Do you dream of having rock-solid abs that would make a Spartan warrior jealous? If so, you’re in luck! We’ve scoured the fitness world to bring you this guide for your abs workout, listing 22 exercises ranked from worst to best. You’ll find your favorites, the ones you’ve never tried, and those you didn’t know about. Be ready to challenge your core and start building a stronger, more defined six-pack. So grab your workout mat and get ready to feel the burn!
What you will learn in this article:
How are these exercises ranked?
Your abs are some of the most important muscles in your body. Located on the midsection, this muscle group works to support the trunk, allowing for movement while also serving as a protection shield for your organs. The exercises in this article are rated based on abdominal activity and all factors that can influence it. So if an exercise requires a lot of mobility to do it properly, it’s rated lower because you won’t be able to hit your abs effectively if you aren’t mobile enough.
The same counts for exercises that heavily rely on other muscles in the first place. If you can’t perform an exercise any longer because other muscles fatigue first, you won’t be able to train your abs that effectively. Of course this doesn’t mean that compound or complex movements don’t train your abs at all. It also doesn’t mean that you only have to use isolation exercises to train your abs effectively. But when it comes to pure ab training some exercises provide more benefits and less limitations than others. So it’s possible to build strong and well trained abs with these movements. But if your abdominals are your weak point and you have deficits in other abilities you simply can’t hit your abs as effectively as you could with other exercises.
Ab exercises: Rank D
We start with the first of our exercises ranked for your abs workout. The Sit up is just a bad alternative to the crunch. Moving your torso all the way up actually targets your hip flexors more than your abdominal muscles. Hip flexors are all the muscles, which flex your hip, including a part of your quad. If they become too overworked or tight, it can lead to lower back pain and even injury. Sit-ups also impose extremely high compression forces on the discs and vertebrae of the spine, especially in the lower back. In addition it’s very easy to cheat because many people rush sit-ups in an attempt to crank out as many reps as possible in a short timeframe.
Frontlever and Planche
We often receive mails from people that ask us if they have to train their abs to achieve these movements. The simple answer is clearly NO! The Frontlever is a Pull focused skill which requires lat strength in the first place. The planche is a push focused skill that requires shoulder strength. The ab activity in these movements is relatively low when compared to other muscles involved. In other words: your lats and shoulders will fatigue way before your abs are even close to it.
This exercise, among our exercises ranked for your abs workout, is actually pretty good for beginners, but it can’t hold a candle against the other exercises on the higher ranks. The Bird dog is more of a compound movement that requires coordination and strength in many different muscles like the glutes and the complete back. It’s great for back health and basic abdominal strength but not the holy grail of ab training.
Ab exercises: Rank C
Toes to the Bar
This exercise requires a lot of mobility to do it. If you can’t raise your straight legs all the way up without moving your torso out of its nearly vertical line you change this exercise to a more lat focused L-Lever Raise instead of an abdominal movement. But even if you have the necessary mobility, it can happen that you aren’t able to lift your legs any more because your quads are closer to fatigue than your abs. Straight leg movements in general require a lot of strength in your rectus femoris. This is the reason why many people experience leg cramps while doing these movements. Being mobile enough and having strong enough quads can move this exercise to a higher rated rank.
The same counts for the V-Up. The V-Up combines uplifting the torso from the sit up and the straight leg movement from toes to the bar. Besides abdominal strength It requires balance, mobility, hip flexor and quad strength. The positive thing about the V Up is that you raise your torso and your legs. This results in a contraction not only from your thoracic but also your lumbar spine. Done right it’s a great complex movement but it still suffers from some of the downsides mentioned before for the Sit Up and Toes to the Bar.
Here we got a similar problem as with the Frontlever and Planche. To be able to do a human flag you need a lot of strength in the muscles around your shoulder girdle. With the upper arm you pull your body upwards into a horizontal position and with the lower arm you push your body away from the ground. Only if these 2 movements work together you are able to hold a human flag.
If you got enough strength to raise your body to that position, your abs, mostly the obliques, come into play. They have to ensure that your legs don’t drop below the horizontal line. In addition The Human Flag also requires a lot of coordination and is not easy to do even if you got enough basic strength. All these points make the human flag a more complex than an abdominal focused exercise.
The last exercise on this rank are Windshield Wipers, which you can do in two different ways. For one execution you need enough mobility to do it right, similar to toes to the bar. For the other one you need a solid amount of lat strength because you do some kind of L-lever hold. This exercise is also a bit risky for your lower spine, because the more you lower your legs to the side the more shearing forces you create in that area.
Ab exercises: Rank B
This exercise is great for lower back stability and basic abdominal strength. Here you simply try to hold the tension in the lower part of your abdominals while alternatingly extending your legs. The more you extend your legs the longer the lever and the more your abs have to stabilize the lower spine. The only downside of this exercise is that it can be too easy for intermediates and advanced athletes and that you only do it with a strong focus on a static component. To solve this problem and move this exercise to the A list, you have to lift your shoulderblades off the ground and include the arms in the movement. Now your abs also have to hold the upper body. The movement of your arms increase the lever that your abs have to work against.
