Let’s face it ashore: we’re not here to find one “best abdominal exercise of all time.” Too many authors and editors have tried to do this, and the plethora of “winners” can be overwhelming — especially when you consider that the research to support their conclusions has always been one-sided. Several years ago, the exercise “bicycle” reigned on the highest step of the pedestal. Then it was replaced by traditional twisting. Then there was a twist, a plank, a roller for the press … The list could go on and on.
Instead, we have collected the best exercises, listed them in no particular order, and explained in a nutshell how great this or that movement is, and what studies (if any) prove it. When compiling the list, we took into account bodyweight and resistance exercises, anti-rotation movements, electromyography (EMG) data, and many other points. Not a single press block tool fell out of sight, but only the most worthy candidates were selected for the elite list!
1. Raising straight or bent legs in the hang
Why on the list? There are many reasons to love the various hanging leg raises, and one of them is versatility. You can start by lifting your bent legs in a Roman chair or with horizontal bar straps to focus on your lower abs. Then you can move on to raising straight legs, and finally, to raising your legs in the hang on the bar. Over time, you will learn to do full-range straight leg raises with your toes touching the bar, and your abs will have a lot of strength.
Increasing amplitude isn’t the only way to move forward. You can raise the difficulty level by holding a medball between your knees or ankles; this will allow you to train with fewer reps. Regardless of which option you choose, raise your legs as high as possible on each rep, and do not use momentum to throw them up.
In training. Do the exercise first or second; do 3 sets of 10-15 reps. If using medball, try drop sets – just drop it when you get to muscle failure.
2. Twisting in the simulator
Why on the list? We believe resistance training is lacking in love! Like no others, they spur the growth of fast-twitch muscle fibers and actually create “bricks” in a block of six cubes. By varying the load, you can train to failure in any rep range, and the weight stack stud is a great tool for effective drop sets!
In training. An excellent choice for the first or second exercise of your abdominal muscles workout. Use a decent weight for low rep sets. At the end of the workout, you can put a light load on a couple of burnout sets. Otherwise, do 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps.
3. Side press in a cable machine
Why on the list? The rapidly gaining popularity exercise trains the abdominal muscles, forcing them to do their job: to stabilize the position of the torso. The side press is an anti-rotation movement, that is, during its execution, the body actively resists rotation. By using these exercises, you will increase the stability of your core muscles in different planes of motion and reduce the likelihood of injury.
There are many ways to do this movement, including the rotary side press, but most start with a D-handle cable machine just below shoulder height. Grasp the handle with both hands, move 4-5 steps away from the machine and rotate 90 degrees so that the machine is on the side of you. Put your hands forward; all the while you are fighting a force that is trying to turn you towards the block. Be sure to keep your back straight and do not lift your shoulders throughout the entire movement.
In training. There is no need to put a heavy load, this will only worsen the quality of movement. Perform a side pull after the most difficult ab exercise, using a working weight that allows you to complete 3 sets of 10-15 reps on each side.
4. Twisting on the upper block
Why on the list? The strength of this twist variation is its versatility – you can perform them on any cable machine, using any degree of resistance, to train within the intended rep range. And yet, many people do this exercise incorrectly.
First of all, it is tempting to sit on your heels and let your hip flexors do most of the work. Secondly, by keeping your back straight, you limit the participation in the work of the upper abdominals – the back should be rounded! Finally, your hands should remain in the same position near your head throughout the entire set. Allowing them to rise in an eccentric phase and then pulling them back will engage your shoulders and upper body muscles.
In training. Another decent choice for the first or second exercise, which can be done in low to medium repetitions. Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps. To drop set, rearrange the hairpin in the weight stack when you reach muscle failure.
5. Twisting on a bench with a medicine ball
Why on the list? Crunches on a bench with a negative incline increase the load due to the greater range of motion compared to regular crunches, and you can change the level of difficulty by simply adjusting the angle of the bench. Taking a medball or a pancake in your hands, you will receive an additional load that can be adjusted to individual requirements. It also allows you to manage and achieve failure in low, medium, or high repetitions.
But here, too, things can go wrong. Since the legs are locked, it is too easy to pull yourself up with the muscles of the thigh. Between reps, don’t completely sink down on the bench, stay above it. If you do not feel a burning sensation in the muscles, drop the additional weights, place your hands on your stomach and focus on the contraction at a slow pace. You can also add lateral movement by directing the elbow towards the opposite hip to recruit the obliques more strongly.
In training. Do the exercise when you have already accumulated some fatigue after the hard first exercises. Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps. If you feel that 15 reps is too easy, just increase the incline, or use a heavier pancake or fitball.
Why on the list? Yes, the leg exercise made it to the top ten for the abs. And anyone who squats to the limit knows exactly why! Understandably, the different squats work your legs and lower back, but they can also explode your abdominal muscles. Both the front squat and the shoulder squat force the abs and spinal erectors to work non-stop to maintain a neutral, upright torso position. If they don’t work at full throttle, you will bend under the weight of the barbell or drop the projectile in the blink of an eye.
And yes, forget about standing on Bose’s ball to increase the load on the stabilizers. Research has shown that doing heavy squats while standing on the floor will get the stimulation you need for your abdominal muscles.
In training. Systematically include front squats and squats in your training plan. To avoid getting used to the load, change the exercise every 4 weeks, or simply alternate front and regular squats on a weekly basis. It’s best to do a separate ab workout after your hardest workout of the week. The last thing you need is muscle pain, which forces you to reduce the barbell weight.