10 Most Effective Ab Workouts
Feel the burn with the hanging leg raise.
If you're sick of doing crunch after crunch without getting any results, consider that perhaps that go-to move for abs isn't the most effective option. In fact, in one 2001 study, The American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that the traditional crunch performed less optimally than several other exercises.
So what should you be doing instead? Start with these exercises!
1. Bicycle Crunch
Bicycle crunches are performed by lying on your back, knees bent with both feet flat on the floor. Then place your fingertips behind your head.
HOW TO DO THEM: Move your left elbow towards your right knee as you pull your knee in towards your chest. Straighten your left leg as you do this and rotate your left elbow and shoulder to meet your right knee.
Repeat this motion on the opposite side. Your legs should be moving in and away from your body as if you were riding a bicycle. Continue this alternating motion for 12 to 15 reps per side.
2. Hanging Leg Raise
There are two ways to perform this exercise. You can perform this in what’s known as a Captain’s Chair or you can jump up and hang from pull-up handles.
HOW TO DO IT: From the hanging position hold a pull-up bar with a double, overhand grip. Bend your knees and slowly lift them towards your chest.
You can advance this movement by keeping your legs straight and lifting them in the air until they’re parallel to the ground. Slowly return your legs to the extended position before repeating.
NOTE: Compared to the roman chair, your grip will be challenged greatly with the hanging leg raise variation.
3. Stability Ball Crunch
HOW TO DO IT: Sit on top of an exercise ball. Then slowly walk forward, keeping your butt/back on the on the ball. Lie back on the ball until your shoulders and head are slightly hanging off; keep your knees and hips bent.
Flex your waist and upper body as you would doing a crunch on the ground. Once you feel your abs contract, slowly return to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
4. Reverse Crunch
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back, knees bent to 90 degrees to where your shins are parallel with the floor. Create a "T" shape with your arms, placing your hands palm side down on the ground.
Maintaining the 90-degree shape with your legs, draw your knees in toward your chest, rolling your tailbone up off the floor. Slowly lower your tailbone and legs back to the starting position and repeat for 10 to 12 reps.
5. Vertical Leg Crunch
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back and raise your legs toward the ceiling. Make sure to keep your feet flexed to where the soles of your shoes are pointed towards the ceiling.
Elevate your arms above your head, pointing towards the ceiling. Press your lower back into the floor and lift your shoulders and chest up trying to touch your fingers to your toes. Lower yourself back down to the starting position and repeat for 10 to 12 reps.
6. Ab Wheel Rollout
This one is a challenge but it’s one of the best bang for your buck ab exercises you can perform.
HOW TO DO IT: Kneel on the floor using a mat to provide some cushioning for your knees. Grab the handles on the ab wheel with an overhand grip. Grab the handles on the ab wheel with an overhand grip.
Place the wheel near the front of your knees and lean over the wheel with arms extended down and supporting your upper body. Keep your arms straight and roll the wheel out as far as possible.
Once you’ve reached the furthest point you can go while maintaining straight arm holding on to the wheel. Squeeze your abs and return to the starting position.
7. Long-Arm Crunch
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms overhead, clasping your palms together at the top. Press your lower back into the ground and lift your shoulders, arms, chest and head off the ground.
Keep your arms straight the whole time and over your head. Once you feel your abs engage, lower yourself back to the starting position. Repeat for 12 to 15 reps.
8. Crunch with Heel Push
HOW TO DO IT: While lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, flex your feet, lifting your toes towards the ceiling. Place your fingertips on the back of your neck.
Open your elbows to your sides and lift your entire upper body off the floor, simultaneously pushing your heels into the floor. Pause at the top of the crunch. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat for 10 to 12 reps.
9. Leg Climb Crunch
This exercise is similar to how you would execute the vertical leg crunch, but this crunch involves more engagement of your obliques.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie flat on your back with your legs straight on the ground. Raise one leg up while keeping the other flat. Raise one leg up while keeping the other flat.
Slowly walk your hands up the leg towards your toes. Once you reach either your ankle or toes (touching the toes is harder) slowly climb back down to the starting position. Repeat for 10 reps per leg.
10. Traditional Crunch
Coming in at number 10 in the study was the traditional crunch.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back, knees bent, and feet planted firmly on the floor. Cross your arms over your chest, or wrap them around your head.
Lift your torso up until it touches your knees. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position and repeated for 10 to 12 reps.
When performing any of these ab exercises, you only need to perform three sets of 10 or 12 reps once or twice a week.
Increase the challenge of these exercises by adding weight via a medicine ball, a weighted vest, or adding a two- to three-second pause at the top of each movement.
Eric Bach is a personal trainer, author of The Power Primer, and fitness business consultant in Denver, Colorado. His passion is simplifying fitness, helping clients get great results through the ruthless execution of the basics. Find out more on his website Bach Performance, or hang out on Facebook.