What are the best upper ab exercises?
Including some of the best upper ab exercises as part of your regular gym sessions helps develop a strong and stable core.
They are also an effective way to help burn additional belly fat while also strengthening the muscles around your lower back to reduce the risk of injuries.
This guide to the best upper ab exercises will help you find the exercises that work best for you so you can put together your ultimate ab workout.
The Best Upper Ab Exercises
Our exercise lists 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 upper ab exercises:
10. Ab Walkouts
This slightly easier and safer alternative to the ab rollouts (which we’ll cover later) works perfectly as a warm-up for the entire core and lower body.
It’s also an effective way to build strength and definition in the abs, with full control over how far you stretch out, minimizing injury risk.
How to do it:
Find some floor space, then:
- From an upright standing position, reach down and place your hands in front of your toes with your legs and back remaining straight
- Walk your hands forwards away from your body, passing the push-up position until you are as far as you can stretch without your body touching the floor
- Slowly walk your hands back to the starting position
As well as working your entire core thoroughly and engaging your rectus abdominis, ab walkouts bring your shoulders and arms into play.
They also help get the blood flowing to your hamstrings, calves, and glutes, making it a useful exercise for warming up or down around other sporting activities.
Perform the ab walkouts as part of a warm-up or warm-down routine, or include these 2-3 times per week as part of your core workout sessions.
9. Hanging Leg Raises
This abs exercise brings in a wide selection of other muscles and joints, making it a truly comprehensive full-body workout.
As well as working your rectus abdominis, your lats and shoulders are also engaged, and hip flexors are also worked and improved.
How to do it:
Stand under a pull-up bar, then:
- Hang down from the bar with your arms extended and hands in an overhand grip at shoulder-width
- Engaging your abs, raise your legs directly in front of you, keeping them straight and tightening your glutes
- Hold your legs for a moment once they are parallel with the floor, then slowly lower them to the start position
Hanging leg raises work everything from your legs and abs to lats and shoulders while also helping with mobility and stability.
Grip strength is also improved with this exercise, and it’s also good for improving your overall upper body flexibility.
Try performing five sets of five reps 2-3 times per week, then increasing either the number of sets/reps as you improve or adding additional weights to a weight belt.
8. Deadbug Pullovers
Traditional deadbugs are great for improving your core stability and spine strength.
The introduction of kettlebells in deadbug pullovers further influences positive development in the lower body and back areas.
How to do it:
Grab a kettlebell and lie on a mat flat on your back, then:
- Hold the kettlebell over your chest and lift your knees, keeping your feet flat on the ground
- Lift your knees over your hips, extending the lower half of your legs out, so they are parallel with the ground
- Tighten your stomach, then with arms still extended, lower the kettlebell down behind your head until it is over the ground
- Pause, then slowly return the kettlebell to the starting position
The lumbar region of the lower back and pelvis area both get a solid workout with deadbug pullovers.
This exercise also helps develop strength in the abs while improving overall posture through the extended range of limb motion.
Perform deadbug pullovers three times per week as part of your core strength and conditioning sessions in the gym.
7. Toe Reaches
As with the deadbug pullover, toe reaches are an easy-to-learn exercise for upper abs, which helps you to build abs and core strength.
This variation of touching your toes from a standing position brings additional focus to your rectus abdominis.
How to do it:
To perform the toe reaches exercise:
- Lie on your back with your legs straight up in the air and the soles of your feet facing upwards
- Stretch your arms out so they are parallel with your legs
- Lift your shoulders from the floor, reaching up and touching your toes
- Engage your core as you lift up and down so that your abs are worked during each repetition
As well as crunching your abs to build strength and definition, toe reaches help develop glutes.
This exercise also increases flexibility, particularly in the legs, as well as improves balance.
Feature this workout as part of your warm-up, or include it when focusing on specifically developing your abdominal muscles.
Another excellent upper abs workout that requires no equipment is the V-ups.
This workout thoroughly engages your core throughout each rep, improving stability and strength.
How to do it:
Once you have a mat laid out on the floor:
- Lie flat on your back with your arms straight out behind you and legs extended, slightly off the floor
- In a single motion, bring your torso and legs up, reaching with your hands towards your toes
- At the apex of this motion, your body will resemble the letter “V”
- Return to the starting position, then repeat for additional reps
Runners recommend this exercise since it increases strength and stability while also aiding lower body flexibility.
The lower abdominal muscles are also worked with V-ups, meaning you’ll get a more rounded overall core workout by including this in your routines.
Make sure you are comfortable with your form when first approaching the V-ups exercise, starting out with twice a week as part of a core workout.
5. Cable Crunches
The principal muscles targeted by the cable crunch exercise are the abs, making this a great exercise for core workout sessions.
It’s also an oblique-based exercise, making it a worthy addition to any routine looking to develop overall core strength.
How to do it:
To perform the cable crunches:
- Set the pulley on a cable machine to the highest setting on the weight of your choice
- Take the cable pulley handle with an overhand grip and get down on your knees facing the machine
- Pull the handle towards your face, so it’s at the top of your head
- Using your hips as a hinge and keeping your arms still, squeeze your abs and lower the cable down until your elbows are close to your legs
- Squeeze your abs and hold, then return to the starting position
As well as improving core stability and strength and definition in your abs, cable crunches also help with endurance building, which is why they’re one of the best upper ab exercises.
It’s also a solid exercise to use to complement other tougher routines such as deadlifts since it allows you to perform such compound moves more easily.
