What are the best ab exercises?
The best ab exercises are the most effective exercises for shifting belly fat and developing a lean stomach.
They are also great for helping to build overall core stability and improve posture.
This guide breaks down the various workouts for abs which you can perform with your body weight and gym mat.
Include these abdominal exercises as part of your workout sessions to improve your balance, alleviate back pains, and level up your overall fitness.
The Best Ab Exercises
Our exercise routines are created by determining the best exercises for muscle growth, core strength, and overall health and well-being.
Here’s our list of the 10 best ab exercises:
10. Medicine Ball Slams
The medicine ball slam is one of the easiest ab workouts to perform and can be mastered in a short space of time.
As well as working your abs, it also gets to work on a range of other muscles, from quads and hamstrings up to your upper back, shoulders, and biceps.
How to do it:
To perform the medicine ball slam, pick a moderately weighted medicine ball, then:
- Stand with your knees bent slightly, holding the medicine ball with both hands around your torso
- Roll your shoulders back and engage your abs
- Squat slightly to prepare, then thrust upwards from your heels, shifting onto your toes as you bring the medicine ball overhead with outstretched arms
- Using your core, slam the ball straight down
- Squat and retrieve the ball, then use your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes to lift back up to perform the next slam
With such a comprehensive selection of muscles coming into play, the medicine ball slam gives you plenty of bang for your buck if you want to work your abs as well as the rest of your body.
This is a great ab workout as part of a warm-up before moving onto heavier weights or as part of a core-focused gym session aiming for a holistic workout.
Some of the most effective exercises for abs are also among the most basic.
The sit-up is a tried and tested exercise that builds definition in the abdominals while also improving back strength.
How to do it:
Place an exercise mat on the floor, then:
- Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and hands clasped behind your head
- Make sure the soles of your feet are directly on the floor, and your knees are shoulder-width apart
- Tense your abs and sit up, lifting your upper body from the ground as you bend your hips
- Keep your back straight by pulling the shoulder blades back and down
- Lower yourself back to the floor, keeping your shoulders elevated
Core strength and overall posture, and stability will make considerable gains if you perform sit-ups correctly and regularly.
They also help improve your joints, which helps improve performance in a host of other athletic activities.
Like any other muscle in the body, it’s easy to overwork your core muscles, so try including sit-ups 2-3 times per week in your gym schedule.
That said, once you’re confident with your form, daily sit-ups can be a good way to get more toned.
8. Dead Bugs
The aptly-named dead bug abs exercise might make you look like a dying insect flailing around on the floor, but it’ll strengthen your core while also working a range of back muscles.
How to do it:
Here’s how you can perform the dead bug exercise:
- Lie on a mat flat on your back
- Bring your arms straight above your head, and lift your legs so your knees are pointing straight up and your feet are pointing out parallel to the floor
- Lower the left arm down behind your head while extending the right leg straight and down. Stop them from touching the ground
- Reverse the motion, returning the left arm and right leg to the starting position
- Repeat this motion with the other arm and leg
Core strength and a stronger back are the two main benefits when performing the dead bug, making it ideal if you want to improve your posture or have lower back pain issues you want to address through exercise.
This is a light workout compared to some of the more intense ab exercises.
Once you’ve mastered the technique, it’s safe to include this regularly, especially if you want to minimize spine damage from other exercises.
The bird-dog is another simple exercise that doesn’t require any equipment and which you can perform anywhere you have enough space for a gym mat.
Like the dead bug, this works your core and improves stability.
How to do it:
To perform the bird-dog, get a mat, then:
- Get down on all fours, with hands and knees at shoulder width
- Extend your left arm directly out in front of you, at the same time pushing your right leg up and out parallel to your floor with your toes pointing forwards
- Return these limbs back underneath your chest, pointing your knee forward and your elbow back
- Switch to the opposite arm and leg, then repeat
The motion of the bird-dog really helps to flex your hips, so it’s great for improving flexibility and good joints in this part of the body, as well as working out your abs.
There’s nothing wrong with performing the bird-dog regularly since you’re placing very little strain on the muscles involved.
Take a little time to master the technique to make sure you get the best results.
6. Side Planks
While many ab muscle exercises focus on the front of your core, the side plank brings in additional core muscles through targeting the obliques.
Improved posture and stability are other great reasons to throw side planks into the mix.
How to do it:
This is another floor exercise, so grab a mat and:
- Lie on your side with your knees slightly bent, then raise onto your elbow, positioning it directly under your shoulder
- Stack your feet on top of one another, then lift your body from the ground from your hips
- Squeeze your glutes as you rise, and aim to push your hips as high as possible
- Raise your other hand straight up into the air as you come up
- Lower back to the starting position, then repeat for additional reps
Side planks are an effective workout for hitting a range of core muscles with minimal risk of strain.
Indeed, they help develop muscles that will add extra protection to your spine, as well as aiding balance. It’s probably the best ab exercise for obliques.
Include side planks as part of a daily workout, particularly if you’re main workout goals include building core strength and stability (as well as a killer six-pack)
5. Hanging Knee / Leg Raises
This is a great core exercise that brings in your body weight to focus on honing lean, toned abs. It also helps develop all-round functional strength and grip strength.
