Whether you’re the type to throw in 5 minutes of sit-ups and planks at the end of your leg session, or you have an entire day dedicated to destroying your abs, we all have our favourite exercises. But ab sessions are different to training other muscles. With most muscle groups, there tends to be a small collection of exercises that become the foundation of a workout. For the legs, it tends to be squats, leg presses and lunges. For the chest, it’s bench press, dumbbell press and flys. But when it comes to abs, there seems to be this never-ending catalogue of exercises and variations.

There are of course the most common exercises such as crunches, leg raises and planks, but even these exercises alone have at least 100 variations between them. So, amongst all of the available options, what are the best exercises for building your abs and how should we be focusing our time when trying to target our core muscles?

Thanks to a study using EMG (Electromyography – a diagnostic procedure that assesses the health of muscles and the nerve cells that control them), we now have a pretty good idea of not only what exercises we should be doing, but which exercises require the engagement of particular areas of the core muscles…

Best-Exercises-for-Building-Your-Abs 2

The Results

Rectus abdominis – These are the main, central ‘6 pack’ muscles running from the underneath of your chest to your groin.

  • Chin Up
  • Hanging Leg Raise
  • Ab Wheel
  • Swiss Ball Crunch

Internal oblique – These muscles are your core’s foundation muscles and go all the way around your back. Their main functions are supporting and compressing the abdomen, flexing and rotating anteriorly (forward and backward) and laterally (side-bending), and assisting in expiration.

  • Ab Wheel from Feet
  • Ab Wheel from Knees
  • Bodysaw
  • Tornado Ball Slam

External obliques – These muscles support and compress the abdomen, flex the vertebral column anteriorly and laterally, and also assist in forced expiration.

  • Ab Wheel from Feet
  • Hanging Leg Raise
  • Bodysaw
  • Turkish Get Up

Erector spinae – These rear muscles are responsible for extension of the spine, lateral flexion of the spine and maintaining correct curvature of the spine.

  • Kneeling Cable Lift
  • Landmine
  • Reverse Hyper
  • Tornado Ball Slam
  • Lumbar Extension

So there you have it. All of the best exercises for building great abs and core strength.

Credit: T-Nation

Best Abs Exercises

Abdominal exercises are not just for young guys that want to get an enviable six-pack from their gym workouts. Strengthening your abs is essential for everyone to help strengthen your core and protect your spine when doing everyday things in life, such as lifting and carrying heavy objects etc.

Building strong abdominals should be an integral part of any fitness regime, no matter whether you are new to exercising or a seasoned gym rat.

A strong core is a foundation that your whole body is built on, whether it is having good posture to prevent lower back pain issues from sitting all day at a desk, or being able to keep up with running around with the kids – your core is an essential physical element for everything from athletics to Zumba!

To ensure you include a wide range of abdominal exercises into your routine, here are some ideal moves for a beginner, intermediate and advanced gym-goer.

The plank exercise

The plank is an all-encompassing classic exercise that targets the whole core. Lying face down on the floor, raise your body onto your forearms and toes while holding a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.

The plank is easy to scale up for beginners. Hold for just 20 seconds, to begin with, and steadily work your way up to holding the plank longer each workout for a few seconds. Engage your core by tilting your pelvis back slightly to flatten your lower back. Try to avoid a curved lower back as this will put a strain on your spine.

Hand slide crunch

Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands on your thighs and slowly slide them up to your knees as you curl your head and torso upwards. Release slowly and gently lower your back and head to the floor.

This slow and controlled movement doesn’t need to be large or exaggerated. Focus on closing the space between your ribs and hips while keeping your lower back firmly connected to the floor. Start with a set of five crunches, slowly building up to 15 reps per set as your abdominals become stronger.

Reverse crunch

This is an excellent exercise for targeting your lower abs. You hold your muscles under contraction for a longer length of time, improving muscle strength and stamina in your lower abdominals.

Lie on your back and raise your legs off the floor with bent knees until your thighs are vertical. Pull in your abdominal muscles to move your knees into your chest while lifting your hips and bottom off the floor. Slowly release your contraction while lowering your hips back to the floor.

Grounded Russian twist

While having a six-pack is the goal for many, don’t forget that the obliques make up a significant part of your core. Often neglected, the obliques can be targeted by lifting and twisting exercises such as the Russian twist.

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and heels resting on the ground. Lean back so that your torso is at a 45-degree angle. Hold your chest up to prevent your back from hunching. Lace your fingers together and hold your arms out in front of you. Slowly twist your torso to one side, bringing your hands down to touch the floor and then return to the centre before repeating to the other side.

You can add more difficulty by holding a hand weight or adding an exercise band to provide more resistance as you progress. Or you can raise your heels off the floor and balance on your bottom while performing these moves to engage your lower abdominals.

Dying fly

This is an ideal abdominal exercise for the beginner or for those with existing neck or back pain or joint issues. Lie on your back with your arms extended to the ceiling. Bend your knees over your chest so your thighs are parallel to the floor and you resemble a dying fly.

Gently lower your right arm towards the ground while extending your left leg towards the wall, so your opposite limbs parallel the floor. Reverse the move back to the centre. Repeat with your left arm and right leg. These moves should be done slowly and smoothly in a controlled way to create resistance in your abdominals. Focus on building up to three sets of five reps on each side.

Leg raises

This is a classic abdominal exercise that targets the much neglected lower abs. Lie down flat on your back, keeping your legs as straight as possible. If you find this causes you any back pain, bend your knees a little to make it easier on your back.

Raise your legs until they are as vertical as you can get them. Slowly lower your legs back to the floor and repeat. Keep your lower back flat on the floor and prevent your lumbar spine from arching off the floor.

For absolute beginners, you can start by tucking your knees in and starting with your legs raised over your hips. Slowly lower your feet to the floor before returning to the beginning. Once this leg raise style becomes easy, start to straighten your legs out from the knees and keep them straighter when returning to the top. You can keep your back supported by tucking your hands under your bottom to keep your lower back firmly on the floor. Start with five reps and aim towards building up to 15.

Bent-knee wiper

This is a great exercise that targets the lower abdominals and obliques. Lie on your back with your arms spread out to the side. Curl your knees into your chest with your back and hips flat on the floor. Slowly lower your knees to one side towards the floor, stopping about 15cm from the floor. Hold this position for 3 to 4 seconds before slowly returning your knees to the centre and then slowly lowering them to the opposite side.

This is a slow and steady motion that should be keeping your abs engaged and under tension the whole time. Keep your head, neck, shoulders and arms flat on the floor at all times to prevent them from lifting as you twist to each side.