The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (2024)

Your abdominal muscles, or abs for short, are at the center of your body and often at the center of attention in the fitness world.

Although they might seem like the ultimate vanity muscle, abs are essential to the body’s overall function, health, and well-being.

This article reviews the 10 best ab exercises for building a strong core and the six-pack of your dreams.

Click here to jump directly to the ab exercises!

Abdominal Anatomy and Function

The abdominal muscles, often celebrated for their appeal in the form of a “six-pack,” are much more than aesthetics.

Your abs are part of a complex group of muscles that serve as your body’s power hub and play essential roles in movement and stability: your core. They consist of five different muscles: the rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis, and pyramidalis.

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (1)

Rectus Abdominis

Therectus abdominisis the muscle that often steals the spotlight, running vertically down the front of the abdomen.

You see it as the “six-pack” when someone has visible abs.

Its main job is to move the body between the ribcage and the pelvis, bending the spine forward, like when you do acrunch.

Fun fact: some people have four-pack, eight-pack, or even ten-pack abs instead of the regular six-pack, as determined by your genes.

External Obliques

Yourexternal obliquesare positioned on each side of the rectus abdominis. They allow your trunk to twist and bend sideways.

They work in pairs: when you twist to the right side, your left external oblique pulls you in that direction.

Internal Obliques

Theinternal obliques, located just beneath the external obliques and running in the opposite direction, assist in breathing, twisting, and side bending but from a deeper layer.

They also coordinate with your external obliques to twist your torso and bend it sideways.

Transversus Abdominis

Thetransversus abdominis, lying deep beneath the other abdominal muscles, is your body’s natural corset, offering protection and stability to your spine.

When it contracts, it increases abdominal pressure to support your internal organs and helps with things like breathing, coughing, and pooping.💩

Pyramidalis

In addition to the big four above, you might also have a muscle called thepyramidalisin your lower abdomen. It’s a small, triangular muscle present in about 80% of the population. Its function is debated, as it likely has lost much of its original function through evolution.

When it contracts, its main action is to tense the linea alba, the thin band of connective tissue that runs down the front of your abdomen. If you don’t have a pyramidalis muscle, it’s no big deal, as people without one do just fine.

Together, your abs do much more than look great; they protect your internal organs, help maintain posture, and contribute to everyday life things you don’t even think about, like breathing. They act like a supportive corset, wrapping around your midsection to stabilize your core and spine during physical activity and ensure your body moves efficiently and safely.

Whether you’re lifting weights, running, or even snoring in bed, your abdominal muscles are always at work, crucial for your body’s function.

Benefits of Strong Abs

Strong, muscular abs look awesome but aren’t just for show.

Here are five compelling reasons to get on the ab train. Choo choo! 🚂

  1. Improved Posture. Strong abs keep your spine supported and upright, meaning you’ll stand taller and look more confident. Even more important, a good posture is just what the doctor ordered for your long-term spine health.
  2. Back Pain, Be Gone. A solid core makes you less likely to suffer from lower back pain. It acts as a supportive buddy system for your back, reducing the likelihood of aches and strains.
  3. Enhanced Athletic Performance. Whether you’re sprinting to catch the bus or training for a marathon, your abs keep you going. A strong core acts as a power center, enabling you to perform better in virtually any sport.
  4. Daily Tasks Made Easier. From lifting groceries to moving furniture and doing heavy barbell squats, strong abs improve your efficiency and reduce the effort needed for both everyday tasks and athletic endeavors.
  5. Improved Balance and Stability. A strong core makes you less likely to tumble over while trying to put on your pants one leg at a time. More importantly, it can prevent falls and save you from hurting yourself.

Without further dilly-dallying, let’s jump straight into the ten best ab exercises list.

The 10 Best Ab Exercises

These are our choice of the ten best ab exercises. Note that they are for the rectus abdominis, your six-pack muscle, first and foremost. For oblique training and exercises, check out How to Train Your Obliques.

You can also view these exercises on the go if you’re in the midst of your workout, for example, in the StrengthLog workout tracker.

