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A Trainer's Take on 13 of the Most Popular Abs Exercises

  -- By Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor
Updated by Melissa Rudy, 2/2/17

We often get questions about the best abdominal exercises—after all, who doesn't want to exercise their tummy muscles in the most efficient way possible? There are countless exercises that target the abs, including fitness DVDs and even the pricey machines that you often see on infomercials. But do you need a video or specialized piece of equipment to get the abs of your dreams?

A study conducted at San Diego State University's Biomechanics Lab (and published by the American Council on Exercise) says no. Their research revealed that the best exercises for your abs don't require any gizmos or gadgets, and are surprisingly easy to fit into your day.

Researchers looked at the effectiveness of 13 common abdominal exercises—everything from crunches to the "Ab Roller"  machine—and ranked them from best to worst. Using EMG (electromyography), researchers measured the muscle activity of the participants to determine which exercises best targeted the abs and the obliques, while also limiting the activity of the hips and thighs (because when an abdominal exercise is executed poorly, the hips and thighs engage to "help out" the abs).

ACE-certified personal trainer Shane McLean weighed in on each exercise and why it works so well so you can stop wasting time and start working toward the abs of your dreams.

1. Bicycle Crunches
2. Knee Lifts on Captain's Chair
3. Crunches on Ball
4. Crunches with Vertical Legs 5. Torso Track Machine
6. Crunches with Arms Extended 7. Reverse Crunches:
8. Crunches with Heel Push:
9. Ab Roller
10. Plank
11. Traditional Crunches
12. Exercise Tubing Pull
13. Ab Rocker
To view the entire study report from ACE, click here. (You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download this PDF.)

The big takeaway from this study is that you really don't need to buy anything special to train your abs. However, if you are going to invest in one piece of exercise equipment, a simple and inexpensive stability ball is extremely versatile for all types of exercises.

Remember, every individual performs exercises differently, and a movement that is effective for one person may be ineffective or uncomfortable for someone else. Listen to your body, work at a level that is comfortable for you and never perform an exercise that causes pain. Your abs are just like any other muscles in your body, so train them accordingly. That means one to three sessions per week, and one or two days of rest in between workouts. Also, be sure to avoid the top 10 abs training mistakes.