The Best Ab Exercises For Building Rockhard Six Pack Abs

best six pack absThe best ab exercises have been debated for years, and just about every trainer, “guru”, and amateur lifter out there all seem to have their own theory about which ab exercises are the best, and which ones suck.

Some of these theories have merit, others not so much.

To add to the confusion, there are literally millions of websites out there dishing out advice (some of it good, some of it bad) about how to build six pack abs…so it isn’t surprising that there are so many people who are frustrated with their lack of six pack success.

Case in point: Out of all of the questions I get from my readers “how do I get a six pack” or “what are the best ab exercises” are by far the most frequently asked questions.

One email that recently grabbed my attention was one I received from a young guy who said that he was working out like crazy, doing 1000 crunches a night, but he still did not have any visible ab definition…

He wrote: “Hey Jamin, I have been working out very seriously for about two years now, and do 1000 crunches religiously every night. I figured that by really dedicating myself and doing crunches every day I would have decent abs by now, but I cannot see any visible results. Is there anything else I can do or a supplement I can take? Can you send me an ab workout with the best ab exercises in it?”

After reading that email I decided to put this article together and reveal what I believe to be best ab exercises to help take your abdominal development to the next level.

Let’s begin 😀

Here is one of the main “obstacles to progress” most people encounter when training their abs: They usually rate the effectiveness of a particular ab exercise based on the level of the “burn” they feel while doing the exercise. Their strategy mainly consists of doing a ton of reps, “feeling the burn” and then “feeling sore”. Now this strategy may make perfect sense based on common logic, but it is highly ineffective when analyzed using biomechanics.

Feeling guilty? Don’t worry, we all are to some extent! 😀

This brings me get back to the question of the day: What are the best ab exercises to build six pack abs and/or a strong core?

Let me rephrase that…

What are the best ab exercises that will help you activate upper and lower rectus abdominis, as well as the external and internal obliques,  while hopefully minimizing lumbar paraspinals and rectus femoris activity?

Here’s the English translation…

What are the best ab exercises that will work your abs the hardest while the areas that often take over the movement during traditional ab exercises (hip flexors and lower back) have minimal movement involved?

If you know anything about my training philosophy, you’ll know that I don’t believe training the abs directly is the most efficient approach to building six pack abs. Especially if you have a body fat percentage that is too high to see any visible abdominal definition.

So with that being said, you must understand that the real key to building a shredded 6 pack is simply losing all the excess bodyfat that is covering your abs. Everyone has ab muscles, the only problem is that for 99.9% of the population those abs are covered by a layer of blubber. If you lose the fat, that’s when you’ll see your abs. Period.

That’s why I recommend using a more total body approach that focuses primarily on compound movements, smart “cardio”, and then using ab exercises as a finishing touch.

Compound Movement Examples:
Legs: Barbell Squat, Lunges, Deadlifts
Shoulders: Military Press, Hang-Clean and Press
Arms: Dips, Close-Grip Pushups
Back: Deadlifts, Pull-ups
Chest: Bench Press, Push-ups

If you’ve read this site for a while, or invested in my Six Pack Abs Program, you also probably know that I’m not a big fan of crunches and sit-ups.

Regardless of how intense the burn may be from crunches and sit-ups, neither one of these exercises is all that effective in building six pack abs. In my opinion, crunches and sit-ups are a huge waste of time and effort.

Here’s why…

Crunches and sit-ups are resistance exercises…and just like any other resistance exercise…if you can perform it for high repetitions (30 or 50 or even 100) reps it likely won’t be very effective for radically improving your body composition. The ideal rep range for working the abdominals is between 10 and 20 reps. Anything more or less and you are probably wasting your time.