1. Ab Wheel Roll-Out

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (2)

The ab wheel rollout is the nemesis of weak cores worldwide. It is also easily one of the best ab exercises you can do. It is particularly effective for activating your lower abs.

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (3)

The ab wheel rollout is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for your entire core, with the main dish being your six-pack abs. It targets:

  • Your rectus abdominis gets a thorough thrashing as it works overtime to keep your entire body straight as you roll out and to bring you back to the starting position.
  • The internal and external oblique muscles are fully engaged to keep your upper body stable during the movement.
  • Your transverse abdominis, the deep abs that wrap around your torso, acting as your body’s natural corset, are forced to do their job when you roll out and back.

As a bonus, your pectoralis major, the big chest muscle, is also surprisingly active during the ab wheel rollout.1

Besides being a superb ab exercise, the ab wheel rollout offers a few more nifty benefits.

  • It teaches your body to work as a unit, improving balance and coordination.
  • It’s super-easy to do anywhere. Well, not easy easy, but easy as in practical. An ab wheel is light and portable, so you can bring it with you wherever you go. Keep your abs in check in your hotel room, or stash a wheel away in the office to polish them during lunch break.

The ab wheel rollout comes in two versions. The first is accessible for most people, while the second is one of the most demanding core exercises you can do.

Regular vs. Kneeling Version

Kneeling Rollout: This version is like the ab wheel rollout with training wheels. It’s perfect for beginners or when you’re developing your core strength.

Standing on your knees reduces the load on your abs, making it a great starting point.

Regular (Straight-Leg) Rollout: This is the ultimate test of core strength and stability. It is one of the hardest ab exercises you can do – it’s not technically advanced but simply gruelingly brutal. It’s suitable for experienced fitness enthusiasts looking for an even greater challenge. It requires significant strength, balance, and control, putting more demand on all your core and stability muscles, as you’re essentially in a plank position moving dynamically.

If you haven’t tried ab wheel rollouts, be prepared to wake up sore tomorrow. Few exercises give your abdominal muscles such a beating, but keep at it, and you’ll be rolling out like a pro in no time.

How to Perform Ab Wheel Rollouts

  1. Start by kneeling on the floor with your hands on the ab wheel, placed directly in front of your knees.
  2. Engage your core and slowly roll the wheel forward until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your head.
  3. Be sure to keep your back straight and your core engaged throughout the entire movement.
  4. Reverse the movement, roll the ab wheel back towards your knees, and return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

2. Hanging Leg Raise

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (4)

The hanging leg raise is a great way to build your ab muscles. Plus, they’re easy to do at home or the gym with minimal equipment: all you need is something that bears your body weight to hang from.

The star of the hanging leg raise show is your rectus abdominis. That’s your six-pack muscle, stretching from your ribs to your hips, working hard to pull your legs up.

It also works your obliques (those muscles on the side of your abs), transversus, hip flexors, and secondarily, your forearms and grip strength from just hanging there.

To maximize the benefits of the hanging leg raise, keep proper form in mind at all times. That means no swinging or using momentum to lift your legs and keep your core tight and engaged.

A helpful pointer to maintain tension in your abs throughout the movement is to cross your legs at your ankles, squeeze your knees together, and try to pull your feet apart at the same time. With your legs hanging down in the start position, contract your abs and use them to pull your legs up without any momentum.

How to Perform Hanging Knee Raises

  1. Grasp a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hang from the bar with your arms fully extended and your body in a straight line from your head to your heels.
  3. Engage your core and keep your back straight.
  4. Bend your knees and raise your legs towards your chest, as high as you can, keeping your back straight and your core engaged.
  5. Slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

If hanging leg raises feel to challening, you’ll find the next exercise more to your liking.

3. Hanging Knee Raise

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (5)

Not everyone can do full leg raises with straight legs, at least from the get-go, and that’s okay. Hanging knee raises are a significantly less difficult move and your go-to alternative.

Hanging knee raises are very similar to their straight-legged big brother: you hang from a bar like a sloth, but instead of chilling, you lift your legs towards your chest, engaging both your lower and upper abs. Only this time, you bend your knees as you do so, making the movement much more manageable.

