How to Get the Best Abs

Build Great Abs

Abs exercise
Abs Exercise. (c) Getty Images/ Rapideye/Velta

Your abdominal muscles (abs) are at the front and side of the abdomen around the stomach area. The big muscles here are the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominus and the obliques - the abs.

If you are an athlete, strong abdominal muscles help you twist, bend or turn your upper body, and, help you ensure a strong back and freedom from injury during vigorous upper-body movement. And if you're not, strong abs can still help you with superior physical function in everyday life.

Well-defined abs also help create a pleasing body shape for men and women featuring a slim waist and, for those that have the body and genetics to attain it, that 'washboard stomach' look.

Here are my top exercises for the abdominal muscles. (It's worth noting that full-body exercises like the deadlift and squat also work the abdominals strongly.)

Combo Crunch

The combination or combo crunch is performed while lying on the floor. The bent knees are bought up toward the stomach while at the same time the shoulders are lifted from the floor. Both movements emphasize the abdominal muscles.

The Exercise Movement

  1. Lie on your back on the ground on a suitable exercise mat or towel.
  2. Legs should be bent at the knees, and crossed at the ankles if this assists you in the leg lift (see photo). Crossed ankles are not essential.
  3. You can start with feet resting on the floor or slightly elevated as in the photo.
  1. Hands can be clasped behind the head or folded across the chest, or even extended beyond the head if you want to make the exercise exceptionally difficult.
  2. Brace the abdominal muscles but don't hollow in the stomach.
  3. Inhale, ready for the exercise movement.

Bicycle Crunch

The Bicycle Crunch is the best abs exercise according to research done to uncover the best exercises you can do to activate the rectus abdominus.

A study done at San Diego State University compared thirteen common abdominal exercises in an effort to determine the best. Each exercises was ranked for muscle stimulation--measured with EMG--in the rectus abdominis, the external obliques and internal obliques. Learn more about the study: How to Exercise the Abs.

The Exercise Movement

  1. Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground and contract your core muscles.
  2. With your hands gently holding your head, lift your knees to about a 45-degree angle.
  3. Slowly, at first, go through a bicycle pedal motion.
  4. Alternately touching your elbows to the opposite knees as you twist back and forth.
  5. Breath evenly throughout the exercise.

Captain's Chair

The Captain's chair or hanging leg raise workstation is a workout frame used in many gyms. The two chair arms support your bodyweight while you raise the legs. The exercise targets the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis), the hip flexors (iliopsoas) and the external obliques -- muscles that run down the sides of the abdomen.

A more difficult hanging leg raise can be done while hanging from a pullup bar.

The Exercise Movement

  1. Stand in the captain's chair frame with arms resting on the chair arms. Grasp the upright handles if your model has them.
  2. Ensure a firm position with the arms because you will be lifting your bodyweight from the floor.
  3. Make sure you breathe in ready for the leg raise.
  4. Brace the abdominal muscles at the midriff.

The Plank

The Plank is an exercise for strengthening and firming the core muscles, especially the abdominal muscles. It gets the name from the position of the body across the balancing points of the forearms and the toes. The image on the right shows the basic position plus the more advanced exercise that involves raising one leg. This adds to the difficulty, and you should start with the basic exercise before tackling this advanced feature.

The Exercise Movement

  1. Lie face down on the floor.
  2. Raise the body up with the forearms while balancing the lower body on the toes.
  3. Do not sag around the abdominal region. Keep the body as rigid as possible.
  4. To hold this position, you will notice that you need to brace and contract the abdominal muscles.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds (less if that's all you can do), lower and then raise again. Do 10 repetitions or less to start with.
  6. Alternatively, hold until failure (you flop down), or three minutes, whatever comes first. Do three of these in a set. You will feel the abs burn.
  7. Test yourself to find what your maximum time to hold the Plank position is, then try to beat it as you develop strength. If you can hold for three minutes, you are doing well.
  8. You can add alternate leg lifts as you get stronger to the procedure described above.

If you need more guidance on weight training please refer to the beginner's guide.

Continue Reading