"This exercise is so effective because it teaches you not to rely on your bigger muscle groups (like your thighs) and focuses on using your abdominals correctly in a controlled manner without using momentum. The use of the ball gives you natural feedback of your weaker side so that you can adjust and work on symmetry of your musculature, preventing future injuries."
Instead, we've put together a full slate of top-level choices in no particular order, along with some explanation about what make each one great and the research backing them up, when available. When building this list, we considered bodyweight and loaded exercises, EMG studies, anti-rotation movements, and much more so that no ab exercise was left behind. That said, it's time to meet the crème de la crème of the core!
But alas, this process doesn’t happen overnight. And by now, the washboard abs industrial complex has produced such a dizzying volume of exercises, tricks, and gizmos promising to transform your midsection into a Hemsworth brother’s midsection that even after you’ve settled on a strategy, it’s hard not to wonder whether all that diligence and discipline is really making a difference.
And, since the muscle is designed to bring your lower ribs and pelvis closer together or farther apart, you need to work them that way—with crunches and reverse crunches, Cary says. In fact, research commissioned by the American Council on Exercise shows that the crunch works the rectus abdominis better than other common abs exercises including the plank, sit-up, and boat pose.
Start lying faceup on the mat. Lift head, shoulder blades, and feet off floor as you extend arms straight out. Neck should be relaxed, not strained. This is your hollow hold. Next, engage abs to lift chest towards legs as you bend knees so that body forms a V shape and shins are parallel to floor. Slowly lower back down to a hollow hold position and repeat.
The Torso Track comes out as number 5 for effective ab exercises, but this is one of my least favorite exercises because it can cause lower-back pain, particularly if you roll out too far. In fact, in the ACE study, researchers found that a significant number of subjects reported lower-back pain, so you may want to skip the expense, and discomfort, of this one and choose other exercises that can target the abs with equal effectiveness.
One of the best tricks for getting six-pack abs is to lose some weight, even if it’s just a few pounds. And one of the best ways to lose weight is to adhere to the 80-20 method. Since it takes your brain about 20 minutes to “catch up” to your stomach and realize that, hey, you’re full, oftentimes, you’ll eat more than you need to. So eat 80 percent of what you’d normally eat, then wait 20 minutes. If you’re still hungry, eat the remaining 20 percent of your portion. But chances are, you won’t be hungry one bit. And for more great ways to lose weight, master the 20 Techniques Successful Dieters Share.
So let's get to it. Here are the experts' choices on the most effective abdominal exercises. These should be performed two to three times weekly (for beginners, two is plenty to start). Each exercise should be executed until the point of momentary muscular failure, which should happen between 30 and 90 seconds. This is considered one set, which should be no more than 15 to 20 repetitions. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds. Concentrate on performing each exercise slowly with good form. Work up to completing two to three sets of each exercise.
How to use this list: Clayton suggests doing each exercise below for 30 to 45 seconds before every run. “This will fire up your muscles so they’re active when you need them most,” Clayton says. Clayton even demonstrates them herself, so you can nail the perfect form. You will need a mat and a set of sliders. Two hand towels or paper plates will work. too.
The rectus abdominis is the muscle you think of when you think "abs." It's the outermost abdominal muscle, and runs vertically along each side of your abdominal wall. The transverse abdominis is the deepest muscle of the abdominal wall, which means it's closest to your spine, and basically wraps around your torso between your ribs and your hips. The oblique muscles run along the sides of your torso, and there are two sets: internal and external. The internal obliques lie above the transverse abdominis, and then the external obliques are on top of those (they're the most superficial of the bunch). There's also a handful of other smaller muscles in this area—what we call the core—that work to stabilize the spine and allow us to bent and twist and lift without hurting ourselves.
Most people only associate weight training with building muscle. However, if you want to maximize fat loss then you’ve got to workout with weights at least three times a week! Weight training requires a lot of energy and therefore burns a lot of calories and fat. It also builds muscle and as a result increases metabolic rate. Weight training workouts also increase the ‘after burn.’ The after burn simply refers to the calories you continue to burn the time period after you’ve finished your workout. So, for several hours after a weight-training workout you actually continue to burn an increased amount of calories. For these reasons, it’s important to make sure you hit the weights on a regular basis.
We all want a solid core for different reasons: sports performance, pain prevention, that finish line photo—but strengthening your midsection is particularly important for runners. That’s because your core is the stabilizing center of your body (it keeps you standing, least of all sprinting), and it can make or break your speed goals, prevent (or contribute to!) an injury, and yes, make you feel pretty badass in a sports bra.
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).
Instead of copying the experienced bodybuilders, newbies would be better off if they took advantage of a phenomenon called newbie gains (a.k.a. beginner gains). There’s a brief phase in strength training where building muscle and burning fat at the same time is a better strategy than bulking and cutting. It’s the beginner phase. Thanks to newbie gains, beginners will build muscle fast even in a state of caloric deficit, provided that they train and eat right.
Pre-Workout [Morning — 6.30AM, Evening — 6.30PM] — ½ scoop of Whey. This ensures you don’t lose muscle mass during your workout. On Cardio days, I consume nothing else but on Weight Training days, I have 1 slice of brown bread spread with Unsweetened, Natural Peanut Butter topped with 1 banana. It’s a solid combination of complex carbs and fruit sugar to fuel your workout.
“Do I have a secret for building a ripped midsection?” asks Gregg Avedon, a certified personal trainer and former male model. “Yes, I do: hanging leg raises.” Whereas crunches and sit-ups hit the top part of your core, hanging leg raises work that hard-to-hit lower ab section, too. To reap the full effect, Avedon does three sets of 30 at the start of every workout. And for more sage advice from Avedon, learn his Best One-Move, Total-Body Workouts Of All Time.
“For me, getting a six-pack was about paying attention to what I was eating and lifting heavy weights at CrossFit. I do have a semi-strict diet, and I loosely count macros (focusing on daily carbs, protein, and fat intake rather than blindly counting calories) to stay balanced and on track. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Eventually, it just became a part of my lifestyle, and it’s something I enjoy doing. I even started a custom meal-plan business based on macros because I had such great results!” —Tina Haupert, @carrotsncake