Let's come clean from the start: We're not here to sell you on the single "best ab exercise ever." Too many organizations and authors have tried that, and the profusion of "winners" out there can make it confusing—especially because the studies backing them are always limited in one way or another. A few years ago, it was the bicycle crunch. Then it was the traditional crunch. Then it was the pike, the plank, the roll-out... We could go on.
To do it: Lie down with a small ball (a small pillow will also work if you don’t have a ball) under your heels, both arms extended over your head, palms facing towards each other. Inhale to prepare as you lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor and then exhale as you continue to roll up by drawing in your abdominals, reaching up and over towards the feet. Keep your abdominals contracted, with your spine rounded in a ‘C’ curve, and then inhale to prepare and exhale as you roll down through each vertebra in a controlled movement, keeping your heels pressed evenly into the ball the entire way up and down. Do 15 reps as controlled and precise as you can.
Despite the fact that sit-ups been widely rebuked—everyone from Harvard Medical School to the U.S. Army advises against performing them—you shouldn’t discount the classic move just yet. The sit-up’s “primary function is to work your rectus abdominis, which are those six-pack muscles that most people want,” says Katie Barrett, lead instructor at B/SPOKE Cycling Studio in Boston and a certified personal trainer. “But doing that full sit-up is also going to work your hip flexors and other stabilizing core muscles.” The key is making sure you’re doing them correctly. (And here’s how to do just that).
“You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again—what you put in your mouth matters. It’s crucial to trimming up your core. You can do crunches for days, but if you aren’t fueling properly you’ll never see those abs! My favorite foods to snack on for flat abs are blueberries, apples, sweet potatoes, eggs, lean poultry, and green tea. ” —Amanda Butler, @amandabutlernyc
The inspiration for this exercise might come from skiing, but it's also an effective way to prepare your midsection for many sports, including tennis, softball, and golf. The reason: "It trains your abs, lower back, and hips to work together to rotate your body from side to side," says Durkin. And the more powerfully you can rotate, the faster you can swing and the harder you can throw.
Leg day, arms day, chest-and-shoulders day. You already break up your regular workouts by muscle group; steal a page out of Alicia Vikander’s ab-shredding book and do the same to your core. To get ripped for Tomb Raider, Vikander broke her core workouts into three days: isometric (endurance moves, like planks); strength (sit-ups, hanging leg raises); and oblique-specific (told you so).
After having achieved this goal, there’s a seemingly big void in my life. I intend to fill it up with another ambitious goal instead of more training, though the latter is far more tempting! I find that training, staying fit, and eating right fits in very well with my lifestyle. I intend to keep it that way while being content with slow but lean and steady gains over time. I do intend on dabbling in boxing and advanced callisthenics in the future.
To do it: Lie on the floor with your arms extended above your head and both legs lifted in the air at about a 45-degree angle. Inhale, roll your head and shoulders off the mat, press your ribs down toward your hip bones and exhale, lifting your entire upper body off the mat (keeping both legs up). At the top of the exercise, "land" your arms so that the arms and legs are parallel to one another. Then, breathe "naturally" while holding the top/up position for two slow counts. Reverse the action by inhaling and then rolling your back, shoulders and head down onto the mat exhaling at the start position.
"My goals six years ago was to 'get abs' and I used to think cardio and crunches would get me there. But it wasn’t until I started lifting weights and varying my abdominal exercises that I started to see a major change. You don’t realize how much you use your core muscles in order to perform powerful rapid movements like deadlifts!" — Shante Franca, @shantefranca