Photo-Descriptions of The
Best Ab Exercises





the best ab exercises - stability ball crunch

Looking for a list of the best ab exercises? Then check out this study...

In 2001, Dr. Peter Francis and his team of researchers at the Biomechanics Laboratory at San Diego State University (SDSU) scientifically analyzed and ranked 10 abdominal exercises for effectiveness. (More... details of the study)

Detailed photo-descriptions of the best ab exercises are provided for you below.

If you have limited time, focus on the highest ranked exercises first: bicycle exercise, captains chair, stability ball crunch, reverse crunch (level 1), (level 2), (level 3), vertical leg crunch, and the plank (hover). Shoot for five minutes a day.

The percentages from the SDSU study are included for comparison. These numbers represent the percentage of abdominal muscle that's activated during each exercise. Keep in mind that the traditional crunch was used as the baseline for comparison and track the percentages accordingly. For example, the bicycle generated 248% rectus activity. That means it engages 148% more abdominal muscle activity than the traditional crunch.



Looking for more of a challenge?
Check out our "Best Ab Workout: Series 2"



Note for beginners: If you are doing these exercises correctly, they will be very challenging. Start with the suggested sets and reps first and then make adjustments. Every move should be slow and controlled.





Bicycle Exercise

Bicycle Exercise - Step 1Bicycle Exercise - Step 2

The best ab exercise #1: The bicycle exercise was ranked the #1 exercise for the rectus (generating 148% more muscle activity in the abdominal area than the traditional crunch) and the #2 for the obliques (generating 190% more abdominal muscle activity)

  • Lie down on your mat placing your fingertips behind your head for support.
  • Pull your belly button toward your spine
  • Legs mimic a pedaling motion while elbows move diagonally across the body to touch the knee on the opposite side (left knee to right elbow, right knee to your left elbow)
  • Breath evenly throughout the exercise

Beginner: 1 set of 20 (each knee to elbow is one count)

Precaution: Be careful not to pull on your neck






Captain's Chair


Captain's Chair Exercise

The best ab exercise #2: The Captain's Chair is the #1 ranked exercise for the obliques (210% more activity) and #2 for the rectus (112% more activity).

  • Step up to the chair, place your back firmly against the support, and grasp the handles for stability
  • Stabilize your core by pulling your belly button toward your spine
  • Slowly raise bent legs until your thighs are parallel to the floor and lower back again (2 count up and 2 count down)
  • Exhale as you lift, inhale as you lower

Beginner: 1-2 sets of 6

Precaution: Avoid swinging your legs or using inertia to lift or lower legs; avoid arching your back as this may cause injury.






Stability Ball Crunch

Stability Ball Crunch - Step 1Stability Ball Crunch - Step 2

The best ab exercise #3: The stability ball crunch ranked #3 (researchers recorded 39% more rectus activity and 47% more oblique activity than in the traditional crunch). According to the stats, Dr. Francis identified the ball crunch as "the best overall exercise" for the abs.

  • Start by sitting on the ball. Walk your body forward until your thighs and torso are parallel to the floor. Place feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, fingertips behind your head for support
  • Pull your belly button toward your spine, and slowly flex forward with your upper torso
  • Exhale up; inhale down

Beginner: 1 set of 10

Advanced: Place your feet closer together to challenge your obliques, or increase resistance by adding weights.

Precaution: Keep your neck in the neutral position.



Neutral Position (Definition): If you can place your fist between your chin and chest, your head and neck are properly aligned. This is called neutral position.







Reverse Crunch

Standard Reverse Crunch - Step 1Standard Reverse Crunch - Step 2

The best ab exercise #4: The reverse crunch is the #3 ranked exercise for obliques (it generates 140% more activity than the traditional crunch) and the #6 for the rectus (only 9% more activity). Here's a basic reverse crunch and two of my favorite variations.