Plus, performing crunches and sit-ups can put extreme pressure on the lower back which can put you at risk for a herniated disc. Trust me, it is not worth it! Also, not only do crunches and sit ups put a lot of stress on your lower back, but they don’t really generate much muscle activation either.

female-best-ab-exercises

Which brings me to my next point…

The best way (that I know of) to determine which ab exercises are the best is to rank them based on their measurement of muscle activation using Electromyography (EMG).

Electromyography (EMG) is a technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles during exercise. It is performed using an electromyograph, and the test produces a record called an electromyogram. Are you with me so far? Good. 😀

Next, the electromyograph detects the electrical potential generated by muscle cells when these cells are electrically or neurologically activated. This electrical activity is a simple measurement of the nervous system’s signal to the muscles. These signals can then be analyzed to detect muscle activation level, recruitment order, medical abnormalities, or to analyze the biomechanics of any particular movement.

The higher the EMG activity typically means a greater effort of the nervous system to produce more muscular force. Some ab exercises have a significantly higher level of EMG activity than others. (I’ve posted the high level EMG ab exercises for you below)

Got all of that?

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert or a “guru”, I never have. But I do know a little somethin somethin about how to build six pack abs. I do have abs of my own (decent abs at least), and I’ve helped countless others achieve equal or greater success with my six pack abs program.

So to answer the best ab exercises question (finally), I’ve put together a list of some of (what I believe to be) the best ab exercises in the world. You can check them out below.

Disclaimer: You don’t have to agree with my list, you may have your own list. And that’s perfectly fine. I won’t take it personal. But here’s the way I see it. If you want to be a lawyer, you should probably get advice on how to do that from a lawyer. If you want to be an NFL quarterback, you should probably consult with a current or former NFL quarterback to get advice on how that’s done. If you want to increase your squat and eventually squat 700 pounds, ask a guy who increased his squat up to 500 pounds. Don’t ask the guy who can only squat 225, yet researches and posts his “scientific findings” about how to squat 700 on popular fitness sites. (By the way…I can’t squat 700 pounds so I don’t write articles about that). You get the point.

The same typically holds true for abs. Don’t just listen to any “expert” who has a website and an opinion. Ask someone who has been there and done that. Ask the guy or gal with the great abs in your gym for a few tips. Ask your Facebook friend with the great abs for a few tips (we all have at least one friend like that right?). 😀

My point is that sometimes theoretical advice and information from research “studies” only take you so far.

Heck, I would even go as far to say don’t trust anything you read in THIS post until you put it to the test YOURSELF. Did your abs improve at all from any of the tips you received from this article? That’s the true litmus test right there.

But I digress.

Below you’ll find my list of what I believe to be the best ab exercises for each specific part of the abdominal region. If you are unfamiliar with abdominal muscle anatomy, the chart below will help you know which muscles you’re using, where they’re located, and what they’re called. Feel free to refer back to it if you have to.

abdominal muscles diagram

The Best Ab Exercises Sorted By Abdominal Region (some are listed twice because they work more than one area)

Rectus Abdominis
Chin Up
Hanging Leg Raise
Ab Wheel
Swiss Ball Crunch
Swiss Ball Pike & Roll-out
Windshield Wipers
RKC Plank
Squats (to parallel)
Lying Leg Throw
Deadlifts
L-Pullups

Internal Oblique
Ab Wheel from Feet
Ab Wheel from Knees
Bodysaw
Hanging Leg Raise
Scorpions
Tornado Ball Slam
Swiss Ball Pike & Roll-out
Windshield Wipers
Cable Chops
Side Plank
Lying Leg Throw

External Oblique
Ab Wheel from Feet
Turkish Get Up
Hanging Leg Raise
Bodysaw
Scorpions
Swiss Ball Pike & Roll-out
Windshield Wipers
Side Plank
Lying Leg Throw

Erector Spinae
Kneeling Cable Lift
Landmine
Reverse Hyper
Tornado Ball Slam
Lumbar Extension
Squats (to parallel)
Farmers Carry
Good Mornings
Deadlifts
Bird Dogs

jamin thompson abs

This is me doing windshield wipers (one of my favorite ab exercises)

The Best Ab Workout Routine

If you’re on a quest to get a flatter waistline or even chiseled six pack abs, you don’t have time to piddle around on the internet Googling silly ab routines all day. You need to put your trust in science, biomechanics, and factual evidence; not in the level of the abdominal burn you feel during an exercise.

