5 Upper Ab Workouts To Get Perfect Abs

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  • The 5 Best Ab Exercises for Women

    For many women, achieving a lean midsection is no easy feat. Men and women’s muscles aren’t significantly different, but women tend to be wider through the pelvis and have a longer waist. This can make it challenging to get flat, firm abs.

    But visible abdominal muscles aren’t impossible — you might just need to commit to doing more than standard sit-ups.

    The best abdominal exercises for women target four muscle groups in your core:

    • External abdominal obliques. These are the muscles in your sides that you can feel just beneath your arms, along your ribcage.
    • Internal abdominal obliques. These are stabilizing muscles that lie underneath your external obliques.
    • Transversus abdominus. These are the deepest muscles. They run horizontally around your midsection.
    • Rectus abdominus. These muscles run from your sternum down to your pelvis. They help flex your spine as you walk. They’re also the most superficial muscles in your abdomen and the ones you see in “six-pack” abs.

    Essential ab exercises

    To properly target and tone all four muscle groups, it’s important to perform a range of stabilization exercises. Training these core muscles will also stabilize your spine and pelvis to improve your posture and reduce or avoid back pain.

    Unlike traditional crunches or sit-ups, stabilization exercises that target the core will work more muscles and burn more calories.

    Complete these abdominal exercises two to three times a week for a stronger core.

    Plank crawl out

    Share on PinterestImage source: Photos by Andrew Warner Photography | Model is Amy Crandall

    1. Stand up tall with your feet together and your core engaged.
    2. Bend at the hips and try to touch the floor. As soon as your fingertips hit the floor, walk your hands out until you reach a push-up position.
    3. Crawl your way back up to the starting position by inching your hands backward and piking your hips up to the ceiling. When your feet are flat on the floor, bend at the hips again and lift yourself back up to the standing position.

    Advanced option

    You can make this exercise harder by lifting one leg before walking your hands out.


    Using your arms and legs in this exercise adds intensity and resistance.

    Side plank

    Share on PinterestImage source: Photos by Andrew Warner Photography | Model is Amy Crandall

    1. Begin on your left side, with your elbow directly below your shoulder and your forearm perpendicular to your body.
    2. Stack your feet or place one in front of the other.
    3. Contract your abs and lift your hips off the floor until your body makes a diagonal line from your shoulder to your feet.
    4. Hold this position for 30 to 45 seconds.
    5. Switch sides and repeat.

    Add hip dips for an extra challenge. Perform the same exercise for 30 to 45 seconds but continually dip your hips until you lightly tap the floor and then return to the starting position.

    Unlike a traditional plank, you’ll support your body weight on just two points of contact. This requires more work from your core to stay stable. Your back and abs work together to keep your spine elongated.

    Reverse crunch

    Share on PinterestImage source: Photos by Andrew Warner Photography | Model is Amy Crandall

    1. Begin in a seated position, knees bent at 90-degree angles and feet flat.
    2. Reach your arms forward, palms facing each other.
    3. Exhale, pulling your belly button toward your spine.
    4. Roll back onto your tailbone, curving your spine into a C shape.
    5. Inhale and return to the starting position. Repeat, doing 15 more reverse crunches.

    Try the same exercises, but rather then rolling back into a C shape, roll all the way back until you’re flat on your back.

    This exercise emphasizes the rectus abdominus.

    Boat pose

    Share on PinterestImage source: Photos by Andrew Warner Photography | Model is Amy Crandall

    1. Begin by sitting upright with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
    2. Lean back, balancing on your sit bones and lift your legs off the floor.
    3. Extend your arms out straight, palms up. Your body will form a V shape.
    4. Hold for 30 seconds.

    Transition into a low boat pose by dropping your feet to about six inches above the floor.


    This exercise focuses on your lower abs.

    Alligator drag

    For this exercise, you’ll need space to move in and something that will slide easily across the floor. Try a towel on hardwood or tile floors, or a plastic bag or Frisbee on carpet.

    Share on PinterestImage source: Photos by Andrew Warner Photography | Model is Amy Crandall

    1. Begin in a plank position with your feet on a towel, bag, or Frisbee.
    2. Walk forward, using your hands only and dragging your lower body along for 10 to 20 yards.
    3. Keep your core and glutes tight as you move forward.
    4. Rest for a minute and then alligator drag back to where you began.
    5. Rest and repeat.

