to the side and bring it back down.
Keep your shoulder blades relaxed. Have your feet hip-width apart. This is one of the simplest exercises to add to your home workout.
4. Side Plank
The side plank is your next move. It is harder than the regular plank, as fewer muscle groups are involved to stabilize the same amount of weight.
You can also switch from a regular plank position to a side plank by turning your body to the side. Your upper right arm should be at a near 90-degree angle with the floor.
To do it:
Here’s how to get into a side plank. Start on your hands and knees. Extend your right leg and place the outer part of your foot on the floor.
Now rest on your right elbow and right forearm and place your left hand on your hips. Make sure your right elbow is protected by using a mat.
You are now in the side plank start position. Place your left hand on your hips or extend your left arm out, at a 90-degree angle to your midline.
Your left leg should gently rest on top of your right leg. Go for 30 seconds if you can.
Like with the regular plank, your lower body and upper body should be in a straight line. Repeat on your left side and support your weight with your left elbow and left foot.
Make sure to use a mat for comfort for your elbow. If you’re advanced, this exercise will help you prepare for the dragon flag.
This next move is a unilateral one like the bird dog, so it helps fight out imbalances. It also combines both isometric and concentric contraction of the abdominal muscles, including those transverse abs.
In addition, it strengthens your obliques. To have the best looking six-pack possible, you need to bulk up your obliques, or the side abs, a little bit.
The woodchop will help you do that since you need to turn and twist your torso, with resistance. Since resistance is involved in this exercise, there is more potential for building muscle as well.
This is one of the best ab exercises out there for that reason. When you build muscle in your abs, that muscle will help to burn more fat and raise your metabolism.
It will also make the fat less visible.
Also, since you’re using your shoulder muscles and glutes, you burn more calories. Remember, 80% of your efforts should be on burning fat, rather than training your abs.
That’s why the woodchop is a must-have in your routine.
Do it in between doing squats, another one of those killer compound moves! Now you have more HIIT workouts to choose from!
The benefits don’t end there. The woodchop also works as cardio since it is a full-body exercise as well as one you must repeat on the opposite side.
This means more reps, and more time under tension. That means more muscle and more abs!
To do it:
Start with a medicine ball or a dumbbell, and then use a resistance band or a cable machine for added resistance. Always make sure to be on the balls of your feet to get the most power in your movement.
Here’s how to do it with a medicine ball. Grab a medicine ball and start with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Bring the ball to the floor to your right side and then lift it up to your left side above your head. Pivot your right foot in the process.
This move hits all the major muscle groups in your trunk too! Make sure of course to move the weight to your opposite leg and opposite knee, across your body and the back foot is pivoting with your hips.
One last tip because this exercise is so awesome. Depending on what equipment you use, this exercise will work your forearms too.
If you’re using a medicine ball, a lot of pressure is required from the muscles around your wrists and forearms.
Try not to fall forwards during the movement and stay balanced in your hips, pelvis, and feet.
6. Reverse Crunch
The next move in your core workout is the reverse crunch and it is better than the traditional crunch because it engages more abdominal muscles in a more challenging manner.
Instead of simply contracting with the rectus abdominis, the transverse abs need to be engaged as well.
Since the core is working isometrically, muscles need to work together to stabilize your torso. This makes it a functional exercise that’s great for low back health.
To do it:
Lie on the floor face up. Rest your palms on your sides facing down.
Bend your knees and slowly raise your hips off the floor.
Using your abdominal muscles, crunch up your knees inward.
Pause for a second and return to the original position by slowly lowering your legs in control.
Once your heels come close to touching the floor, repeat the crunch motion again. Continue for 15-20 reps per set.
Pro Tip: Imaging your knees curling inward towards your chest.
Your hips and lower back right above the tail bone should come off the floor as you curl up.
Another pro tip is to place your hands under your buttocks the whole time.
This will minimize the involvement of your hip flexors. Make sure to add this to your home workout on a mat. Have your feet together for this one, not hip-width apart.
7. Dumbbell Stand Side Bend
This next move in your core workout will bulk up your obliques. It’s the equivalent of a sit-up but for your obliques. Having strong obliques is critical for stabilizing unilateral movements, which are found in most sports.
It also helps with a gait as well. As we age, gait disorders become more common. Weakness in the obliques and the gluteus medius are often the cause.
To get the most benefit from this exercise, use a full range of motion, but one that you are comfortable with. Since this exercise involves spinal flexion, you want to be careful to not use heavyweights.
Have your feet hip-width apart and lift the weight in a straight line.
8. Weighted Sit-Up
Of course, the final best exercise in your core workout for building solid six-pack ab muscles and see your lower abs is the weighted sit-up.
Doing thousands of sit-ups is not going to help you, however.