Most of my programs include a variety of ab exercises, some are traditional, but some are not as common. In fact, some of my favorite “ab exercises” aren’t even what most people would consider an ab exercise! For example, some of my all time favorites “non-ab” ab exercises include: back squats, power shrugs, sumo deadlift to curls, thrusters, depth jumps, jump squats, burpee pull-ups, and scorpions.

So now that you know some of the best ab exercises to do to build better abs, here is an ab workout to try where you can put it all together. This is one of my favorite ab workouts and it contains most of the best ab exercises listed above. It will work the hell out of your abdominals, obliques, & lower back. 😀

Note: I typically train my abs once or twice per week and 10-20 reps per set is ideal.

Here is the routine:

Order Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1:A2 Super-Set1. Hanging Leg Raises

2. Windshield Wipers

-2

2

-12

20

:75

B1:B2:B3 Tri-Set1. Chin Ups

2. L-Pull Ups

3 Reverse Hyper.

-1

1

1

-8-10

8-10

15

 

Order Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1:A2 Super-Set1.Ab Wheel

2.Swiss Ball Pike & Rollout

-2

2

-12

12

:75

B1:B2:B3 Tri-Set1. Tornado Ball Slam

2. Turkish Get Up

3. RKC Plank

-1

1

1

-:60

8

:60

Enjoy the workout!

Note: The most important part of building six pack abs is nutrition. Unfortunately this critical aspect is often the most overlooked aspect by many lifters. The fact is, you can never work harder than your bad diet is working against you.

Here are some basic six pack abs “best practices” to keep in mind:

1. Cycle your carbs. For example, have a High Carb Day, followed by two medium carb days, and one no carb day and continue that cycle for 30 days until you notice fat loss. My complete carb cycling strategy is outlined in my 6 Pack Secret Program Manual.

2. Add a complete source of high quality protein to each meal (lean steak, bison, chicken, fish, egg whites, whey protein, etc)

3. Eliminate virtually all saturated fats and incorporate healthy fats into your diet such as ( nuts and nut butters, seeds, flax oil, Udo’s, etc). Believe it or not but these essential fats actually help you burn more fat.

4. Choose only complex carbs such as yams, oatmeal, brown rice and whole grains. You may taper your carbs throughout the day with your biggest carb meals being breakfast and your post workout meal.

5. Utilize proper meal timing strategies and space your meals out into 5-7 small meals throughout the day. Be sure to watch portion sizes.

6. Drink a gallon of water per day. Water is vital in the fat burning process.

7. Avoid all simple carbs such as white flour or sugar and opt for plant based foods instead.

8. Always maintain good food preparation strategies and prepare your food ahead of time so you do not get caught in a crunch and have to end up eating bad food. Sometimes having healthy recipes to spice things up helps keep you on track.

9. Do high intensity interval training several times per week.

10. During the active recovery period of your interval workout, perform an ab exercise. For example, if you are doing interval sprints on a stationary bike or treadmill, run for 30 seconds at your maximum speed. Hop off of the machine and immediately perform a set of 20 hanging knee raises. Get back on the machine and crank it back up again. Repeat 5-8 times. You can throw in a variety of different ab exercises during this interval session such as the ab wheel, the plank, etc.

11. Focus on the lower abs. Just about every abdominal exercise or motion involves an upper abs contraction. For this reason alone, building the upper abs is usually pretty easy, but as a result the lower abs can get neglected. Focus more on training your lower abs exclusively because lower ab training will still give you amazing upper abs as well.