    This one’s hard enough as it is!

    You’ll use your entire core for stability in this exercise. It also combines movement and resistance for added intensity.

    The takeaway

    Remember, exercises like these will help you strengthen your ab muscles and improve your posture. But according to Mayo Clinic, there’s no such thing as “spot reducing” fat in specific parts of your body.

    That means you might not get six-pack abs even if you do hundreds of repetitions. Instead, work on reducing overall body fat by taking in fewer calories and sticking to a consistent exercise plan.

    We all play favorites at the gym—some of us love squats while others live for lifting. Perhaps instead, you dream of abs day (who could blame you when it involves so much laying down). If this sounds like you, maybe you’re ready to up your game. Or maybe you’re a total masochist looking for the toughest moves out there. Either way, these won’t disappoint.

    We chatted with a few of the best trainers in the business to get their tips. Need proof that these exercises work? Our experts have the six packs to prove it. (Get the secret to banishing belly bulge with Flat Belly Barre.)

    Tabletop abs

    Kelsey Patel

    How to do it: Come onto all fours with your knees underneath your hips and your hands underneath your shoulders. Gently lift your right leg up, bending your knee and pointing your toe, until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Begin pulling the knee towards your chest, underneath the rib cage, using your core. Keeping the abs engaged, lift knee back to hip height. Repeat 10 times. Then begin pulling the knee toward the left elbow and back up to hip height. Repeat 10 times. Then begin pulling the knee toward the right elbow and back up to hip height. Repeat 10 times. Go slowly with each move and engage the abs the entire time and remember to breathe. Switch legs and repeat the series. Try this entire sequence on both sides twice for a total of 160 repetitions. If that seems like too much, and you want to start slow, try only one full round, says Kelsey Patel, yoga instructor and owner of Pure Barre Beverly Hills.

    The benefits: If it sounds intense, that’s because it is. This series will target your entire core, but mainly hits the upper abs and those hard-to-reach side abs, says Patel.

    RELATED: 3 Workouts That Burn More Calories Than A 3-Mile Run

    Scissor switch abs

    Kelsey Patel

    How to do it: Come down to your back, legs long and toes pointed. Gently come up onto your elbows, keeping them close to your sides. Lengthen your spine and pull your shoulders away from your ears. Keeping your legs straight, lift your right leg up toward the sky and hover the left leg two to three inches off the ground. Once you are in this starting position, engage your core and lengthen your tailbone. Be sure to keep your shoulders relaxed. Slowly switch legs with your core strength, keeping the legs long and straight. Take three seconds to switch between legs. Try this 10 times on each side. Rest and repeat two to three times. If this is too much on your lower back, you can modify by keeping one foot on the floor and lifting one leg at a time or by bending the knees.

    The benefits: This targets your lowest abs—a hard-to-reach part of your core, says Patel.

    Hate crunches? Check out this standing flat-abs workout:


    How to do it: Get into a forearm plank position, with your left forearm and right foot both resting on separate Bosu balls. Extend your right arm, and then extend your left leg. Hold the plank for as long as you can without breaking form. Repeat on the opposite side. If you are new to planks, start out with a standard forearm plank and aim to hold it for 30 seconds, says Caitlin Bailey, senior personal trainer at NYC-based PhilanthroFIT. If this becomes too easy, challenge yourself to hold the plank for longer before trying unstable variations.

    The benefits: When it comes to challenging your core muscles nothing else compares to planks, says Bailey. This isometric exercise is perfect for narrowing the waist as the focus is on pulling the abdominals in as tight as you can and holding that contraction for as long as possible. There are infinite variations which make it easy to avoid getting bored with this exercise.

    RELATED: ‘I Did 30 Burpees Every Day For 15 Days—Here’s What Happened’

    Side plank with hip dip

    Katie Austin

    How to do it: Speaking of plank variations, this one’s a killer. Keep one hand on the ground, the other up in the air. Your feet should both be on the ground, staggered, and your body balanced. Make sure your abs are tight and you’re in balance. To make it a little more challenging, try dipping your hip down slowly just a few inches and come back up. Hold for 20 seconds each side.

