1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

The 5 best ab exercises. And the ones that are wasting your time

Alex Savva, B.P.H.E | posted Tuesday, Sep 23rd, 2014

abfitness-featured

A flatter stomach is one of the most common fitness goals, so it’s no surprise that there are more abdominal exercises and contraptions for achieving a tighter stomach than there are excuses to skip your workout. But not all ab exercises are created equal. In fact, many are simply a waste of workout time. A study conducted at the San Diego State University Biomechanics Lab examined the electromyography (EMG) activity results garnered by popular core exercises. Here’s how they stacked up:

Don’t waste your time with:

1. The basic crunch
Why: The basic crunch is just that – basic. Don’t waste countless hours on a less-than-stellar exercise that does little to fully engage your abdominal muscles and core.

2. The ab rocker
Why: The ab rocker was proven to be no more effective than the traditional crunch. Actually, it was shown to be up to 80 percent less effective! Yes, it’s super easy to do, and that’s why it doesn’t work. By supporting your head, this tool actually deactivates the muscles in the neck that would normally support it. This can lead to neck pain as your supporting muscles weaken. There’s a reason these machines are collecting dust in the corner of your gym.

3. The straight-leg sit-up
Why: This old-school exercise is responsible for many back issues. It puts a huge strain on the lower back by provoking you to hurl your upper body forward in an attempt to touch your toes. No thanks.

4. The standing dumbbell side bend
Why: Isolating the obliques in this way is not natural and can add unnecessary strain to your back. (How often do you bend straight to the side to pick something up?) Also, many people use the momentum that the dumbbells create and rock side-to-side instead of properly engaging their muscles. Avoid these unless you want to look you’re rocking to the oldies.

5. The seated twist
Why: Seated twisting machines are a waste of money and space in fitness facilities. They don’t train your muscles in a functional way and the path of motion is fixed and unnatural. They can also lead to injury if you don’t know what weight to use and how to control the movement. I’ve seen many people snap from right to left with some wicked momentum – ouch!

Opt for these five exercises to maximize your workout time instead:

1. The plank
Why: It stimulates more abdominal activity than a regular crunch and works the muscles in your back as well.
How: Supporting yourself on your forearms and the balls of your feet, bridge up and position your body in one straight line. Pull your abs in tight and hold for 30-60 seconds.
Kick it up a notch: From the plank position, reach forward with your right hand, hold for a count and slowly return to the starting position. Do the same with your left hand and repeat.

2. The bicycle crunch
Why: In the San Diego study, this exercise was the second highest in terms of EMG activity in participants. It also stimulates more abdominal activity than the traditional crunch including your lower stomach and obliques.
How: Lying on your back, bring your knees up to form a 90 degree angle and keep your hands by your temples. Crunch up and twist across the body while simultaneously performing a bicycle motion with your legs. For example, if you crunch up and to the right you should draw your right knee in and vice versa. Repeat for 20-30 reps total.

3. Side plank
Why: Side planks not only torch your obliques, they also stimulate and tone your glutes, quads, hamstrings, inner/outer thighs and your upper body.
How: Lie on your side with your forearm perpendicular to your body and one foot stacked over the other. Bridge your hip up and hold for 30-60 seconds while maintaining a straight line with your body.
Kick it up a notch: Raise your top leg so that it’s parallel to the ground (this full version of this is called Vasisthasana in yoga).

4. Vertical chair knee raise
Why: It stimulated 210 percent more abdominal activity in the study’s participants than the traditional crunch.
How: Use your upper body to hold yourself up tall while drawing your knees up and past your waist. Squeeze at the top and slowly lower your legs back down. Repeat for a total of 12-15 reps.
Kick it up a notch: Do a straight-leg raise.

5. Reverse crunch
Why: Engage your lower abdomen and obliques with this move.
How: Lie on your back with your hands tucked under your bum and your knees bent. Bring your legs up until they form a 90 degree angle from your torso. Do a pelvic tilt and pull your knees in towards your chest, squeeze and slowly lower to starting position. Aim for 15-20 reps.
Kick it up a notch: Hold a weight over your head.

Ripped abs plan:
One of the best ways to work the abs is to perform a series of core moves in one continuous circuit. Circuits are efficient and effective, allowing you to get the most out of your efforts. For optimum results, perform this core circuit at the end of your intense training sessions. You want your core strong and ready to back you up when you’re in the thick of a tough workout.

Plank tri-set (regular and sides): 30-60 seconds
Reverse crunch: 15-20 reps
Bicycle crunch: 10-15 reps per side
Vertical chair knee raise: 12-15 reps
Notes: Perform 2-4 total sets or circuits with now rest between exercises and a 1 minute rest between circuits.

Alex Savva is a sought-after strength and conditioning expert whose founded two supplement brands and the Toronto fitness studio CircuitFIT. Alex has a degree in physical and health education and is a professional member of the Ontario Kinesiology Association. He has more than 10 years experience in the fitness and nutrition industry, working with clients ranging from elderly beginners to professional athletes to transform their lifestyles, not just their bodies.

Comments

  • No comments have been left yet, get the conversation started!

Leave a Comment Below

Sign in to comment.

All fields are required.

Want to embed media into your comment? Just paste in a URL in a separate paragraph to the page where you would normally view the media (like on YouTube) and it will automatically be embedded into your comment.