The Best Ab Exercises

best ab exercises for men / womenThe Best Ab Exercises for Strength & Muscle Tone

Washboard or defined abdominals are often the crowning achievement of an exercise program, while also perhaps the most common ‘problem area’ for both sexes.

Unfortunately for most, the best ab exercises alone are not enough to achieve visible results. This is not to say that these abdominal exercises and abs workouts are not beneficial, as having strong abs help in many aspects of health and physical fitness.

Jump to the Videos of the Best Abs Exercises or continue reading to learn more.

To Master the Best Ab Exercises, First Learn Some Basic Abdominal Anatomy

If you really want to perform the ab exercises properly and get the best results, you should know the 6 major muscles of your abdominal region. To know what they do is also important. You must feel the muscles working to know you are performing the exercise correctly.

The Term ‘Abdominals’ Actually Refers to One of Many Muscles

The muscle most people commonly refer to as the abdominals is actually a muscle group with many muscles. The rectus abdominis is the outermost muscle. Its primary function is to flex your body at the hip. It is not the only abdominal muscle. The transverse abdominis is deeper than the rectus abdomins. It is commonly referred to as the “core,” as it helps put pressure on your spine to keep it in alignment and make your midsection strong.

You Also Have 2 Sets of Oblique Muscles

best ab exercisesEach side has external and internal oblique muscles. Their primary function is to rotate your torso. If you rotate to your left, your left external oblique and your right internal oblique are doing the work. If you turn to the right, your right external oblique and left internal oblique are doing the work.

The obliques also work with the transverse abdominis to help keep your core tight by increasing the pressure around your spine. This is called intraabdominal pressure. Intraabdominal pressure is very important in keeping your spine healthy as well as keeping your waist tight and trim.

The best ab exercises will be the exercises which work the most abdominal muscles. You can approach finding the best abs exercise for you in different ways. While some exercises isolate the specific muscle you want to target, other exercises do not target a specific area but instead recruit more abdominal muscles overall.

Best Ab Exercises: Which Exercise Works the Most Abdominal Muscles?

If you are looking to take the approach of “getting the most bang for your buck” and spending less time doing abs exercises, you may not want to do classic ab exercises at all!

When you think of the classic ab exercises, you think of crunches and sit-ups. Crunches and sit-ups focus on flexion of your trunk at your hip. They do little for stabilizing your midsection. To simplify the subject, core exercises are different from the classic abdominal exercises because they focus on stabilization.

The best core exercises recruit most of the muscles in the abdominal region and stabilize your midsection. To get the best results for your body, it is best to perform a combination of core stabilization and classic abdominal exercises. If you are looking to only work the rectus abdominis, most abs exercises will do a decent job. The best exercises are those which work the muscle throughout different planes of motion.

To Do the Best Ab Exercises Properly, You Have to Feel the Burn

When learning how to get abs, you have to know how to control and isolate the abdominal muscles. What this means is proper form. Quality should always be more important than quantity. In the worst cases, performing the best abs exercise improperly can do more harm than good. If you improperly perform ab exercises, you may also negatively affect how your mid section looks by causing a protruding abdomen.

Best Ab Exercises: How to Work Your Lower Abdominals

Many consider the lower abs to be a fitness myth. This is because there is not a separate muscle called the lower abs. The lower part of the rectus abdominis is usually a problem area for people not because the muscle is not trained, but because of other factors.

Believe it or not, lower ab definition probably has more to do with your diet. It is not coincidence that a large portion of your digestive system rests where your lower abs are.

Even if you are on one of the best diets, poor posture and muscle imbalances can cause your lower abdominal region to appear to be out of shape. If you think an ab exercise is for your lower abdominals, it could actually be working the hip flexors. To avoid overworking the hip flexors, make sure you perform the exercises properly. You will also want to perform the best lower ab workout for the most effective results.

The Best Ab Exercises: Performed on the Floor

Some of the best ab exercises do not require an exercise ball or abs machine. Performing abs exercises on the floor is advantageous because floor exercises take up less space and require no set up time. Remember, these exercises do little or nothing to burn fat off your stomach area. If you want to see your abs, you should read all about body fat and learn how to burn fat with or without the best ab exercises.