Like with hanging leg raises, you want to keep your core engaged at all times, pull your legs up using your abdominal strength, and avoid using momentum by swinging back and forth.

How to Perform Hanging Knee Raises

  1. Grasp a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hang from the bar with your arms fully extended and your body in a straight line from your head to your heels.
  3. Engage your core and keep your back straight.
  4. Bend your knees and raise your legs towards your chest, as high as you can, keeping your back straight and your core engaged.
  5. Slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

4. Lying Leg Raise

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (6)

A less challenging type of leg raise than the hanging variations, the lying leg raise is an excellent entry-level ab exercise for all parts of your six-pack abs.2

If you are a beginner and lack the strength to engage your abs properly, consider doing your leg raises one leg at a time, with your other leg bent and your foot on the floor. Doing so will also likely prevent the lower back discomfort some people experience when doing lying leg raises.

Speaking of your low pack, perform the lying leg raise on a bench, yoga mat, or carpet instead of on the hard floor.

How to Perform Lying Leg Raises

  1. Lie down with your back on the floor, and your arms at your sides.
  2. With straight legs, lift your legs until they are pointing straight up.
  3. Lower your legs again, with control.
  4. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

5. Crunch

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (7)

The traditional crunch is one of the most classic ab exercises, the bread and butter of many ab workout plans; it’s been around for ages and is still going strong.

While the spotlight’s on your rectus abdominis (your six-pack), the crunch also gives a little love to your obliques that help with twisting and side-bending. If you want to target those side abs more, you can literally add a twist to the exercise by doingoblique crunchesinstead. It’s very similar to regular crunches, except you lift your upper body diagonally so that the elbow and shoulder on one side of your body move towards the knee on the opposite side.

Perhaps the neatest thing about crunches is that they can be done anywhere, with no equipment necessary. Whether at the gym, at home, or on vacation, you can always squeeze in a quick ab session. It’s the ultimate no-excuse exercise.

You can easily make your crunches more challenging by holding a weight plate, a book, or something similar in front of your chest for added resistance.

How to Crunch

  1. Lie on your back with your hands in front of your chest and your knees bent to about 90 degrees.
  2. Lift your shoulder blades off the floor by contracting your abs and bending forward.
  3. Bend as far forward as possible while keeping your low back in contact with the floor, and then return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

6. Cable Crunch

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (8)

The cable crunch requires some equipment – a cable machine – but it’s one of the greatest ab exercises for building a stronger core.

Pulling the weight towards the floor with your abs primarily hits your rectus abdominis but also your obliques and deep core muscles to some extent.

The cable crunch has two distinct advantages over the regular crunch:

  • Unlike traditional crunches, where your only adversary is gravity, cable crunches introduce external resistance and make it easy to use heavy weights when needed. Like any other muscle group, the abs respond to progressive overload.
  • In addition, you get a longer range of motion, allowing you to extend fully and crunch down with added resistance.

Remember that while being able to use heavier weights is great, don’t use too much weight to the point where you have to use your entire body to get them moving. After all, you’re going for an abs workout, not a full-body workout.

How to Perform Cable Crunches

  1. Attach a rope handle to the high pulley of the cable machine. Kneel down on the floor or a mat, about a foot or two from the machine, facing the pulley.
  2. Bend your upper body forward by contracting your abs, bringing your elbows toward your knees. Hold the ropes on either side of your head throughout the movement.
  3. Keep your hips stationary and avoid bending at the hips. The movement should solely come from your waist and abdominals crunching down.
  4. Once you’re in the fully crunched position, squeeze your abs to maximize the contraction.
  5. Return to the starting position by extending your waist. Again, ensure the movement is controlled, resisting the weight on the way back up.
  6. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

7. Machine Crunch

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (9)

The machine crunch is many fitness enthusiasts’ top pick for a great ab workout routine and strong core muscles. The machine offers stability and allows you to focus entirely on your abs and nothing else.

Like regular and cable crunches, machine crunches work your rectus abdominis with a side dish of obliques.