Doing just three sets of ten reps with some resistance will cause greater muscle damage leading to muscle growth. It becomes a more tough exercise with weights.
It’s often most comfortable to use a plate on your chest for the weight instead of a dumbbell. A 5kg plate is a good start.
Once again that means you’re going to see your abs a lot faster.
So make sure to use proper form, and this exercise can turn into one of your staple lower ab exercises and transverse ab exercises. Do it superseded with deadlifts to crush your abs!
For an added challenge, use a stability ball and go slow with each rep.
9. Bicycle Crunches
The bicycle crunch combines many elements of previous ab exercises, such as resistance, the side abs, as well as hitting the main abs.
It also involves the hip flexors. To get the most benefit from this exercise, put a 5kg plate in each hand! Use a mat for added support.
To do it:
Lie flat face up on the floor.
Firmly press your lower back to the floor by engaging your deep abdominals and pulling your navel in.
Place your hands behind your ears, but don’t interlace your fingers behind your head.
Bend your knees and bring them up towards your chest.
Engage your abs and slowly lift your shoulder blades a few inches off the ground. Don’t pull from your neck.
Straighten your left leg out to a 45-degree angle as you also turn your right shoulder and elbow to the left knee.
Twist from your core and rib cage to a point your right elbow and left knee almost touch.
Return to the original position and repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
To do it:
The Worst Ab Exercises You Want to Avoid if You Want Six-Pack Abs
The traditional crunch is a waste of time because of a few reasons. For one, they involve a tiny range of motion, resulting in endless crunches.
When you fail to engage your muscles through a full range of motion, you build less muscle and burn fewer calories.
The reason people like crunches is for the burn. But sadly, that burn doesn’t lead to you seeing your abs.
That burn just indicates that your ab muscles are getting tired. You can do thousands of crunches a day, but your time is better spent doing sit-ups.
In a sit-up, you go through a full range of motion and aren’t allowed to use neck flexion or your hip flexors to lift your torso off the floor. Consequently, you hit your lower abs a lot harder.
In the long run, that means a stronger core. In a crunch, you lift less weight, since you’re mostly just lifting your upper back, and you only engage your upper abs.
Ditch the crunches and stick to what works.
Russian Twist with Medicine Ball
This exercise looks good, but unfortunately, it is ineffective in an abs workout. When the med ball goes to your side, and then you lift it to the other side, the range of motion is quite limited.
Secondly, because of gravity, the weight isn’t being lifted by your abdominals … or the obliques. It’s being held by your arms. As the med ball passes over your torso, your ab muscles are totally chilling.
The good news is that you can modify this exercise to hammer your abs.
Do this: when the ball goes to your side, you want to extend your legs (straighten them) and then push the ball out further away from you, extending your arms as well.
Pretend you’re going to give it to someone with your right hand when you twist to your right side.
Now you will feel your obliques and transverse abs burning like crazy. It also takes more coordination which is good for brain health and neurogenesis. When you adopt this exercise as mentioned you will feel it in all the right places.
Although ab machines promise to isolate your abs and pack slabs of muscle on your midsection, they, unfortunately, make it hard to do just that.
Most people end up using their back or their elbows to get the machine to work. If you do feel it strongly in your abs and can tell that the resistance is breaking down your muscle, then go for it.
But if you’re doing rep after rep and don’t feel much in your abs, then that machine just isn’t for you. Also, it’s not good for fixing back pain since it isolates the abs too much.
Other Ab Exercises to Add to Your Workout:
- Dead bug
- Bear Crawl
- Ab Rocker
- Hollow Holds
- Captain’s Chair
- Leg Lift
The Final Take On The Best Ab Workouts
The best ab exercises to build a trim waistline and stronger core should do the following:
- They should engage all your core muscles, including your rectus abdominis, obliques, lower back, and transverse abs to build a strong core
- They should be done using a full range of motion
- They should cause muscle hypertrophy and not just create a burn
Lastly, these ab exercises won’t give you abs alone. You need to restrict your calories, sleep well, be consistent and train the rest of your body. That’s the key to making the most of good ab workouts.
In the context of a complete exercise program, these workouts will chisel your abs like stone, and burn the belly fat away! Those are all the pro tips we have for you, so get out there and crush it.
You may also like:
- 50 Best Bodyweight Exercises for a Full-Body Workout
- Exercises to Avoid for Lower Back Pain
- Morning Burning Fat Workout to Get Lean
More Ab Workouts to Check Out:
“American Council on Exercise (ACE)-Sponsored Study Reveals Best and WORST Abdominal Exercises.” American Council on Exercise (ACE)-Sponsored Study Reveals Best and Worst Abdominal Exercises, www.acefitness.org/about-ace/press-room/press-releases/246/american-council-on-exercise-ace-sponsored-study-reveals-best-and-worst-abdominal-exercises/.
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