A set of toned, defined abdominals has long been a sign of strength, youth, and vigor. Spending hours in the gym several times a week may get you the muscle size you’re looking for, but a set of impressive abdominals is often more difficult to come by. We have done our research and come up with the best ab exercises to tone a body part that's a focal point of any workout. Nothing says “I work hard for my body” like tight and toned abdominal muscles, and these ab exercises will give you results that show you're dedicated to maintaining a healthy physique.

One of the great things about the abdominal muscles is that you can do exercises for them both at home and in the gym. You can train your abs without the benefit of fancy and expensive gym equipment. With that said, some of the most effective exercises for the abs involve free weights, dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls, weight benches, or cables, all of which you'll find in most gym, though some of you may be fortunate enough to have these in your own homes. Here we will review different abdominal exercises that you can perform with bodyweight alone, with gym equipment, and with weights.

Bodyweight Ab Exercises

Man doing a abdominal workout

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Because the abdominals are a muscle group located at the core, you can exercise them with movements that involve contracting your legs towards your body or through twisting movements. In other words you can fatigue the abs merely using your own weight. In fact, some of the most effective exercises for the abdominals are the so-called bodyweight exercises. Bodyweight exercises are a good jumping off point for beginners who are just beginning their training with ab exercises, or people who have taken a break from the gym.


Before we jump into ab exercises, this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves that a great set of abdominals is also about diet and a healthy lifestyle. We have pointed out some tips to help you get started on your abdominal training with ab exercises. The following is a list of points that will help you get the most out of your ab training:

  • Drinks lots of water throughout the day
  • Create a regimen that includes cardiovascular exercise and high-intensity interval training
  • Consume a diet high in fiber and protein and lower in sugar and fat to reduce abdominal bloating and encourage motility of the gut
  • Count your calories and consider breaking your meals into several smaller meals throughout the day rather than the traditional three large ones

Leg Raise


A traditional favorite of fans of bodyweight ab exercises is the Leg Raise. I can do this effective exercise using a chair to steady yourself or a weight bench if you are in the gym. Perform this exercise by lying flat on the floor with a heavy chair or bench behind your head. Reach behind and grab the chair with your hands for support. Raise your legs slowly together until they are perpendicular to the floor. Lower your legs back down but stop before they touch the ground to keep tension in your abs. Repeat.

Flutter Kick


Similar to the Leg Raise is the Flutter Kick. This exercise is performed by lying flat on the ground and using the motion of your legs to work your abdominal muscles. This exercise also makes use of tension held on the abs, much like leg raises. Perform this exercise by lying flat and kicking your legs back and forth toward your abdomen, with a scissoring motion. The movements of these exercises are a little faster than leg raises, so it provides both a strengthening and a cardiovascular exercise benefit.

Hanging Leg Raises


Hanging leg raises are performed from a vertical position. Take your position hanging from a pull-up bar with your legs hanging straight down. From this position, raise your legs from vertical until they are perpendicular to your core. Repeat this movement until you reach fatigue, performing multiple sets ideally. This provides the added benefit of having to use your core strength to hold your body upright as you raise your legs against gravity.

The Plank


The plank is a simple exercise that's one of the most effective bodyweight exercises for abs. You perform this exercise in the prone position, with you forearms resting on the ground, your feet touching the ground, and your body held on a straight line. The plank involves holding this position as long as you can until you reach fatigue. You can do planks just about anywhere, in the gym, at home, or even the office.

Equipment Exercises

Woman doing a push up for a ab exercise with some gym equipment

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Equipment exercises are a favorite for men and women seeking to train abs as they can easily be integrated into the training program for another body part. While taking a break from the bench press or squat rack, you can easily fill that interlude with some ab exercises using nearby equipment. While there are many great exercises that involve common gym equipment, here we focus on the Horizontal Cable Woodchop, Cable Crunches, and the Pushup Rocket.

Horizontal Cable Woodchop


The Horizontal Cable Woodchop involves a cable machine. Set the cables to shoulder length and make sure the end has a single loop grip. Stand a good distance away from the machine with your feet shoulder width apart. Grip the cable loop with both hands and pull the cable toward you starting from a twisting position and rotating with the cable until you are facing forward, twisting away from the machine.

Cable Crunches


Cable Crunches are an old school ab exercise and for many a mainstay of their abdominal training regimen. This is another exercise that involves the cable apparatus. This time attach the rope to the end of the cable. You will use this to pull down, flexing the abs. Take a position in front of the machine, kneeling on the ground. You should set the cable high, but not too high you cannot reach it from your kneeling position. Reach up and grab the rope, pulling down and focusing on contracting your abs as you do so. Pull to a spot on the floor in front of you and hold for one second.

Pushup Rocket


The Pushup Rocket is among the more explosive ab exercises. This exercise may be a little advanced for beginners and it involves doing a pushup, so it requires the ability to perform multiple pushups explosively with at least your bodyweight. The Pushup Rocket involves placing your feet (ankles) in suspension trainer cradles keeping your feet off of the ground. From this position, push up (doing a pushup), but push up forcibly enough you have enough time to clap in midair before your hands touch the ground. Repeat.

Weight and Dumbbell Ab Exercises

Woman's reflection on the mirror while holding a dumbbell

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For many people, exercises that involves weight represent a more advanced form of abdominal workout, as they can now increase the resistance on the abdominals above and beyond bodyweight. These exercises are also great because they frequently involve training other body parts besides abs, allowing your body to work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Weight and dumbbell exercises are usually performed in the gym, but if you have all the weights and bars in your home gym, you can perform them at home.

Front Squat


The Front Squat is essentially a squat that involves resting the weighted bar across your clavicles (in front of you) and gripping the bar with your palms facing toward you rather than outward. I recommend that you perform it on the squat rack. You can use as much weight as you need, working your way up over time if you like. Remove the barbell from the rack and place in the position described. Take a step back and place feet shoulder-width apart. From this position, perform a squat, squatting as low as you can handle.

Russian Twists


Russian Twists are an effective ab exercise that you perform with a medicine ball, a weight plate, or a dumbbell. A medicine ball or a relatively lightweight may be a good jumping off point for beginners. The starting position of this exercise is sitting on the floor with your torso contacted as if in the finishing position of a sit up. Holding the medicine ball or weight in your hands, twist from side to side, keeping your abdominals contracted.

Conclusion

One reality of abdominal training that many people come to realize is that achieving the abdominals you want is as much about lifestyle and diet as it is about training. The proper routine of ab exercises combined with a diet high in protein and fiber will help you achieve a slimmer waist line and abdominals that make an impression. With many options to choose from in terms of exercises, you have the option of incorporating all the different types—bodyweight, equipment, or weight and barbell - or focusing on the type that matches your level in the gym. We hope this article has given you some inspiration!

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