Here we mainly got a mix between a static and a dynamic movement. This is because you need enough abdominal strength to hold yourself in the basic plank position and you have to ensure that you tilt your pelvis backwards and alternately move your knees to your stomach. This is very important because without the right pelvis movement you won’t hit your abs effectively.
Now you might ask: Why in our list of exercises ranked for your abs workout is the plank only on Rank B? Well the basic plank is more of a beginner exercise and also uses other muscles like the serratus anterior, your hip flexors and quads. It’s a really good exercise but there are better ones when we take a look on ab activity.
They are placed one rank higher than toes to the bar because you need less mobility to do them. This doesn’t mean that they are quite easy, you still need a decent amount of mobility and quad strength to do them. In addition you also need some basic grip & forearm strength if you do the hanging version and basic support strength if you do them on parallel bars or rings. If you aren’t able to hold or support yourself anymore you have to stop the exercise even if your abs are able to do a couple more reps.
Heel taps are the next exercise and they are done in a static crunch position. This exercise is great for beginners and intermediates but could be too easy for advanced athletes. Another point we have to consider is the lateral bend in this movement. When you do a lateral flexion you hit the obliques, but in this case only against a low resistance of stretched antagonists.
In this movement all work is done by the rectus abdominis aka the six pack because you have to move your torso up. The lateral bend on the other hand is done with very low resistance. It’s the same as if you lift a dumbbell with your shoulder, extend and flex your arm and think this will hit your biceps. This exercise is not bad but not a good choice for oblique activation.
Here you move your legs up and down in a vertical plane. The goal is to lift your butt slightly off the ground and with that do a posterior pelvic tilt. This movement is necessary to activate the lower part of your abs and it’s also very spine friendly. With your legs above your hips you got nearly no shearing forces for your lower spine and also not that much hip flexor activation. The downside of this movement is that it’s hard to coordinate and that you also need some mobility if you do it with straight legs.
This, among all of our exercises ranked for your abs workout, is one of the few that includes a rotational component. You can do it with your legs on the ground, which is more of a beginner version. If you raise your legs off the ground it gets harder in terms of strength and coordination. Another way to increase the difficulty of this exercise is to lean more backwards and with that increase the lever. Avoid only moving your arms from one side to the other. Instead rotate your whole upper body from left to right.
The Dragon Flag is also more of a compound movement because it requires some lat and even triceps strength. When you grab the bench with your hands these muscles have to hold your entire body while your abs only have to stabilize your lower body. This exercise is also hard to do. If you don’t focus on proper abdominal tension, a straight spine and a posterior pelvic tilt you can easily fall into an arched back position and with that harm your lumbar spine.
This exercise requires a lot of abdominal but also lat, hip flexor and even chest strength. Like in the dragon flag it’s very important to aim for proper muscle tension and joint alignment. otherwise you can harm yourself easily in the short or long run. If you’ve never done it before you should try the version on knees first. This variation is way easier and doesn’t put that much pressure on your spine and shoulders.
Ab exercises: Rank A
Long Lever Plank
Now you might ask: Why is the long lever plank on Rank A but the Roll Out on Rank B. Well the most important difference is that you do this version of the plank on your forearms. This means you got a shorter lever for the upper body and with that less lat and chest activation. The roll out can be really hard for those muscles and it also puts a lot of pressure on your shoulders and elbows. In the long lever plank your forearms stay on the ground and with that you got nealy no elbow and way lower shoulder pressure.
In comparison to the Leg Raises you need nearly no mobility to do them. With this movement you can really focus on your abs and the posterior pelvic tilt. The Knee raise is one of the best exercises to target your lower abs. The only downside is that you have to hold or support yourself while raising your knees. If you aren’t able to do this anymore you have to stop the exercise even if your abs are able to do a couple more reps.
Side Plank Raise
This exercise is one of the best movements to target your obliques. To ensure that oblique activation you have to raise your body as much as possible while aiming for a lateral flexion of your spine. There are many ways to adapt this exercise to different levels like doing it on your knees or feet as well as on your forearms or hands.
It works similar like the knee raise but you don’t have to hang from a bar or support yourself. Here it’s very important to hold the tension at each point and don’t fall into an arched back. The more you extend your legs the bigger the lever and the harder it gets to maintain the right pelvis position.
Ab exercises: Rank S
Hollow Body Crunch
All right now it’s time for the S-Rank, the holy grail of ab training, the best of the best and here we got the last of our exercises ranked for your abs workout: the Hollow Body Crunch. It’s superior because of several reasons.
- First: you not only tilt your pelvis or raise your shoulderblades off the ground, you do both! So you aim for a maximum contraction between the muscle origin and insertion. This ensures a good mix between upper and lower rectus abdominis activity.
- Second: This exercise doesn’t require any mobility or heavily relies on other muscles. It’s Ab Training as pure as can be.
- Third: You can easily adapt it to your level. If it’s too hard just tuck your arms and legs. If it’s too easy extend your arms and legs a bit.
Ok, now you know the Pros and Cons for each of the 22 exercises. Of course you should not only focus on your abs but work your complete body evenly. One of the best ways to do this are our comprehensive workout programs you can get at calimove.com. Every Program comes as a step by step online course designed for different levels and different goals. Of course we included ab exercises from the S, A and B Ranks so that your workout is as effective as possible.
Whatch this video to learn the correct movements
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