Best Ab Exercises
Do you know what the best ab exercises are if you want good looking abs? Most people struggle to get that six pack look, so if this is a problem area for you, then you are in good company.
There are two reasons that people struggle to get that beautiful flat stomach. The first is body fat – if you have a layer of lard covering your abs, it doesn’t matter how strong they are, no one will ever see them.
Therefore the first step to good-looking abs is to modify your diet to strip away the excess fat. The second is to do the exercises that work, well...the best.
Until recently that was hard to achieve, because there was no clear evidence of exactly which were truly the best ab exercises. Everyone had their favorites, but these were based more on personal preference than anything else.
Fortunately, that discussion has been put to rest by a recent piece of research.
In order to determine the best ab exercises, researchers at the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University looked at 13 different abs exercises, from traditional crunches through to more complicated activities that required equipment, rating them on the amount of muscle stimulation they produced in both the rectus abdominus (the muscle that runs along the front of the abdomen) and the internal and external obliques (the muscles that extend along the sides of the abdomen)1.
In order to give a meaningful score they used the traditional crunch as a baseline, giving it a score of 100. The exercises they tested were ranked as follows (scores in brackets):
Rectus Abdominus Stimulation:
1 Bicycle Maneuver - 248
2 Captain’s Chair - 212
3 Exercise Ball - 139
4 Vertical Leg Crunch - 129
5 Torso Track - 127
6 Long Arm Crunch - 119
7 Reverse Crunch - 109
8 Crunch with Heel Push - 107
9 Ab Roller - 105
10 Hover - 100
11 Traditional Crunch - 100
12 Exercise Tubing Pull - 92
13 Ab Rocker - 21
Internal and External Obliques Stimulation:
1 Captain’s Chair - 310
2 Bicycle Maneuver - 290
3 Reverse Crunch - 240
4 Hover - 230
5 Vertical Leg Crunch - 216
6 Exercise Ball - 147
7 Torso Track - 145
8 Crunch with Heel Push - 126
9 Long Arm Crunch - 118
10 Ab Roller - 101
11 Traditional Crunch - 100
12 Exercise Tubing Pull - 77
13 Ab Rocker - 74
While small differences – say, less than 25% - are not significant, some of these differences are quite dramatic. The leading exercises are rated as two to three times more effective than the basic crunch, and up to ten times more effective than the worst! With differences this big, it clearly makes a huge difference what you do.
It is also interesting that the ab rocker, found in most gyms and health clubs and widely advertised on late night TV, came in last in both tests, only 10% as effective as the Bicycle Maneuver or the Captain’s Chair for working the rectus abdominus.
So What are the Best Ab Exercises?
If you combine the results of the two muscle groups combined, the most effective exercises are the bicycle maneuver, followed closely by the captain’s chair.
Crunches on an exercise ball ranked third overall, but the researchers also noted that although crunches on an exercise ball scored slightly lower than the top two exercises, they generated significantly less activity in the rectus femoris, (one of the four quadriceps muscles, required for hip flexion) leading researchers to conclude that they are arguably, the best overall exercise.
If you are planning your abs workout, there would seem to be little point in using the ab rocker, or indeed choosing any exercise from the bottom half of the lists. The best strategy would be to choose several of the exercises from the top-third of the list and doing a five-minute session daily.
A good mix would be:
• Exercise Ball Crunches
• Captain’s Chair
• Bicycle Maneuvers
• Reverse Crunches
• Vertical Leg Crunches.
Of course, this is not an all inclusive list – newer variations like BOSU and stability discs don’t feature – but based on the research it would seem likely that the lack of stability of these devices would engage the muscles and provide a workout that would likely score in the top half of the list.
Finally, for those looking to focus more on the lower back, it’s worth remembering that the muscles of the lower back respond a little differently to the stomach muscles, so static exercises like the plank or side plank are very effective.
Combine static low back exercises with some of the best ab exercises and you will have the right recipe to build a strong core.
1Anders, Mark. "New Study Puts the Crunch on Abdominal Exercises." ACE Fitness Matters Magazine, 14 May 2001.
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