The abdominal muscles have always been the center of admiration and desirability for both women and men around. They are a symbol of a healthy and active lifestyle as well as represent dedication. Not to mention that abs look amazing when worked on and fill out the aesthetic image that most of us are trying so hard to achieve.
This explains why the majority of people who visit the gym on a regular basis can be caught doing ab exercises almost every day – they want those abs to be visible and they want them to look good for the summertime.
These desires are also the staple of all of these online fitness gurus that require insane payments to trade with you “the secret for abs”. Seriously, don’t trust them!
This is why I decided to share with you my personal list of 13 ab exercises that I believe bring the best results and without doubt MUST be integrated to your ab workout.
Before we dive in, however, there are a couple of important notes about this post that need to be made clear.
Firstly, in order for your abdominal muscles to become visible is for you to drop your body fat percentage to at least 9-12% for men, and 15-18% for women. This can be achieve through proper eating habits, good nutrition and, of course, a good training program. All of this must be designed to help you elevate your metabolic rate and keep it up for as long as possible.
I have written quite a few articles that concern this matter. Take a read at these articles for example:
- The 30 Best Fat-burning Foods;
- The 7 Best Exercises That Will Help You Lose Belly Fat; or
- How To Build Muscle And Lose Fat At The Same Time
All three of these articles will help you understand what is expected of you in order to reduce stored body fat.
Wait, doesn’t this mean that ab exercises are completely worthless then? I mean, what is the sense of doing them if you need to lower your body fat percentage in order to start seeing your abs, right?
Well yes and no. It is true, as already mentioned, that in order to make your abdominals visible you will need to work hard on reducing stored body fat, however, shaping and forming your abs is what separates the so-called skinny abs from the aesthetically pleasing ripped abs that we all want.
Furthermore, most of the exercises that I have listed for you guys and gals are quite intense and will not only help you tone your core but will also help you enhance your metabolism – help you further reduce accumulated body fat.
Another thing is that non of the exercises that you will see below are your traditional crunches and leg raises. It’s not that I am saying that those exercises are useless, they still work your abs, but they do not use their full potential and as a consequence you end up losing effect of a good ab workout.
Are you aware of the purpose that the abdominals serve the human body? They are the one muscle group in your body, alongside with your lower back muscles, that help you maintain your balance as well as to flex the spine (rectus abdominis) and for rotation and lateral bends (obliques). Without them everyday tasks such as walking, running, and even sitting would be absolutely impossible to complete.
I have another question for you – how we usually tend to train our muscles? That’s right, we apply a range of exercises that challenges the purpose that the muscle group holds. The triceps is used to push objects, so we use pushing exercises such as bench dips, triceps dips, and don’t get confused with extension exercises for the triceps as they still end up pushing something down (i.e. they are still using the triceps’ core purpose); the biceps helps us pull, so we use a pulling motion such as the biceps curl; the quadriceps’ main function is extension of the knee joint, a flexor of the hip, and specifically the Vastus medialis (the lower section of the quad) pays an important role in the stabilization of the knee , so we use exercises such as leg extensions, squats and deadlifts.
Do you see the pattern here? Let me give you a hit – all of the above given exercises challenge to a far extent the core function of the muscle group.
And if you want to develop shredded abs then that means that you need to challenge your abs’ calling – stability, rotation and spine flexion.
Does this mean that crunches and leg raises are completely redundant? Hell no! Crunches, and its many variations, is still an extremely good exercise for developing a good core. The problem with exercises like that is that they do not train the abdominal muscle group to its full capacity. And you wouldn’t want to do that, now would you.
Oh, and a bonus tip: Your abs do not grow in size, they do not work the same way as your other muscle groups. The reason why I am saying this is because I have heard the following way too many times: “you need to train your abs so that they can grow and show up on the surface”. WHAT!? And the worst part is that this was presented by a “fitness expert” at a local gym of mine.
The abdominal muscles are incapable of growth because they are constructed of slow-twitch muscle fiber – these muscle fibers are responsible for the sheer strength and endurance of the human body, they do not grow in size (unlike the short-twitch muscle fibers). This is one of the reasons why there are such strong yet slim individuals.
There are specific muscle groups where the long-twitch are the predominant muscle fiber – such as the abdominals and the calves.
Enough chit-chat, here are the:
Top 13 Best Ab Exercises
The difference between a traditional squats and a front squats is the location of the barbell. Because the barbell is located in front of your body, and not behind, it’s going to hit your abs a whole lot more – this is understandable as the weight is going to be pulling you down more.
