The Best Exercises For Abs

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “what’s the best way to work your abs?”

Most people who ask are concerned about aesthetics – they want to get a six pack – but core training can be functional too. That’s why the best ab exercises will do much more for you than just help you get the washboard look (which has more to do with diet anyway).

Abs and Functionality

In order to understand why certain exercises are better than others, you must first understand the role that your abs play in the musculoskeletal system. The abs (or rectus abdominus as they are technically known) function primarily as a stabilizer muscle – they keep your torso upright while you’re standing, walking or performing other movements. For this reason, the best way to work your abs is to use them to stabilize your trunk in difficult positions. Rather than attempting to isolate them with crunches, I’ve found it more satisfying (and effective) to work my abs in the context of my entire body.

Top Three Exercises for Abs
While it’s hard to say any one exercise is the best for abdominal training, these three are all arguably in the running:

The Plank
Think of your abs as a bridge that connects your upper body to your legs. Since you’re in a horizontal position when performing a plank, your abs will have to work considerably harder to keep your body properly aligned than when you are simply standing or walking. The plank is typically held isometrically while balancing on your elbows and toes, but part of what makes planks so great is that they can be modified to suit all fitness levels.

Novices can start on their knees, instead of their toes, while intermediate level trainees can try lifting up an arm and/or a leg. When you get the hang of that, you can start experimenting with planking on an unstable surface. For another variation, try bringing your knees to your chest one at a time while holding a plank.

Hanging Leg Raises
Hanging leg raises require tremendous abdominal strength and stability. In addition to keeping your body stable (swinging is a no-no), the abdominal muscles must also work to lift your legs up during this exercise. See my hanging leg raise exercise tutorial for more information.

The L-Sit
Try doing a hanging leg raise and stop when your legs are extended at a right angle to your torso. While an L-sit is typically performed with the hands resting on the ground (or holding parallettes), holding your body in the “L” position is a difficult task in either position.

Though most commonly seen in gymnastics, the L-sit is a great exercise for anyone who is serious about building core strength. Like the plank, it is often held in a fixed position for a given amount of time. When you get comfortable with the L-sit, you may be ready for advanced core exercises like levers, dragon flags or the planche.

ABS – Always Be Stabilizing
Any time you have to stabilize your torso, your abs get a workout. That’s why core strength is such a huge part of performing even basic bodyweight exercises like push-ups and pull-ups. With bodyweight training, you’re always working your abs.

Watch the video below for more:

36 thoughts on “The Best Exercises For Abs

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  • By Stefan -

    We like the same ab exercises :)

    I’ve noticed some strange carryovers to abs too (pretty much the so called WTH-effect). For instance, I remember the first I got a full hanging leg raise, I hadn’t even trained my abs in weeks! I had been on a strict diet of pullups and military presses.

    There seem to be a lot of different opinion on how much ab work one should do, some say every day, some even say never. What’s your take Al?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      You can absolutely work your abs just be doing pull-ups and military presses, Stefan.

      In terms of training volume and frequency, however, everyone’s got to find what works for them. I don’t do ab-specific exercises more than a couple of times per week, but when you consider that abs are involved in practically everything, I wind up working them daily.

  • By Patrick (MDA) -

    Yet more great stuff, Al!

    I find it almost impossible (currently) to do a L-sit on the ground, but I seem to be able to do them from a raised parallel surface (bathtub edges, for instance). Does that have to do with hand/finger strength at all, or was it because the weight of my legs caused me to be at a slight downward angle, removing some of the weight of my legs and thus making it easier?

    All the best,

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Patrick!

      I think it’s normal to be able to hold an L-sit on bars much longer than you can on the ground. Finger strength aside, the mechanics of an L-sit on the ground are different than on parallel bars. When you are holding onto the bars, you don’t need to keep your legs and hips as high, plus you can lean back a little bit without tipping over.

  • By Paul Kerr -

    Excellent!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Paul!

  • By Chris Derbidge -

    Nice Videos and well done!!

    I see you have a good static that works the Transverse Abdominal. Also you have three variations of the Hanging leg raise that each work the Rectus and Oblique Abdominals, but not as a primary muscles. The primary muscles are your hip flexors and qauds. They will however work the abs well because the weight of your legs and hips is very small for the primary muscles being worked. To make a more complete ab workout you should add Dragon Flags for the Advance Trainer and Jackknifes for all training levels. Make sure to place emphasis on the stretched extension of the jackknifes for a good abdominal stretch. The stretching portion is often left out on many exercises, yet it it always an important part of the ROM to obtain maximum results in hypertrophy.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Chris! And thanks for your input – the jackknife is a good one!

  • By Hdlinkz -

    If you are just starting out with these abdominal exercises, make sure that you do not overdo them. Let your body be your guide when performing these exercises. Remember to continuously breathing while performing the exercises.

  • By That_asianguy -

    hey al with all the plank exercises; how long do you recommend doing each set, and how many sets all up?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Beginners should aim for a 30 second hold, advanced plankers may work up to several minutes at a time. Feel free to do as many sets as you like until you feel like you’ve thoroughly pushed yourself.

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  • By jmb -

    just found your site. The stuff you have on it is plain awesome!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks!

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  • By Peter Caisse -

    I just got an ab wheel and it’s kicking my ass. Very good and cheap product.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Yeah the wheel is another good one.  As far as equipment goes, it’s definitely one of the better things you could own.

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  • By Hanz Diaz -

    Been working on my planks. Def a butt kicker, I haven’t done any crunches.

    Planks w/ different variations

    Plank on med balls
    Plank feet elevated / Single leg
    Plank with 45lb plate on back
    etc

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Sounds good, Hanz!  Keep it up!

  • Pingback: Best Abs Exercise is No Abs Exercise? | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page 2

  • By Mike Serro -

    hey Al, 

    Any way to mimick stability ball planks like this out in the real world, other than grabbing a giant wobbly Mushroom cap?

    Thanks for the inspiration Al-sensei

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Haha – the giant mushroom sounds like a good idea!  Seriously though, if you don’t have a stability ball I would just focus on hanging leg raises and L-sits once the other plank variations get too easy.

  • By abdominal exercises -

    Hey id just like to say an absolutely fantastic post, so many people do not understand the importance of isometric exercises and building core strength.
    Also to add to this some HIIT (high intensity interval training) can be very effective to help burn fat for long periods after your workout has finished.

  • Pingback: The Best Three Exercises For Abs | thisisspartastrength.com

  • By Personal training programs -

    It looks simple but that is actually a tough workout.very useful, thanks!!

  • By sprint training -

    -Arms should be held with relaxed fingers and the main focus of effort should be a backward stroke. They should also not move very far forward from the body.

  • By Leigh -

    I’ve heard also – “abs are made in the kitchen” 😉

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Yep – I’ve heard that one, too, Leigh!  It’s a great quote!

  • By SSJ -

    Another way of making planks more difficult is by extending your arms. You know like Jack Lallane pushups? Those require very good ab stability.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Good call. 

  • By chicago weight loss -

    My father also got foot pain and does not got it cure, as above i know your 
    story i think we should do simple steps to get cure and do basic exercise
    to get active.

  • By Des Moines Personal Trainer -

    This is good for those student not go to long time
    distance to examination hall, so i think this is good way
    to do this.

  • By Gold Coast Health Club -

    nice clips for 6 pack 
    thanx.

  • By gcse physics coursework -

    This man have amazing phisical training and could do any exercise on any construction. 

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