“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.
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.
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.
Common knowledge will tell you that, to get six-pack abs, carbs are verboten. Common knowledge is right—kind of. The key is to avoid the wrong carbs, like French fries, and eat the right carbs, like sweet potatoes. These orange goodies are full of carotenoids, which prevent calories from turning into fat; fiber, which helps you stay sated, and ultimately eat less; and Vitamin C, which’ll give you energy (for working out). And for more ab-shredding foods, check out the 10 Healthy Carbs That Won’t Derail Your Six-Pack.
AN ONLINE SEARCH FOR how to get abs without dieting yields a raft of eye-popping results: There are YouTube videos with instructions, and a piece on the dating site Match.com promises advice. Want to achieve ripped abs by eating pizza and ice cream? There's an article on that on a healthy eating website. A piece in a fitness magazine describes the 10 best foods for flat abs.
This exercise will stretch many of the muscles responsible for posture that are sometimes tight and it strengthens those same muscles if they are weak. You may discover that when you first perform it, one side of your body is significantly stronger or tighter. For instance, a long-time discus thrower who has turned to his left for years, to initiate his throw, may have significantly stronger obliques on his left side.
Lie on your back, arms behind your head, like you’re in a crunch position, with legs raised and bent at a 90-degree angle. Kick your legs back and forth like you’re riding a bike. While you do that, alternatively twist the upper part of your torso in tandem with your legs. For maximum toning, do this for as long as you can take it. Once you master this move, you’ll never forget it—it’s just like riding a bike!
5. Engage in resistance training aimed at your abs. In addition to eating right and losing weight, doing certain types of exercises can help you achieve a better-defined abdomen, Singer says. "I'm sure everybody knew somebody in high school who had tremendous abs who ate whatever he or she wanted and had tremendous abs without working out," Singer says. "Most of us aren't that lucky." If developing a six-pack is your goal, doing exercises aimed at your abs can be part of a successful regimen. Such workouts would include weighted crunches and weighted sit-ups, he says. Cardio workouts are helpful for shedding pounds, but won't, on their own, lead to defined abs.
To do it: Kneel with your elbows bent under your shoulders on top of a stability ball. Draw your abs in tight, keep your weight in your arms (chest lifted off the ball), and extend both legs out straight behind you, feet about hip-width apart. Maintain a straight line from your head, shoulders, hips, knees, and feet. Once you are stabilized on the ball, slowly roll the ball away from your body to increase the lever length and add stress on the abdominal region. For safety, go slowly and start with short movements in and out for 10-15 reps. When you feel ready, you can progress how far away you reach and your number of reps, Richey says.
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The long arm crunch is ranked the 6th most effective ab exercise, changing the traditional floor crunch by straightening the arms behind you. This adds a longer lever to the move, adding a bit more challenge and difficulty. This move also emphasizes the upper part of the abs, although it's important to remember that your rectus abdominis is actually one long muscle that travels from your lower chest to your pelvis. While you can emphasize one part, any exercise you do will work the entire muscle.
Do it: Think of this as an upside-down dead bug. Start in a tabletop position, with your shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. Engage your core while simultaneously lifting your right arm and left leg. Your foot should be flexed as you kick back, and your palm should face in towards your body. Pause for one second when your arm and leg are at the same height as your torso, and then bring your elbow and knee to touch underneath the body. Repeat on the other side for one rep, and do five reps for one set.
Try adding four or five to the end of your workout to challenge your core a little more, or turn them into a standalone workout—try doing 12-15 reps of each exercise and then repeating the circuit (of four or five exercises) three to four times, to start. If you feel tension in your lower back during any of these exercises, stop and reset, making sure your abs are really engaged and that your back is not arched. You can also try starting with fewer reps. If you still feel discomfort, skip that exercise and try a different that allows you to keep your spine in a safer position. (It's also helpful to read up on which abs exercises tend to be irritating for lower-back issues beforehand if that's a concern for you.)
"But after having children and maturing, my body image has changed. I don’t run or eat to look a certain way, but instead to feel a certain way—happy. I no longer count calories or restrict what I eat. I focus on real food that’s minimally processed, and most meals include some sort of carbs (I really love potatoes), protein, and lots of veggies. All of that, coupled with higher mileage during more intense marathon training, has led me to how I look today. When I’m not in the middle of marathon training, I’m often five to 10 pounds heavier—and that’s totally okay.” —Michele Gonzalez, @nycrunningmama
Why it made the list: Yes, a leg exercise made the top 10 list for abs. Anyone who has ever pushed their potential in the squat knows exactly why! Sure, squat variations work the legs and lower back, but they also crush the abs. Both front and back squats force your abs and spinal erectors to work overtime to maintain a neutral, upright position. If both were not firing at high rates, you'd fold under the weight or drop in a split second.
“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
"One of the main jobs of the abdominal or core muscles is to act as stabilizers for the trunk, helping to support while the person is squatting, lifting, or moving about in general. Many studies show that muscle fiber activation rates in the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and internal and external obliques are higher during the squat than during many ‘traditional’ crunch type exercises where the performer is lying on their back."
I’d stand outside restaurants pretending to stare at my phone while my family and friends munched on dessert. There would be days when I would be completely broken from the inside-out after training with weights in the morning and running a 2k in the evening on no fuel. I’d find excuses to stay at home on the weekends and give up meeting friends only to stay away from food and drinks which didn’t align with my goal. I got used to awkward situations while placing ‘weird’ food orders at restaurants and stares from coworkers while shaking up my protein mix.
Elevate your lower body on a low box (preferably padded to protect your knees). This imparts better leverage to your arms and shoulders, an advantage that is especially important for women (usually women are proportionally weaker in the upper body than men). The correct start position is with your shoulders directly over the wheel and your abs pulled in and head down. Keep your shoulders in front of the wheel as long as possible. Inhale while rolling the wheel forward and exhale as you return to the start position. Arching your low back is wrong! This error occurs when the wheel is extended too far for your abdominal strength and performing the exercise like this can cause back injury and pain. You will be able to extend further out, as you get stronger – in fact; I have seen several athletes do this from a standing position!
How to: Lie on your left side with your legs straight and your right leg stacked on your left. Position yourself so your weight is resting on your left forearm and the outside edge of your left foot. Your elbow should be directly beneath your shoulder, and your upper arm should be perpendicular to the floor. Align your body so it forms a straight line from your neck to your ankles, and place your right hand on your hip. Lower your hips toward the ground a couple inches, then come back up to start. That’s one rep. Do 15 reps on each side.