Cable crunches are worth including in a core-based session, with 15-20 repetitions across 2-3 sets, increasing the weights across time.
Inchworms are an elaboration on the abs walkout exercise, helping you develop even more flexibility and suppleness.
In addition to working the abs, this bodyweight exercise also works your legs, arms, upper back, and chest.
How to do it:
To perform the inchworm exercise:
- Stand up straight with your feet at hip-width apart, then reach down with your hands to the floor in front of your feet
- Allow your knees to bend slightly as your hands reach the ground, and once they reach the ground begin walking them forwards
- Once your hands are beneath your shoulders in a full plank position, and your body fully engaged, begin walking your feet up towards your hands
- As your feet come close to your hands, bending your knees slightly to assist, roll your back up from the hips until you’re back in the standing position
Chest and deltoid muscles are improved with this exercise, and inchworms can bring additional benefits through holding in a given position to give different muscles an additional workout.
It’s also great for stretching out sore hamstrings or as an active warm-up.
You can use the inchworms workout to warm up a wide range of muscles and prepare yourself for other exercises such as running or strength training.
3. Unilateral Leg Raises
Unilateral leg raises are a safe and effective way to develop strength and definition in the upper abs and warm-up before other workouts.
Hip flexors are also improved, and performing this exercise one leg at a time helps to focus on each side and fine-tune imbalances.
How to do it:
Find a mat and make space on the floor, then:
- Lie on your back with one leg straight and flat on the ground and the other raised at the knee
- Lift the straight leg, so it is pointing into the air at 90-degrees to the ground
- Keep the leg straight during this motion, then return it to the starting position
- Once you have performed the desired reps for this leg, switch and repeat with the other leg
This exercise benefits abs, quadriceps, and hip flexors to improve lower body strength and core flexibility.
It’s also incredibly easy to learn and master, so you can include this in your routines even if you’re new to exercising.
Perform this movement when warming up or down around other exercises (for instance, anything else core-related), aiming for 2-3 times per week.
2. Ab Rollouts
By controlling your body’s motion with the ab roller (or barbell/dumbbell), ab rollouts help you target muscles throughout the abdomen.
This also helps to build stronger abs, which leads to better stability and a well-protected spine.
How to do it:
Once you have the ab roller:
- Hold the ab wheel in front of you, raised up on your knees with your heels and feet off the ground, and crossed
- Place your weight on the ab wheel and lock your shoulders and keep your back neutral
- Brace your core, squeeze your glutes, then roll the wheel out in front of you
- Make sure your spine remains in the same position as you extend, pausing at the fully extended position with your body not quite touching the floor, so your core remains engaged
- Rollback up to the starting position
Ab rollouts are among the very best exercises if you want to work on building strength, definition, and stability in your core.
Obliques and lower back are also engaged, meaning your overall core strength and back support will be greatly improved over time.
You can perform this exercise regularly once you’ve mastered the technique, moving from 2-3 times per week up to 4-5 times per week as you become more advanced.
This exercise is designed almost exclusively for toning the core muscles, which makes it perhaps the best ab exercise for this goal.
Through strengthening these core muscles, crunches also improve posture and flexibility.
How to do it:
To perform crunches:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart
- Place your hands behind your head and engage your core muscles
- Lift your upper body towards your raised knees, ensuring your head and neck remain relaxed
- Return to the starting position
Crunches are a simple yet effective exercise that delivers results and builds great upper abs.
Performed in conjunction with other weight loss methods, and the results are defined abs and stronger obliques.
Include crunches as part of your overall core training sessions, aiming for 2-3 times per week.
FAQs About Upper Ab Exercises
Still not sure what benefits you’ll get from these exercises for upper abs? This FAQ will help clarify these issues.
Q: What do the upper abs do?
The upper abs are crucial for developing proper trunk flexion, which controls the movement of your upper torso.
Building stronger upper abs help to improve your upper body strength and flexibility, too.
Q: Do you need to train upper abs?
Training the upper abs helps to develop a strong core, meaning you’ll be more stable and will have a better overall posture.
Make sure you include other workouts as part of your core conditioning since it’s not just about the abs.
Q: How do I isolate my upper abs?
There is a wide range of upper abdominal workouts you can use to build muscles in this region.
If you’re still unsure which is the best upper abs exercise for you, read through this guide to find the ones that suit your needs.
Q: Why do upper abs show first?
Since your upper abs are easier to target through upper abdominal workouts, they tend to show through before your lower abs.
Rectus abdominis exercises will also help to strengthen your lower back, so it’s worth including them in your upper ab workout routines to help build strength in this area to avoid injuries.
Q: Can I train abs every day?
Training any muscle group daily isn’t advised since these muscles will need time to rest and recover.
This applies to your abs too, although you can perform light training regularly, for instance, exercises that don’t use heavy weights.
The best upper abs exercises help reduce belly fat through the development of muscles and cardiovascular fitness.
This guide should help you put together a great upper abdominal exercise routine that delivers the results you’re after.
Here’s a quick recap of the 10 best upper ab exercises:
- Ab Rollouts
- Unilateral Leg Raises
- Cable Crunches
- Toe Reaches
- Deadbug Pullovers
- Hanging Leg Raises
- Ab Walkouts
If you enjoyed this article, check out some of our other exercise lists:
- The 10 Best Lower Ab Exercises
- The 10 Best Rear Delt Exercises
- The 10 Best Side Delt Exercises
- The 10 Best Quad Exercises