We often get questions about the best abs exercises—after all, who doesn't want to tone their tummy in the least amount of time? There are countless exercises that target the abs, including fitness DVDs (Does "8 Minute Abs" ring a bell?) and even 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 ACE, the American Council on Exercise) says no. Their research revealed that the best exercises for your abs don't require any gizmos, 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. 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).
Overall, researchers said that all of these exercises are "relatively effective" ways to train the abs—but some are more effective than others.
Check out their ranking of abs exercises (from best to worst) below:
4. Crunches with Vertical Legs: This exercise is just like a traditional crunch (see #11 below), but with your legs extended up into the air, in line with the hips.
5. Torso Track Machine
6. Crunches with Arms Extended: This exercise is just like a traditional crunch (see #11 below), but you extend your arms overhead, squeezing your upper arms by your ears as your crunch up and lower down.
7. Reverse Crunches: Click here for a demo.
8. Crunches with Heel Push: This exercise is just like the Crunches with Vertical Legs (see #4 above), except that as you crunch up you also slightly lift your hips off the ground (feet towards the ceiling).
9. Ab Roller Machine
10. Plank: Click here for a demo.
11. Traditional Crunches: Click here for a demo.
12. Exercise Tubing Pull
13. Ab Rocker Machine
To view the entire study report from ACE, click here. (You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download this PDF.)
Action Sparked: It's important to remember that every individual performs exercises differently, and even in this study, an exercise that proved effective for one person was sometimes ineffective or uncomfortable for another person. Especially for people with back, spine or disc issues, it can be tricky to find exercises that don't aggravate your problems. So listen to your body and work at a level that is comfortable for you, and never perform an exercise that causes pain.
The big thing you can take from this study is that you really don't need to buy anything special to train your abs—traditional exercises prove to be better. But if you are going to invest in one piece of exercise equipment, a simple and inexpensive stability ball is the way to go. Not only are crunches on the ball ranked as #3 above, but the ball is extremely versatile for all types of exercises.
Remember that your abs are just like any other muscles in your body, so train them accordingly. That means 1-3 sessions per week, and 1-2 days of rest in between abs workouts. Also, be sure to avoid the top 10 abs training mistakes.