The 3 Best Ab Exercises: 5 Experts Weigh In

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Written by Benjamin Smith | Last Updated October 31st, 2019
Benjamin Smith is a Content Management Specialist for Best Company. With a background in Public Relations and Spanish Language Studies, Benjamin enjoys creating engaging content for all audiences. When away from the office, most commonly you will find Benjamin enjoying the great outdoors, singing, or experimenting on a new recipe in the kitchen.

Man doing pushups with weights

Are you trying to strengthen your core? Are you getting bored relying on sit-ups and crunches to get your ab workout in? Did you know there are alternate exercises that not only give better results, but are better for your body?

Disclaimer: There are!

The following five experts share their top three ab exercises. No two experts share the exact same three exercises, but the overlap is telling. Here’s what you can be doing at home to strengthen and tone your abs:

Caleb Backe, Certified Personal Trainer and Health Expert for Maple Holistics

  • Plank — In order to make the most of your body weight during the plank exercise, you’ll want to ensure that you’re holding the position in the right form. Place your hands directly under your shoulders with your hands just slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Ground your toes before pushing yourself up. Make sure that you’re not locking your knees in the process. Neutralize your neck and ensure that your head is in line with your spine.
  • Flutter kicks — Flutter kicks work your lower abs which are often neglected in ab workouts. Lying down on a mat, place your hands by your sides. Press your lower back into the floor and lift your legs slightly off the floor. While pointing your toes, bring one foot slightly higher up and then the other repeatedly. Your feet should be fluttering alternatively without touching the floor. Continue for 30 seconds ensuring your core is fully engaged.
  • Russian twists — Target your obliques with Russian twists. Sit on the floor with your knees slightly bent in front of you. Lean back slightly and lift your heels off the floor. Engage your abs and rotate to the left, touching your fingertips to the floor. Switch sides and keep alternating for 60 seconds or 10 reps. If you want to increase the difficulty of this workout, hold weights in your hands or a medicine ball.

Melissa Morris, Exercise Physiologist and Sports Nutritionist from Exercise.com

  • Planks — Planks are a great core stability exercise. There are modifications to make it easier or more challenging, and it’s easy to progress by holding the position for a longer duration.
  • Superman/Back Extensions — Superman/back extensions are important for the strength and stability of the low-back.
  • Bicycles — Bicycles activate the side or oblique core muscles.

woman doing crunches ab workout

Robert Herbst, Personal Trainer, Wellness Expert, and World Champion Powerlifter with w8lifterusa.com

Herbst has a different perspective when looking to strengthen the core. He says, “The best ab exercises are not really ab exercises, but work the abs statically because your abs act to keep your torso upright. Otherwise, you would fold like a chair. These include exercises such as squats, lunges, military press, and even curls. While they are aimed at other body parts, the abs get a lot of work. A specific ab exercise that works the abs statically is planks and their variations. These are superior to doing a zillion crunches or twists because they do not stress the lumbar spine and discs.”

So what does he recommend?

  • squats
  • lunges
  • military presses
  • curls
  • planks

Mike Sheety, Director at ThatShirt

  • Bicycle crunches — This is extremely effective and can be learned with ease. As your strength increases, you can modify the exercise to increase the difficulty. You start by laying down on your back and raise your knees and feet so they are off the ground, roughly a 90-degree angle. Place your hands behind your neck for support, but be sure not to pull on your neck. Raise your shoulders and upper back off the ground. Now, you pump your legs as if you were riding a bike.
  • Russian twist — This is great for not only targeting your core but also for strengthening your muscles along your spine to minimize pain. You begin seated with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lean back so your upper body is roughly 45 degrees from the ground, and place your arms across your chest gently. Now, rotate and twist your entire top half to the left and then to the right.
  • Captains chair — This is a great piece of equipment to use especially for your abs. There are a variety of movements you can do to improve your core strength and definition. It is pretty much a chair without a seat, you ultimately hold your weight on your forearms while you perform, crunches (lifting your knees or straight legs to hip height) or bicycle (pumping your legs as you would on a bike) etc.

Dr. Tom Biggart, Physical Therapist, Strength and Training Coach from EBM Fitness Solutions

  • Planks — Most people, even fit individuals, do not perform these properly. Start in the modified plank position (knees on the ground and shoulders over the elbows). Set your neutral low back position. Brace the abs. Straighten the legs and hang out for a while. If you feel your low back, it means you have lost your position. Go back to the modified position and hold here. If the back discomfort goes away, reset the low back position and try straightening the legs again. The key to succeeding at planks is a proper setup. If you set up properly, you have a chance.
  • Ball rollouts — Start in a tall kneeling position with your arms straight, resting on top of the ball. Do not start with the ball too close to you or you will be laying on top of the ball at the end of the motion, making the exercise ineffective. Keep your hips forward and elbows straight. Fall forward and push the ball out in front of you. Do not bend the elbows or bend at the hips. Rollout as far as you can while maintaining your neutral spine position. Pull back to the start position. Keep the elbows straight and hip forward (stay tall) on the return to the start position.
  • Rotational punches — Grab the pulley and keep it close to the chest to start. The key to performing this movement correctly is rotating through the hip that is closest to the pulley. Focus on three things:
    • Step — The lead leg steps out 90 degrees.
    • Turn — The back hip turns. The back foot MUST spin on the ball of the foot to unlock the hip.
    • Punch — Punch straight out in front of the arm, not across the body. All three steps occur almost simultaneously. The turn of the hip and trunk drives the punch.

woman planking exercise

So what are the top three ab exercises?

Though there were differences in opinion between these experts, the following three recommended exercises were repeated:

  • Plank
  • Russian twist
  • Bicycle crunch

If you have not been using these exercises in your core workouts, give them a try along with the other recommended exercises. You can choose how you treat your body. Try some of these exercises today and start taking even better care of yourself.

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