Unlike other crunch variations, you sit or lie down on a cushy machine and perform crunches with added resistance. The resistance comes from weights or hydraulics, depending on the machine, making your abs work harder than they do with regular floor crunches.

How to Perform Machine Crunches

  1. Adjust the machine to the appropriate settings, sit down, and grip the handles.
  2. Bend forward by contracting your abs.
  3. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position with control.
  4. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

8. Plank

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (10)

The plank is a hugely popular and effective core-strengthening exercise that involves maintaining a position similar to a push-up for as long as possible. Unlike dynamic exercises involving movement, like sit-ups and leg raises, the plank is a static exercise that creates and sustains tension in your muscles.

The most common plank has you balance on your forearms and toes, with your elbows directly under your shoulders. Plank variations include theside plank, which focuses on your obliques, and the high plank, which you perform with straight arms and balancing on your hands instead of your forearms.

A little-known trick for making the standard plank a more effective exercise for your abs is to move your elbows up close to your head like this (or even further):

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (11)

Increasing the distance between your elbows and toes while holding the plank boosts ab activation significantly.3 Focus on contracting your glutes at the same time, and you’ve turned the regular plank into a five times more effective exercise.

How to Perform the Plank

  1. Stand on your elbows and feet.
  2. Brace your abs and try to form and hold a straight line from your head to feet.
  3. Hold the position for the intended length of time or as long as you can.

9. Dead Bug

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (12)

Thedead bugis a low-impact, high-reward exercise that’s about as fun as it is effective. Imagine getting stronger, more stable abs while lying down – it sounds like one of the best ab workouts ever.

Dead bugs are a fantastic move that strengthens your core without putting unnecessary strain on your lower back. It engages your rectus abdominis and obliques, and by keeping your back flat on the ground, you work your abs while keeping your spine in a happy, neutral position.

In addition, the dead bug forces your limbs to do a little dance in opposition to each other, which can help improve your coordination and balance.

The dead bug exercise might have a funny name, and you might look a bit like an overturned insect while doing it, but it’s a powerhouse move for developing a functionally fit core.

Fun fact: many ab exercises (and exercises for other muscle groups) benefit from performing the movements relatively slowly. Not the dead bug. Speeding up your reps activates your abs more.4 Keep it controlled, but move your arms and legs faster than you would in most other strength training exercises.

How to Perform Dead Bugs

  1. Lie on your back like a bug that’s been flipped over, with your arms straight up towards the ceiling and your legs stacked over your hips, with the knees bent in a 90-degree angle.
  2. Engage your core, and make sure that the lower back has contact with the surface.
  3. With control, straighten out the right leg and lower it towards the floor at the same time as you lower the left arm over your head as far as you can. Keep the lower back in contact with the floor the entire time.
  4. Reverse the movement, and repeat for the other side.

10. Ball Slams

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (13)

The ball slam exercise is a dynamic and powerful movement that is more than just another ab exercise.

It’s a superbcompound movementengaging multiple major muscles across your body, including your shoulders, glutes, and back muscles. Ball slams are the bees’ knees for anyone looking to enhance their core strength, power, and overall fitness.

As for your abs, lifting a weighted ball overhead and then forcefully slamming it down to the ground works your core throughout the motion. It requires significant force and stabilization from your abs, making it an excellent exercise for building core strength and power.

Other benefits of including ball slams in your arsenal of core-strength exercises include:

  • The explosive nature of the ball slam improves your power and speed, which benefits athletic performance in many different sports.
  • A series of high-effort ball slams raise your heart rate, offering cardiovascular benefits and burning plenty of calories.
  • The movement requires coordination between your upper and lower body and balance to execute the slam with good form. In short, your body becomes more effective at dynamic movements involving almost your entire body.
  • Last but not least, slamming a ball down can be a great stress reliever. If you’ve had a rough day and need an outlet, a session of ball slams might be just what the doctor ordered. Plus, it’s a killer workout for your core: win-win! Remember, the ball doesn’t have feelings; you can slam away without guilt.