Traditional squats are also going to train your core but not to the same extent as front squats.
How to: hold your arms in a way that will enable you to place the barbell on your shoulders. Afterwards, you need to bend your arms and grab on the barbell to make sure that it’s not going to roll of. There are different ways in which you can place your arms and it all comes down to personal preferences and to what is more comfortable for you.
If you start feeling pain in your shoulder area, there is no need to panic, that is caused from the weight that is pressing against your muscle. Some beginner lifters can even experience bruising as a consequence.
What you can do to prevent this from happening is to use a barbell pad to cushion the barbell, or if not available, try to place the barbell at the far end of your shoulder right where your trapezoids start. This will help you reduce the amount of pressure that is being placed on the body and put the axis of the weight so that the weight of the barbell goes through your whole body, not just your shoulders/arms.
This video is a really good one and I truly recommend you go through it. It explains the most common mistake that is made by most beginner front squat lifters and tells you how to correct it. It also shows you what are the essential elements to perform a front squat with perfect form.
Not to be confused with its sister (yes she’s a lady)- the traditional deadlift – the Romanian deadlift is one of the best ways to train your abdominal and lower back muscles.
This exercise, however, is extremely dangerous if not done properly. This is why I would recommend carefuly reading through the “how to” and watching the video shown below to fully understand what is the proper execution of the Romanian Deadlift. After which, at the gym, use lighter weight to ensure that you have fully grasped and understood the essence of the exercise. Once you have practiced it enough, you can start racking up the weight.
However, even though you can go really heavy with the traditional deadlift, you can’t really do that here. The Romanian deadlift needs to be handled with caution and under no circumstances are you to use low rep (5-7) heavy sets. Try to hit a rep range of 10-12 with perfect form.
And for all of you ladies reading this, the Romanian deadlift is also a spectacular exercise that works the gluteus (your butt) and your hamstrings. Ensuring that you will manage to develop firm legs and a firm buttocks along with training your abdominals.
How to: Stand next to a barbell so that your shins are touching the iron. Feet need to be shoulder width. Squat down and grab the barbell with your arms being right beside your legs. Keeping a straight back with a pushed chest forward proceed lifting the barbell. Once you have lifted the weight up you would want to lower it down, the difference here is, when compared to a traditional deadlift, that you want to primarily use your lower back to lower the weight (keeping it straight) and making sure that you do not bend your legs as you would with a normal deadlift. Don’t drop the weight all the way down but to about under your knee and then lift the weight back up.
Again, make sure that you are maintain a constant and perfect form throughout the whole exercise.
The idea here is similar as the one mentioned above for the front squat. The only difference, obviously, is that you will be performing walking lunges.
How to: you would want to make sure that you have enough room to full stretch out your walks (roughly 3-5 lunge walks per lap, at least). Put the weight in a similar fashion as you would for the squat and begin your walking lunges by placing one foot in front of the other in a lunge manner.
Make sure that you are fully stretching but not too much as you are going to start putting way too much stress on your knees.
The kettlebell is one of my favorite training equipment – they are inexpensive, can be used anywhere (in home, outside, at the gym), and offer a wide range of exercises that can be done with them.
One of those exercises is the kettlebell swing. This is a great and intense exercise that places a lot of tension in the core muscles.
How to: make sure that when holding the kettlebell your arms are rested and not flexed, you don’t want to use your arms to lift the weight because that way you will be taking away a lot of the stress that would initially go to the legs and to your core.
You are literally trying to swing the weight forward and backward.
As the weight starts coming down do your best, by using your abdominals, to reduce the momentum of the weight – sort of like a car’s shock absorber.
If there are no kettlebells laying around at the gym or at your place, no worries, you can use a dumbbell or even a small barbell disk.
This exercise, oh man, it’s a doozy.
This exercise places a lot of strain on your obliques, or as I like to call them, your gills… get it, because they resemble gills. Anyway.
If you don’t have a kettlebell laying around at your place or at the premises where you usually train, then you can feel free to use whatever other comfortable weight you can locate – medicine ball, barbell disk, dumbbell, a rock (yes, really, I have seen people do Russian twists with a rock).
Just because I am referring to these as kettlebell russian twists does not mean that this exercise can only be performed with a single equipment. I just, personally, find the kettlebell to be the more comfortable alternative.
How to: Sit down with your legs bent and feet elevated from the ground. Hold the kettlebell close to your chest and lean back to a 45° angle. Start rotating the torso from left to right, twisting the waist and swinging the kettlebell across the body.
This will work your gills like no other exercise!
