For an amazing six-pack you need to train the best ab exercises. Although there is no shortage of ab exercises, their value ranges from the relatively worthless, such as crunches, to the potentially dangerous, such as Roman chair sit-ups. There are also exercises that are so advanced that they can easily result in injury to beginners. So what do you do?
Ab Training Anatomy
Regarding anatomy, the rectus abdominis is a key muscle in ab training. It’s one long, single muscle that extends from the top of the sternum and rib cage to the pelvis. As for the obliques, these muscles have a diagonal alignment to the trunk, which is an important consideration for athletes who are looking for the best exercises to increase rotational power.
With this background, let’s look at seven of the best ab exercises for developing a chiseled six-pack. If you haven’t directly trained your abs, or you’re simply not in good shape, you may have to hold off on trying some of the more advanced exercises, such as hanging leg raises.
Rollouts are probably the single most effective type of abdominal exercise, but they can easily cause injury. For beginners, it’s best not to attempt this exercise until you have developed a strength base with “plank” exercises.
When you’re ready for rollouts, start from a kneeling position. Two key technique points are not to arch your lower back during the exercise and to extend only to a distance that you feel comfortable – be extremely conservative at first. An Olympic bar can also be used to perform rollouts. This makes the concentric portion of the exercise more difficult as you add resistance.
2. Garhammer Raise
The Garhammer raise was made popular by sports scientist John Garhammer. Although this exercise activates the entire length of the rectus abdominis, it strongly works the subumbilical (below the belly button) section of the abdominals.
With this exercise, you start with lying on a bench with feet pointing towards each other (in a V) and your knees bent. From here, pull your knees towards your chest. The beginning level of this exercise is performed lying on your back. The next level would be performing it on an incline (head higher than hips). The next progression is hanging leg raises.
3. Hanging Leg Raise
There are several variations of hanging leg raises. The key is to try to maintain a posterior tilt of the pelvis, rather than arching your lower back. If performed on a vertical leg raise stand with a backrest, it’s much easier to maintain this neutral spine posture. These exercises can also be performed by holding onto a chin-up bar, but this requires a strong grip and upper back.
4. Hip Lifts
This is one of the best exercises that strongly affects the subumbilical section of the abs. The start position is face up with your hands behind your head and upper legs perpendicular to the floor. Now try to lift your hips up without allowing your knees to move towards your head.
If this feels to easy, you can make the exercise more difficult by holding a weight, such as a medicine ball, between your knees.
5. Kneeling Medicine Ball Throw
This is a powerful exercise that works the entire ab musculature, and it is great for athletes because it develops key muscles uses in throwing. It should be performed with a partner so you can catch the ball overhead and thus produce a strong eccentric contraction of the abs to decelerate the med ball.
6. Overhead Squat
The overhead squat is an an excellent exercise to develop structural balance in the obliques. Research shows that weightlifters who frequently squat and deadlift have much stronger internal and external oblique muscles than a recreationally active control group. More specifically, the internal obliques were the thickest, followed by external, and then by transverse abdominis. Start with a stick or PVC pipe. Then move to an empty Olympic bar, and then start progressing to heavier weights.
Yes, squats and deadlifts will work the abs, but as free weight exercises go, it’s tough to beat a chin-up. Compared to a lat pulldown where you pull the bar around your body, with the chin-ups you pull your body around the bar. This takes tremendous abdominal strength. If you can’t do regular chin-ups, start with negative-only chin-ups in which a training partner assists you with the concentric portion of the exercise.
With these seven best ab exercises you are well on your way to a chiseled mid-section. Training hard is necessary to develop great abs, but it’s just as important to train smart by using the most effective exercises.