How to Ball Slam

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, your knees and hips slightly bent, holding the ball in both hands at chest height. Engage your core, and keep a good posture.
  2. Extend your knees and drive your hips forward while simultaneously lifting the ball. Aim for being as tall as possible, the ball overhead, arms up, hips slightly forward, and on your toes from the force of your drive.
  3. Use your core and arms to slam the medicine ball straight down between your feet with as much force as possible. Press your hips back and bend your knees to further power the slam. Exhale as you slam the ball down.
  4. Squat down to pick up the ball from the floor, then immediately move into the next slam by repeating the movement.
  5. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions or for the intended length of time.

Ab Workout for Muscle and Strength

With the list above, you have enough ab exercises to build the best abs possible, whether you’re a beginner, athlete, or competitive bodybuilder.

Let’s take a look at what an effective ab workout can look like.

StrengthLog’s Ab Workout

ExerciseSetsReps
Kneeling Ab Wheel Roll-Out38
High to Low Wood Chop310
Hanging Leg Raise312
Crunch320

With this workout, you combine three of the best ab exercises with a movement for your obliques into a comprehensive ab workout for both strength and muscle growth.

This ab workout is available for free in ourworkout log app.

StrengthLog is 100 % free, but our premium version offers additional benefits.

Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (14)
The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (15)

Visible Abs: The Importance of Your Diet

Let’s get real: many people primarily do ab exercises to get a nice, visible six-pack.

However, you can do ab exercises until you turn blue in the face, but if your abs are covered by body fat, your efforts are in vain.

Of course, they aren’t wasted, as you get all the strength and functionality benefits, but training your abs does not make them visible or burn fat around your waistline.

You can do thousands of sit-ups daily, but if your diet isn’t on point, your body fat levels will prevent your abs from showing.

Abs Are Made In the Kitchen

A classic fitness saying is that abs are made in the kitchen. No matter how many crunches or planks you do, your abs won’t play peek-a-boo without a diet that supports fat loss.

You must consume fewer calories than you burn, compelling your body to use stored fat for energy. Your abs are there if you train them regularly; they’re just under a layer of insulation. Reducing that layer through a fat-loss diet makes them visible.

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (16)

A good rule of thumb for an effective calorie deficit is about 500 calories below your daily maintenance calories. Typically, -500 calories daily lead to a weight loss of about one pound per week. Combine that with strength training and a high-protein diet for best results. You’ll lose fat and maintain (or even gain) muscle, and your abs will slowly and surely appear.

Our comprehensive guide to cutting provides the best way to six-pack abs, regardless of your starting point:

>> How to Cut: Lose Fat and Keep Your Muscle Mass

Final Words

You have reached the end of this guide to the best ab exercises. Thank you for reading!

Remember, abs might be made in the kitchen, but they’re sculpted in the gym—or in your home gym, living room, or wherever you can do your crunches or leg raises.

The best ab exercises are those you actually do, so get to it!

Good luck with your training!

Click here to return to ourlist of strength training programs and workouts.

Click here to return to our fulllist of strength training exercises.

References

  1. Medical Express 2(4):1-5, August 2015. Muscle Activation Pattern During Isometric Ab Wheel Rollout Exercise in Different Shoulder Angle-Positions.
  2. J Athl Train. 1993 Summer; 28(2): 120, 122, 124, 126. Electromyographic Analysis of Four Popular Abdominal Exercises.
  3. J Athl Train. 1993 Summer; 28(2): 120, 122, 124, 126. Electromyographic Analysis of Four Popular Abdominal Exercises.
  4. Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Science 2017;6:1-6. Changes in muscle activity of the abdominal muscles according to exercise method and speed during dead bug exercise.

Related Posts

The 10 Best Ab Exercises for Muscle and Strength (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Allyn Kozey

Last Updated:

Views: 5671

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (63 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Allyn Kozey

Birthday: 1993-12-21

Address: Suite 454 40343 Larson Union, Port Melia, TX 16164

Phone: +2456904400762

Job: Investor Administrator

Hobby: Sketching, Puzzles, Pet, Mountaineering, Skydiving, Dowsing, Sports

Introduction: My name is Allyn Kozey, I am a outstanding, colorful, adventurous, encouraging, zealous, tender, helpful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.