How to do it:
You’ll need something to hang from for the leg/knee raise exercise:
- Hang from the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, keeping your body straight
- Bend your knees, using your lower abs to lift your legs until your thighs are parallel with the floor
- Lower back down slowly, maintaining control
The front abs – also known as the rectus abdominis – gets a concentrated workout with the hanging knee/leg raise.
You can increase muscle growth in the obliques as well – just move your knees/legs out to the sides as you raise them up.
As with many other abs exercises, you can include these as part of a daily workout if you like. Try aiming for around 10 sets over three reps, and you’ll notice gains in no time.
4. Mountain Climbers
This is a wonderful compound exercise that will work a broad spectrum of muscles while also elevating your heart rate for a decent cardio workout.
Burn calories and strengthen your overall body at the same time.
How to do it:
Mountain climbers can be performed by:
- Get into a plank position (see entry 1 on this list for details)
- Pull your right knee forwards and into your chest
- Switch legs, returning your right knee into the starting position and extending your left knee under your chest
Mountain climbers target your core, helping you to lose fat around your belly. They also work your legs, arms, back, and shoulders, leading to an all-round toning effect.
Performing the mountain climber exercise in sets ranging from 20 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on your fitness level, will bring optimal gains throughout the body.
3. Russian Twists
This excellent core workout hits a range of muscles in your core, including the obliques, helping to burn fat around the belly and build overall core strength.
How to do it:
Russian twists are performed as follows:
- Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the ground
- Position your upper body at a 45-degree angle, with your back straight
- Link your hands together then, bracing your core, elevate your feet in front of you
- Rotate your arms over to one side, then twist and rotate over the opposite side
- Repeat for your preferred number of reps or timed set
As well as building up important core strength which aids the performance of other exercises, the Russian twist will help to strengthen your spine, too.
Feel free to include Russian twists into your workouts regularly. You can start in moderation and progress to working on performing this exercise for a longer period of time.
One of the most popular core exercises which delivers a great ab workout is the plank, which is simple to perform but hard to master.
Holding the plank position for a length of time gives your core an incredible workout.
How to do it:
Planks are easy to perform. Here’s how:
- Lie on your front with fists clasped together with your elbows tucked in and forearms on the floor
- Push your body up, so it’s resting on your forearms and feet in a straight line parallel to the floor
- Pull up your pelvis, squeezing your thigh and bottom muscles
- Maintain this posture, facing down to the floor
While working the core to deliver optimal results, the plank also helps improve posture and stability while strengthening muscles in your back.
It’s also good for making your body more aligned and symmetrical.
Try introducing planks to your daily routine and increase the length of time you hold the position as you improve over time.
1. Ab Roll-Outs
If you want to perform an ab exercise that focuses on these muscles and also protects your spine, consider the ab roll-out.
It’ll help you build ab definition and burn belly fat in the process.
How to do it:
First, take your barbell or dumbbells (or use a dedicated abs roller if you have one), then:
1. Get on your knees holding onto the roller/weights (if you’re using the dumbbell or barbell, hold your hands at roughly shoulder-width using an overhand grip)
2. Lean forwards so the roller/bar is underneath your shoulders – this is your starting position
3. Engaging your core, push the roller/weights out and away from your body, keeping your core engaged and avoiding slumping onto the floor
4. Push yourself back up to the starting position, keeping your abs braced and your back straight
As long as you perform the ab roll-out correctly and avoid pushing with your arms, it’ll work those stomach muscles and improve core stability as well.
Lower back muscles will also benefit from this exercise.
You can perform this stomach exercise regularly, so try including it 4-5 days per week if you’re really looking to tone your abs and shift belly fat.
FAQs About Ab Exercises
If you still have any questions about the best ab exercises and which ones might fit into your training routines, we’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions for you.
Q: What do ab exercises do?
As well as building up muscles in the abdominals and developing core strength, ab exercises also help you burn belly fat for a tighter and leaner stomach.
Q: When should you do ab exercises?
Since ab exercises aren’t as taxing as those which use heavy weights, they can be included more regularly or as part of a warm down routine.
As with any exercise, make sure you include appropriate rest days if you think you might be overdoing it, and choose the right exercises for your needs.
Q: Are ab exercises necessary?
In that sense, they should be included at least 2-3 times per week in your training schedule.
Q: Which ab exercise is most effective?
As this article demonstrates, there are lots of ab exercises to choose from.
Since there are four key muscles in this area, try to include a range of exercises, so your workouts hit the internal and external obliques as well as the abdomens and the traversus abdominis.
Q: Should I do abs every day?
There are plenty of ab exercises that you can perform daily, and if you’re still not sure which ones fit into a daily routine, head back to the top of this guide and have another read-through.
We’ve selected the 10 best ab exercises, so there’s something here for everyone.
Ab exercises deliver far more than just a lean stomach and six-pack muscles.
They’re also effective for fixing issues with posture, stability, and back pains.
Include them in your warm-ups and warm-down routines or as part of an abs-only gym session.
Here’s a quick recap of the 10 best ab exercises:
- Ab Roll-Outs
- Russian Twists
- Mountain Climbers
- Hanging Knee/Leg Raises
- Side Planks
- Dead Bugs
- Medicine Ball Slams
If you enjoyed this article, check out our other exercise lists:
- The 10 Best Back Exercises
- The 10 Best Chest Exercises
- The 10 Best Shoulder Exercises
- The 10 Best Leg Exercises