SDSU Study Reveals... The 10 Best Ab Exercises

What are the best ab exercises?

The New Year is here! It's time to maximize your workout with the best ab exercises ever.

If you're brave, you've donned your trunks or swim suit, studied your bod in the mirror, and realized (yet again) that...

fat is a migratory beast.

Don't let the beast get the better of you. There's still time to whip those abs into shape. Whether you're trying to deflate that spare tire or flatten your tummy - all you need is expert advice - and iron resolve.

Ab-solute Crunch Time

Your time is limited... your gut is boundless. Do I have good news for you! You don't have to do endless crunches or invest in the latest ab gadgets to get results. Haven't you heard? The traditional crunch is still putting the squeeze on the ab-gadget competition. [1]

According to research conducted by kinesiologists Sternlicht, and Rugg - the Ab Roller, AB-Doer, and the Torso Track elicit significantly LESS abdominal muscle activity than the traditional crunch! The Torso Track did engage the obliques well on the highest resistance setting but some participants complained of lower back discomfort after using it.

In a similar study, Dr. Peter Francis and his team of researchers at the Biomechanics Laboratory at San Diego State University, scientifically analyzed and ranked 10 abdominal exercises and 3 gadgets for effectiveness (results for the rectus and obliques are tabled separately. Gadget data omitted.) [2]

Click here for detailed photo descriptions of the highest ranked exercises!

Table 1: Best Ab Exercises (Rectus)

Best Ab Exercises (Rectus Chart)

Table 2: Best Ab Exercises (Obliques)

Best Ab Exercises (Obliques Chart)

(What in the world do the numbers "Mean"? - Researchers used electromyography (EMG) to monitor and record abdominal muscle activity during each exercise. The percentages were averaged and then normalized to the traditional abdominal crunch... the baseline for the comparison.)

Here's how it works. Look at the #1 ranked exercise on the rectus abdominus chart. The mean % of activity in the bicycle maneuver is 248 and the traditional crunch is 100. That means the bicycle exercise generated 148% more activity than the traditional crunch at 100%.

It's an official no-brainer. Choose from our list of best ab exercises - which substantially engage your abdominals - and you're sure to see a difference. Dr. Francis recommends doing 5 minutes of abdominal training a day from the top three or four slots.

If you already have a decent ab routine in place, consider taking it up a notch by adding weighted or resistance maneuvers (like weighted ball crunches, decline crunches, cable crunches, etc.) Increasing the resistance will make your abdominal muscles work harder.

Click here for detailed photo descriptions of the highest ranked exercises!

Best Ab Exercises Collage

Reality Check... and Iron Resolve

Ok. Let me give it to you straight. You're not going to transform your body if your favorite mantra is "pass me another oreo." If you really want a flat sexy stomach, or chiseled abs... you're gonna have to work for it. That's where the iron resolve comes in handy.

Tips For A Flatter Stomach:

  • Increase your resting metabolic rate (RMR)

  • Decrease your caloric intake

  • Include exercises that target your large muscles groups (i.e. squats, pull-ups, kneeling lat pull downs, dead lifts, lunges). This will kick up your metabolism and decrease your midsection.

  • Vacuum as often as possible (pull your belly button to your spine and hold for 30-90 second intervals).

  • Include the best ab exercises in your routine 5-7 days a week, 3 days for maintenance.

Back to the top


  1. Sternlicht, E., S. Rugg. Electromyographic Analysis of Abdominal Muscle Activity Using Portable Abdominal Exercise Devices and Traditional Crunch. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. (17)3: 463-468. 2003. (See note below.)
  2. Note: The Perfect Abs by Guthy-Renker was the only piece of ab equipment tested that significantly engaged the rectus and obliques. If you think an ab machine will motivate you, this may be worth your investment. You can buy them on Craig's List and Ebay all day long for about 20 bucks. Use this the Perfect Abs in the supine position only (medium to high resistance setting) for best results... and remember to incorporate the best ab exercises into your regime.

  3. Francis, P.R., F.W. Kolhorst, M. Pennuci, R.S. Pozos, and M.J. Buono. An electromyographic approach to the evaluation of abdominal exercises. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. 5(4):9-14. 2001. ACE Website. Accessed July 2009.

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