Some of the most common inquires in fitness revolve around how to get flat, toned or strong abdominals. There are a variety of ways to accomplish these goals, usually involving a combination of diet, cardio exercise and strength-training exercise. But genetics also determine the size, strength and tone of your abs. One thing that is consistent across the board is that to achieve these goals, you need to work every muscle in your core -- and that means doing exercises that target your deep abdominals and rectus abdominus, or six-pack muscles, as well as your obliques on the sides of your torso. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends training your abs three times per week on non-consecutive days.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) conducted a study that examined the best abdominal exercises for engaging the rectus abdominus and the obliques. Bicycle crunches were first on the list for rectus abdominus activation and second on the list for oblique activation, making them ideal for total-abdominal training. To perform bicycle crunches, lie on your back with your hands supporting the back of your neck and your knees up and bent. twist your upper body to touch your right elbow to your left knee, with your right leg extended straight and off the ground. Then, twist in the other direction and switch legs to touch your left elbow to your right knee. Continue alternating legs with elbows to mimic bike riding. Start with three sets of 15 on each side.
Captain's Chair Leg Lifts
The Captain’s Chair is a piece of equipment that allows you to support yourself on your elbows, with your legs dangling, so you can do leg lifts with your upper body supported. According to the ACExercise study, Captain's Chair leg lifts are first on the list for oblique activation and second on the list for rectus abdominus activation. To perform this exercise, come up onto the chair on your elbows. Start by bending your knees and tucking them up to your chest. Hold that position for a second and then slowly lower your legs until they are dangling below you. For a more advanced move, try keeping your legs straight as you lift your legs as high as you can go. Start with three sets of 15.
Hanging Leg Lifts
Hanging leg lifts are a progression from the Captain’s Chair, in which you hang by your hands from a bar. Some fitness centers have ab straps you can use if you cannot hang from a bar. Dr. Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico suggests hanging leg lifts for your abdominals because your hips are unsupported during the whole exercise, requiring your abs to work extra hard to stabilize them, giving your deep core an effective workout. Start with three sets of 10.
Stability Ball Crunches
Staying balanced on a stability ball while performing crunches requires your obliques, deep abdominals and back muscles to all work in coordination, making stability ball crunches a very effective total-core exercise. When you crunch on the ball, allow your back to arch slightly so your abs achieve a stretch before you contract during the crunch. Do not come all the way up into a sitting position on the ball, rather crunch up about halfway so your muscles are constantly working. Do three sets of 15 reps.
Sprints are a highly intense cardiovascular activity that are not normally associated with abs exercise, however strength and conditioning specialist and registered dietician Dr. Jade Teta affirms that sprints activate your whole core because of the effort it takes to remain upright while propelling yourself forward. Your obliques activate during the arm swing, and your rectus abdominus stays rigid due to the harsh impact of your feet on the ground. Dr. Teta suggests performing 10 sets of 50-yard sprints with about 1 minute to recover in between each set.
- American Council on Exercise: New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Abs Exercises
- University of New Mexico: SuperAbs Resource Manual
- MetabolicEffect.com: The Best Abs Exercises EVER That No One Ever Does
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; National Strength and Conditioning Association; Thomas R. Baechel and Roger W. Earle
- Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images