This is an alternative exercise to the one mentioned above. The only difference is that you are standing instead of sitting on the ground.
Due to the fact that you are in a standing position, which means that you are maintaining a certain level of balance (especially when executing the exercise), thus meaning that this exercise is a really good method of training your whole abdominal muscles.
However, this does not mean that the traditional russian twists (the ones listed above) are less of a demanding and beneficial exercise, as it helps you train the lower section of your abdominal muscles.
How to: stand with your feet apart at a wider-than-hip ratio. Raise the bar overhead, holding it with both your hands, one on top of the other. Put your hips back a bit, not too much. Then you start rotating the barbell from left to right. Try to imagine that the top of the barbell, as the video that I will show you mentions, makes a semi-circle motion. Keep the opposite arm (the arm that is opposite to the direction in which you are swinging the barbell) straight once you start rotating. For instance, if you rotate the barbell to your right then you would need to keep your left arm straight and vice versa.
This exercise is very similar to the one given above with more of a twist *chuckles*. Instead of hitting your entire core muscles it places more emphasis on your obliques and helps you develop that sick and shredded look we are hoping for.
Again, this exercise can be performed with virtually anything that you find comfortable to hold and carries a noticeable amount of weight. I prefer going with the kettlebell, again. If you have any other preference, for whatever reason, feel free to go with that type of equipment.
No matter what you choose the execution of the exercise is the same.
How to: place your feet hip-width apart. Hold the kettlebell with both hands (you can wrap one hand over the other). What you would want to do next is bring the kettlebell up and swing from side to side. As you are rotating your body you would want to pivot your toes.
The “tornado ball”, which I am pretty sure is not the actual name for this exercise, is an extremely good way to train those gills of yours, and no I am not over-exaggerating. Oddly enough not a lot of people have even heard of this exercise.
How to: for this exercise you would usually need a medicine rope ball (which is a medicine ball attached at the end of a rope). Wrap around the rope on one hand and then with the other grab right above your tied up hand. Firmly grip the rope and start twisting your torso from left to right at great velocity, literally slamming the ball against the wall.
A really intense and powerful exercise that will not only work your abs like a pro but will also leave you breathless after just a few seconds of doing it.
If you do not have a medicine rope ball (which you can easily purchase online a 10lbs one costs about 40 something dollars) you can make one of your own. Now, of course, this is the riskier course of action as the bought product will be far more sturdier and will offer a better grip and better execution of the exercise.
But what you can do is in a trash bag you can place a bunch of cloth (make sure that it’s heavy cloth). Make sure that you take away all of the air from the bag and that there is no trapped air inside – otherwise the trash bag will rip mid-exercise. Get a rope, a similar one that you can get from a jumping rope (you can detach it from your jumping rope, and tied it at the end of the trash bag.
And voila your very own DYI medicine rope ball. I would still recommend taking a look at what other alternatives are out there as this might not prove to be the best product of choice.
Don’t let the name of the exercise confuse you with the traditional windmill exercise. What I calla “windmills” might be seen as a bit unorthodox, even though the name is absolutely related to the exercise.
How to: grab a disk, kettlebell, or dumbbell, whichever is more comfortable for you. Spread your legs at a width that is wider than your shoulders. With the weight up above your head weight with extended arms. Start rotating the weight in a circular motion – mimicking a windmill. I told you that the name and the exercise are related.
This exercise trains your whole core as well as your lower back, your shoulders and traps, and your forearms (your grip).
Thrusters are basically a combination between a front squat and a shoulder press. The bonus of this exercise is the fact that you lift the weight above the head.
This offers a huge challenge for your abdominal muscles as now they have to work twice as hard to hold your balance in check. Not to mention that the axis of weight has shifted from being centralized to being above your body. This disrupts your balance even more as the weight will put its force against your body trying to pull down to the ground.
How to: Begin with being in a front squat position where you have placed the weight on your shoulders, preferably a barbell but you can use dumbbells and kettlebells as well. Proceed completing a squat, as you push your weight up and as you reach your normal static position lift the weight above your head (as if you are performing a standing barbell shoulder press).
The problem with this exercise is that, obviously, not every premises has a sledgehammer or a giant tire that you can us the hammer on. I actually do believe that the vast majority of commercialized gyms do not own such equipment.
If they do, however, sledgehammer training has proven to be a great way to train your entire core muscles as well as your deltoids as it takes a lot of energy and a lot of core strength to move the sledgehammer, hit the tire and, with the use of your abdominal muscles, control the hammer as it jumps back from the impact.