12. Don’t do reps like a madman. Millions of people unfortunately waste hundreds of thousands of hours in the gym each year doing hundreds of sets of abs. After taking this sort of pounding for a while your abs just stop responding. Overtraining your abs in this manner can also increase your risk of injury. In order to effectively work your abs and avoid overtraining, keep your reps around 20 or less but add resistance to increase the difficulty level.

13. Go down slowly and maintain strict form. A slow and controlled descent is recommended for ab training. This method will carve deep into your abdominal muscle fibers and help sculpt them. I always try to use good form, a natural tempo, and a controlled full range of motion.

14. Contract, flex, and squeeze. An often overlooked and underutilized method of enhancing your abdominal training is to not flex the muscles while you train them. You cant just go through the motions, you need to squeeze hard while you perform any ab movement.

15. Train abs with intensity. Give the same level of intensity to your abs that you would your biceps or triceps on a tough day of training. Don’t just throw in a few sets of ab exercises at the end of your workout and call it a day. Abs are a muscle just like any other and must be trained as such. Just don’t sacrifice form or tempo, and be sure to maintain control.

16. Avoid side bends. Just like any other muscle, the abs also respond when stimulated with resistance. Unless you want to make your waist wider, avoid side bends at all costs. Skip the dumbbell side bends, weight plate side bends, or any other silly side bend exercise. You do not want to end up with a waist that looks blocky and wide.

17. Don’t use twisting movements. Performing twisting movements such as holding a bar across your back and twisting is a good way to injure your back. These types of exercises won’t do you much good and they are more risky than they are effective.

18. Train abs 2-3 times per week max. It can be tempting to train abs everyday but as I said earlier, abs are muscles just like any other. They need time to rest and recover. You can train abs a bit more frequently than you can other muscles but training them more than 2 or 3 times per weekly is just overkill. I usually train my abs 1 or 2 times per week.

19. Maintain a good tempo (as mentioned previously). As with any other exercise, ab movements should not be jerky or too fast. A good tempo must be maintained throughout the entire movement. An ideal tempo would be 3-0-1 where the first number refers to the lowering phase of the exercise, the next number is the pause, and the third number is the lift. For example, a crunch done at 3-0-1, you would take 3 seconds to lower yourself, no pause, then one second to crunch upward.

20. Keep it fun 😀

Thanks for reading. Please leave your questions and comments below.
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Jamin Thompson
Over the past 10 years, Jamin Thompson – actor, sport & fitness model, and former world ranked tennis player – has appeared in or on publications such as Men's Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, Inside Fitness, Bodybuilding.com; as well as worked as a sponsored athlete for and/or been featured in commercials and print ads for Nike, Under Armour, Reebok, ESPN, Wilson Sporting Goods, Powertec Fitness, Gifted Nutrition and more. Using his real world, in the trenches experience, writes to help others dominate in the gym, on the field, and in life. His book, The 6 Pack Secret, has been sold in over 50 countries and has helped thousands of folks from all walks of life get cut and jacked the healthy way.
Jamin Thompson

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7 Responses to The Best Ab Exercises For Building Rockhard Six Pack Abs

  1. Brandon August 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    Great article this is exactly what I needed! I usually train abs 3 times per week but I’ve never done most of the exercises listed here. I think I will try that workout tomorrow since I usually do abs on Mondays and let you know how it goes. Keep the good stuff coming!

  2. Muthanna1973 August 9, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    This is the best I’ve ever heard about how to get abbs. It is totally true and it turned out that I was doing exactly the opposite of what was taught here, no wonder why I didn’t get to see my abbs after all what I did in my life to get them abbs show out. Thank you very much for this very useful information.

  3. Scott August 9, 2011 at 6:34 am #

     Great article and solid information. I just have one question, what is the Bodysaw?

  4. Scott August 9, 2011 at 6:34 am #

     Great article and solid information. I just have one question, what is the Bodysaw?

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