Upgrading Your Ab Workouts: 3 Ab Exercises That Actually Work
The only ab exercises you need for 6-pack abs!
If you’re a patient at Ascent Chiropractic, you’ve probably heard me harp about strengthening your core. Your core musculature impacts everything you do, even activities that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with your abs. And a strong core means so much more than obtaining a much-desired “six-pack.”
Whether your goal is to hit personal bests in the squat rack, improve your balance, carry your groceries up the stairs without wincing, or train for that upcoming 5k without back pain, your core plays a major role in your ability to do pretty much anything physical.
In order to achieve a strong core to help you with all these activities – and build a six-pack that’ll have you ready for the beach by summer – you’ll need ab exercises. But the washboard-abs industry has produced so many tricks, gizmos, and exercises that promise to give you the midsection of a Greek god that it can be maddening trying to figure out what’s actually worth your time. Worse, many popular ab exercises (like sit-ups) actually put your lower back at risk of injury.
That’s why we’ve rounded up the best-of-the-best, spine-safe, science-backed, hypertrophy-inducing ab movements that actually work.
Incorporate them àla carte into your existing routine or use them alone for a killer, unbeatable 7-minute abs program (that’ll blow that 8-minute abs program from There’s Something About Mary right out of the water).
First: What is the ‘core’?
Your core consists of all the muscles in your abdomen between your chest and your hips. However, you’ve probably heard the most about your rectus abdominis (the ab muscles that form your six-pack), transverse abdominis (deep ab muscles that wrap around your torso), and obliques (otherwise known as your side abs, which allow you rotate your torso). These are the 3 abdominal muscle groups that are most visible and the ones we’ll be focusing on here.
The most effective ab-defining workout incorporates all 3 of these muscles – without putting extra stress on your spine. Research has shown there’s no single exercise that hits all of these muscles safely with high intensity, so we’ll combine 3: myotatic stability ball crunches, hanging leg raises, and ab wheel roll-outs.
These three exercises were selected for their ability to produce myofibril activation (scientifically measured by EMG) in each of the target muscles while limiting compressive force on the structures in the lower back and minimizing hip flexor recruitment.
When you perform these exercises, focus on pulling your belly button in toward your back to make sure it’s your abdominal muscles that are doing the work – not your spine. Do your best to avoid extension at your lumbosacral junction; you’ll be able to tell if this is happening if you begin to feel pinching in your lower back.
For each of the following movements, start with two sets of each, resting for 30 seconds between each set.
Myotatic Stability Ball Crunches
1. Sit on the edge of a stability ball or BOSU ball.
2. Raise arms straight overhead. Keep your arms next to your ears for the entire movement.
3. Slowly lean backward for 4 seconds until your ﬁngers are parallel to the ﬂoor. Keep arms outstretched.
4. Pause at the bottom for 1-2 seconds.
5. Rise slowly and pause in the up position for 1-2 seconds. Stop when your arms are perpendicular to the ground.
6. Repeat for two sets of 10 reps.
Hanging Leg Raises
1. Begin by hanging from a chin-up bar with both arms extended, using either a wide or medium grip. Let your legs hang straight down.
2. Without using momentum, raise your legs to 90º. Exhale as you perform this movement and hold the contraction for one to two seconds.
3. Return slowly to the starting position as you breathe in.
4. Repeat for two sets of 10 reps.
Ab Wheel Roll-Outs
1. Begin by kneeling on the floor.
2. Grasp the handles of your ab wheel with your arms extended.
3. Engage your abs and slowly roll forward until your torso is just above the floor, keeping your arms extended in front of you.
4. Return to starting position by rolling back to your knees.
5. Repeat for two sets of 10 reps.
The Ascent Chiropractic Difference
At Ascent Chiropractic we work one-on-one with patients to tailor exercise programs to every patients’ specific needs. Whether you’re a pro athlete, weekend warrior, or just looking to tone up, study after study shows that regular chiropractic care is an essential part of reaching your full potential.