Reverse Crunch (Level I - Beginner)

  • Lie down on your mat with your hands at your sides
  • Extend your legs straight up (90 degrees from your chest), bend knees slightly
  • Contract your abdominals (pull your belly button toward your spine)
  • Use your abdominals to raise your hips off the mat, and lift your legs toward the ceiling in one smooth, controlled movement
  • Exhale up; inhale down

Beginner: 1 set of 6-8

Precaution: Avoid using momentum to help you lift, keep your back pressed into the floor (i.e. no arching), and neck in neutral position.






Reverse Crunch (Level 2 - Intermediate)

Reverse Crunch Curl - Step 1Reverse Crunch Curl - Step 2
  • Lie down on your mat with your hands at your sides, knees at a 90 degree angle, head and shoulders lifted slightly off the mat
  • Stabilize your core by pulling your belly button toward your spine
  • Use your abdominals to raise your hips off the mat and curl your pelvis back toward your head. Return to start position
  • Exhale as you curl, inhale as you lower

Beginner: 1 set of 6-8

Option B: Grip an exercise or medicine ball between your legs and do the crunch.

Precaution: Avoid using momentum to help you lift, keep your back pressed into the floor (i.e. no arching), and neck in neutral position.



Reverse Crunch (Level 3 - Advanced)

Reverse Crunch (Advanced) - Step 1Reverse Crunch (Advanced) - Step 2
  • Start by sitting on the bench in a v-sit position (knees bent, feet flat on bench, leaning slightly back, gripping bench for stability)
  • (Step 1) Contract your abs while pulling your knees toward your chest
  • (Step 2) Extend your legs and lean back drawing your torso and knees away from each other
  • Exhale during contraction, inhale during extension

Option B: Grip an exercise or medicine ball between your legs and do the crunch.

Precaution: Keep your head and neck in neutral position.






Vertical Leg Crunch

Vertical Leg Crunch - Step 1Vertical Leg Crunch - Step 2

The best ab exercise #5: The vertical leg crunch ranked #5 for the rectus (116% more muscle activity than the traditional crunch) and #4 for the obliques (29% more activity).

  • Lie down on your mat, face up, with your hands behind your head for support
  • Extend your legs toward the ceiling and hold (cross your ankles if it's more comfortable)
  • Stabilize your core by pulling your navel in toward your spine
  • Lift your torso toward your knees (your head, and shoulders should clear the mat). Return to the starting position.
  • Exhale up; inhale down

Beginner: 1 set of 5 reps

Precaution: Keep your neck in a neutral position and elbows open (parallel to floor).






Plank Exercise (Hover)

The Plank (Hover)

The best ab exercise #6: The plank exercise ranked #4 for the obliques (130% more muscle activity) and #8 for the rectus (same % of muscle activity as the traditional crunch). This exercise is a pose-hold. It's easier than it looks... trust me.

  • Lie face down on your mat
  • Lift your body - resting your weight on your forearms and toes
  • Hold or 'hover' - keeping your body in a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles
  • Return to starting position

Beginner: 1 set - 30 second hold

Advanced: Do the plank on a stability ball. Work up to 60 seconds... or better yet, 90. I double-dog dare you!

Precaution: Keep your bum in line with the rest of your body. If possible, do this exercise in front of a mirror to make sure your body says 'plank'... not 'spank.'






Vacuum Exercise


Complete strangers have asked me...
"How do you get your stomach so flat?"

The most convenient "best ab exercise" [Editor's Choice]: When friends, family, and yes... complete strangers... ask me, "How do you get your stomach so flat?" I tell them, "I vacuum." The most unique aspect of this exercise is it's convenience. Get in the habit of vacuuming. You'll love the results.

  • Exhale as you pull your belly button toward your spine. Hold for 60-90 seconds breathing normally throughout the hold
  • Do as many of these throughout the day as you can (in the car, at the grocery store, at your desk, on the phone)

Beginner: 2 sets - 60 second hold

Advanced: Improve your core strength, abdominal muscle tone, and posture by holding your stomach in all day long. That's right... all day! It's an excellent habit to get into, and a practical addition to our very best ab exercises.






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