Best Ab Workouts: Get a Solid Core with Only 6 Exercises

Written by Stefanie Lisa, CPT, CFN

Best Ab Workouts

What are the best ab workouts for a solid core? You have questions, and we have answers! Read on to see exactly which exercises you need (and what you can ditch) if you want to rock a solid core this summer and year-round.

What is Your Core?

Before trying to work your core, it may be useful to get a refresher on what, exactly, makes up your core. Your “core” is comprised of the muscles in your abdominal region, including the muscles in the front, sides, and the sheath of muscles underneath the visible “six-pack.”

While your core clearly includes your abdominal musculature, interestingly, it also technically includes your lower back. Why? Both your anterior and posterior muscle structures support each other and work together to keep you mobile, flexible, stable, and upright.

That said, if we focus on just the best ab workouts for a solid core, there will be four main areas of focus. The muscles of the abdominals include:

  • Rectus Abdominis—these are the legendary “washboard” abs (this is your six-pack area) and reside front and center.
  • External Obliques—these muscles traverse diagonally from your ribs all the way to your pelvic area. Obliques allow for twisting and turning motions.
  • Internal Obliques—located under the external obliques, these abdominal muscles attach in the hip area and run diagonally, connecting your hips to your midsection.
  • Traverse Abdominals—these muscles encircle the abdominal region and act as a protective sheath.

Working Upper and Lower Abs—A Group Effort?

Do you have to work all the different abdominal areas differently, or can you do them all at once? Well, there are various schools of thought. Some say you can “focus” more on certain areas while others insist you have to work abs as a whole.

What is best is to do a little of each: work everything and include exercises that emphasize each area of the core. So, as confusing as that is, the answer is yes, work them separately and together!

Best Ab Workouts: The Only 6 Exercises You Need for a Solid Core

1. Crunch—this old standby is a modern variation of the sit-up and should not be neglected! To perform a proper crunch, lie on your back on the floor and bend your knees, placing your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands lightly behind your head and gently on your neck. (Make sure you don’t pull on your neck.) Pretend there is a string pulling your head and torso straight up toward the ceiling as you lift your head, shoulders, and upper back off the floor by contracting your ab muscles. Hold this position for a few seconds and return to the start. Repeat.

Note: Doing traditional “sit-ups” where you pull on your head and neck and bring your body into a full upright seated position with your feet firmly held is no longer recommended. The “crunch” is the new and improved, healthier version.

2. Plank—one of the absolute best ab workouts on the planet is the plank. You can do these virtually anywhere at any time. (Okay, maybe not in line at the grocery store, but it works well at home, at the gym, at a park, in your yard, etc., etc.) Begin on your hands and knees in a tabletop position on the ground. Keeping your shoulders in tight, lift your knees off the ground as you straighten your legs, so your body is balanced over your toes and wrists. You can also choose to lower your upper body onto your forearms if that’s easier on your wrists. Your forearms should be about shoulder-width apart. And make sure your elbows are lined up underneath your shoulders.

Keep your body in a straight line and hold this position for 20 – 30 seconds at a time. Work your way up to longer holds over time, but ensure your abs stay tight the entire time.

You can also do a version of the plank on your side by rotating your body, so you are only resting on your right forearm and right foot/toes. Hold for 20 seconds and then switch sides.

3. Leg Raises—begin by lying on your back with your arms straight down along your sides. Keep your feet together and your legs straight while slowly lifting your feet off the ground. Keep your lower back pressed into the floor as much as possible (don’t arch), and hold your legs about six inches off the floor. Hold for about 10 seconds, and return to the start. Repeat.

4. Hanging Leg Raises—these are usually associated with working the lower abs although they do actually work the entire abdominal region (and are quite difficult!). Start by hanging from a bar (like a pull-up bar) and let your body elongate. Next, tighten your abs and bring your knees up to your stomach. Hold for a moment, and lower to the start. Repeat. When you get stronger, you can even try keeping your legs straight as you lift them. Work your way up by doing as many straight leg raises as you can first and then finishing off with knee-ups.

5. Russian Twist on Stability Ball—sit on a stability ball with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your feet flat on the floor and about hip-width apart. Lean back so that your back is on the stability ball. Clasp your hands together and raise them straight overhead. Slowly move your arms and twist your upper body and shoulders toward the right. Pause when your leading arm is parallel with the ground and return to the start. Repeat in the opposite direction to complete one repetition. You can also add resistance by holding a weight (dumbbell or small kettlebell) while you perform the movement.

6. Stability Ball Knee-ins—start with your hands on the floor and your feet on the ball. You’ll look like you’re about to do a pushup with your feet raised. Start by bending your knees and bringing them toward your chest. Use your core to balance as you perform this movement. Pause and straighten your legs to roll the ball back out. Repeat.

Last but certainly not least… don’t forget about your diet! It’s essential to truly understand this concept: You can’t out-train a bad diet, and that means you may have a solid core if you do the right exercises, but until you get your eating on track, you’ll never be able to see the fruits of your labor. So remember, if you want to show off all your hard work and a sexy, solid core, ensure you keep both your exercise regimen and your diet on point.

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