If you really want to integrate sledgehammer training to you ab workout but lack the necessary equipment, then what you can do is use an alternative method, which is as effective as the sledgehammer training.
What you would want to do is use a medicine rope ball and just slam it against the floor – take a look at the video down below to get a better idea.
On the other hand, if you have a lot of free space at your backyard, or something like that, then what you can do is buy the equipment for yourself. Most of the people tend to give out tires for free as they are going to throw them away anyway and they have to pay a dumping fee to get rid of them so they’ll just spare you of any charge and give you the tire for free.
There is no need to use heavy sledgehammers that weigh about 20lbs, smaller ones 5-10lbs is what you are aiming for. Obviously if you are capable of doing the exercise with a 20lbs one, then be my guest.
Because of its intensity, sledgehammer training is also a perfect exercise to boost your metabolism, which will help you further reduce your body fat percentage.
How to: You would want to grab the sledgehammer in a fashion where your dominant hand is holding the sledgehammer closer to the iron and your supporting hand is holding more at the end. You would want to make a slight circular motion when you are ready to slam and as you come down you would want to move your dominant hand down close to your supporting hand. Make sure that you are using your power, core power, to slam the hammer against the tire, don’t let gravity do it.
The weight of the sledgehammer is going to obviously bounce back, which is the best part of the exercise as you would want to control that bounce with your abdominal muscles so that it does not go way too high, do not use your arms in the process, your arms are only there to hold the hammer itself.
Be very careful when performing this exercise! I presume a hammer to the face, or somewhere else to the body, is not exactly at the top of your bucket list.
Or something else that you can do is get a medicine ball and just hurl it to the ground with all of your power and energy as many times as you can – BAM! A Sledgehammer training simulation that packs the same punch for your abdominals.
Seriously, though, this is a really good exercise that can act as an alternative if you do not have access to a sledgehammer or a tire.
If you understand the mechanics of a normal punch or kick then you would understand the logic behind this one. Do you know from where the power of your punch comes from? That’s right, your whole core.
When exciting a punch you use, what I like to call, a “slingshot effect” – your body rotates in a fashion that allows you shoot your arm towards you target – preferably a punching bag.
If you can integrate some kicks into the exercise that would make it even better – especially high knees or high kicks, those tend to train the abs the best, as well as elbow strikes.
How to: the best part about this exercise is that there are various ways in which you can execute it. If yo have a punching bag at your premises then you can use that (you can always buy one for yourself from amazon or eBay); if spending money for a punching bag is not exactly what you were planning on spending your hard-earned cash then you can do shadow boxing (try imagining an opponent whom you are fighting and just go crazy on his/her ass); or if you are consider yourself a good boxer/kick boxer and you believe that punching bas or shadow boxing is for pussies, then you can challenge an actual opponent against whom you can spar.
No matter what technique you use make sure that you use – elbow strikes, high knee or high kicks, gut punches, upper cuts the most as these tend to be the movements that engage your abdominals the most.
Your abdominal muscles are responsible for maintain your body’s stability as well as engage your body’s hip rotation. If simple everyday tasks such as walking can engage your core, then why not implement sprints in your ab workout.
Haven’t you watched the Olympics and wondered, how the hell to those sprinters have such impressive core muscles, they are shredded. They most definitely spend time training their abs, however, sprints themselves are a really good way to train your abs.
Furthermore, sprinting is one of the most, if not the most, explosive trainings that you can do. There are studies that prove that just by doing one sprinting session you boost your metabolic rate for about 20-24 hours! This will help you reduce your body fat percentage and will help you naturally develop and tone your abdominal muscles.
How to: try integrating a sprint training once or twice a week where. Make sure that you do not do it more than that as this will most definitely lead to catabolism (your will lose muscle mass) and will lead to overtraining.
A sprinting session should be anywhere from 15-20 minutes. This does not mean that you are suppose to sprint for 15 minutes straight, but rather do interval trainings – preferably 30 seconds sprint and then 60 second rest. If you cannot manage doing these intervals, don’t worry, the more you train the better you get. If you have to you can do 10 second sprints, just work your way up.
Ab exercises will NOT help you make your abdominal muscles visible, however, they will truly help you develop and tone your abs so that they are more appealing.
Whenever you train no matter what muscle group from your body you need to be smart and think logically, your abdominals are no different. You abs are your body’s stabilization, they make sure that you retain your balance and are capable of performing every tasks such as walking, running and jumping without falling over yourself. As well as all of that they are the one muscle group responsible for spine flexion.
Using exercises that challenge the very function of the muscle group is what will help you develop strong and aesthetic core muscles.