V-ups have a few other names. Pike crunch is the most common name for these. The most important thing to remember is to stop if you experience unusual back pain.

Start: Lie flat on the floor with your arms fully extended above your head. Your legs should be fully extended but slightly bent.

Begin the motion: At the same time, bring your legs and arms together above your waist. Your shoulders should come off the floor and the only body part in contact with the floor is your butt. You can either swing yourself up to the top position, or go up slowly which is more difficult. You must make sure to hold at the top for a split second and slowly lower yourself back to the original position.

Modifications: V-ups are one of most versatile of the best ab exercises. You can perform one leg and arm at a time. You can add resistance such as medicine ball between your feet, or hands.

Toe Raises

Start: Lie flat on your back with your feet up in the air. Your feet should be as straight up in the air as you can, preferably in line with your hips. Your arms should be at your sides with your hands around your hips.

Begin the motion: Push your heels straight up to the ceiling and lower them slowly. Try not to use your arms too much. Do not let your legs go back over your head.

Modifications: One of the best modifications for toe raises is the twisting toe raise. To perform this action, simply twist your feet to either direction as you raise and lower yourself.

You can also add resistance to your ankles via ankle weights. Yet another modification is to use a bungee cord or tube. You can hold it in your hands, and wrap it around your feet. Hold your hands tightly to the floor, when you push your feet up towards the ceiling the resistance will kick in.

Bicycle Maneuver

Some say this is the best ab exercise because certain scientific studies determined that out of all the best ab exercises on the floor the bicycle maneuver recruited the most abdominal muscle fibers.

Start: Lay flat on the floor with your hands behind your head. Put one leg up at a 90 degree angle and fully extend the other leg.

Begin the motion: Lift your shoulders off of the floor and twist your torso so that the elbow opposite to the raised knee come towards each other. Keep your torso off the floor the entire time and alternate legs. When one knee and elbow come together, the opposite leg should be fully extended and off of the floor.

Modifications: You can do the bicycle on an unstable surface such as a BOSU ball to increase the difficulty. The bicycle maneuver is one of the best ab exercises to use at the end of your abs routine to “burn out.”

Toe Touches

Toe touches are a simple yet effective ab exercise. The hip flexors are the muscles which raise your knees. They can also compensate for abdominal muscles.

If you want to isolate the abdominals, you must work on taking the hip flexors out of the equation. At the starting position for toe touches, your hip flexors are already in a flexed position, so your abs can do all the work. That is why toe touches are one of the best ab exercises.

Start: Lay flat on the floor. Put your feet in the air and hold them up towards the ceiling as close to above your hips as possible.

Begin the motion: Reach your hands up and try to touch your toes. Make sure your shoulders come off the ground as far as possible to get a full abdominal crunch.

Modifications: If toe touches are not difficult enough, you can hold a weight in your hands. You can also reach towards one side or the other.

Floor Crunches

Start: Lay flat on the floor. Have your hands behind your head for more resistance, or at your chest for less resistance.

You can have your feet up in the air which takes your hip flexors out of the equation so your abdominals can contract fully.

The best tip for crunches is to contract your glutes (butt) while you do them. The hip flexors oppose the glutes; therefore, if your glutes are contracted, the hip flexors cannot contract.

Begin the motion: Reach your elbows up towards the ceiling. You should concentrate on squeezing your rib cage towards your hips, which is the abdominal contraction.

Modifications: You can perform crossing crunches to involve your obliques. You can hold a weight plate, dumbbell or resistance band behind your head to make the floor crunch more difficult.


Start: Lay flat on your back. Pin your feet under something. You can also have a partner hold your feet down.

Begin the motion: Sit up, lifting your elbows toward the ceiling. Stop when your elbows reach their highest point.

Do not bring your elbows to touch your knees. Lower yourself under complete control.

Modifications: You can have your arms folded at your chest for the least resistance, behind for intermediate resistance, or hold a weight for advanced resistance.

ab exercises for men and women

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About Michael Behnken

Mike Behnken is a personal trainer who holds multiple NASM certifications and a MS in Exercise Science. Mike loves fitness, travel, and photography among many other interests.

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