    The benefit: The side plank is a torso toner and upper body strengthener, but will really target those obliques, says Katie Austin, founder of Get Fit With Katie. If you’re up for it, small hip dips during this move will leave you beyond sore the next day.

    Rope Climbers

    Katie Austin

    How to do it: Lie on your back with your feet straight up in the air. Tightly engage your core, and lift your opposite hand to reach your opposite toe, as if you are climbing a rope in front of your toes. You can really challenge yourself with this exercise by holding light weights (three to five pounds) as you touch your toes, says Austin. Complete for 30 seconds.

    The benefit: This move hits your lower, upper, and side abs. What more can a girl ask for?

    RELATED: 7 Reasons Your Butt Isn’t Changing No Matter How Much You Work Out

    Flutter kick

    Katie Austin

    How to do it: Lie on your back with your hands by your side. Straighten your legs, and in a steady movement, lift them up and down at opposite times. Complete for 30 seconds.

    The benefit: Just because it looks easy, doesn’t mean it is. “This movement is very slight, but it burns!” says Austin. “This is one of my favorite intense moves for the lower abs.”


    Katie Austin

    How to do it: Sitting on the floor with your back straight and knees bent toward your chest, extend your legs straight out. Then, use your abs muscles to bring those legs back up to your chest. If you need help with balancing, you may use your hands behind you for support. Complete for 30 seconds.

    The benefit: You will feel this burn right in the middle of your core, says Austin. Targeting your core at its’ core—it doesn’t get much more intense than that.

    Out and Ups

    Christi Marraccini

    How to do it: Start by laying on your back with your hands by your sides or under the small of your back. Bring your knees to your chest, driving your feet straight up, lifting your hips off the ground at the top of the movement. Bring your knees back to your chest and extend your legs parallel to the floor keeping your heels off the ground. When your legs are in the air, be sure that your feet don’t come too far past your head. To make the move more difficult, try keeping your legs straight on the return instead of bending them into your chest. Repeat this move for one minute.

    The benefit: You’ll feel this one burning in your lower abs, says Christi Marraccini, a trainer at Tone House.

    Side V-Ups

    Christi Marraccini

    How to do it: Start by laying on your right hip with your right forearm on the floor and left arm above your head. Bring your left hand to meet both feet at the top ending in a V. Return to the starting position not letting your feet touch the floor. For an added challenge, hold a weighted object between your feet, says Marraccini. Complete for one minute and then complete on the other side.

    The benefit: No surprise here, you’re laying on your side to sculpt those side abs.

    Plank to pike

    Sadie Kurzban

    How to do it: Place a towel under your toes and get into a plank on your hands. Using your core to pull your feet in, push your weight into your hands as if you are springing into a handstand. Your feet may only move six inches in. The key is to pull from your core, not your hips, says Sadie Kurzban, founder of ((305)) Fitness. Do these as slowly as possible to feel the full effect. Repeat three 30 second sets with 10 seconds of rest in between.

    The benefits: You’ll be working those six-pack muscles with a special focus on your lower abs, says Kurzban.

    Do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in your right hand, palm facing inwards towards the torso. Keep your back straight, activate your core, and then bend to the side as far as possible—but only at the waist. Hold for one second at the bottom of your range of motion, and return to start for one rep. Do between 12 and 20 reps for one set.

    Trainer tip: “Be smart when you pick the weight,” says Wealth. “It shouldn’t feel impossible. Using reasonable weights will help you focus on keeping your abs tight during the exercise for maximum results. And keep that tempo nice and slow.” The real six-pack is not the lift itself—it’s the burning sensation you feel along the way.

    Barbell back squat

    Equipment: Barbell—no weights, though. For now.

    Do it: With your feet shoulder-width apart, lift a barbell off the rig, centering it evenly across your shoulders. (This version of the squat targets the core, not the legs, and so you should be using far less weight than you would for a traditional back squat.) Send your glutes back like you’re lowering into a chair, bending at the knees as deeply as possible. Press through your heels to return to the starting position for one rep. Do 12 reps for one set.

    Trainer tip: “Think about maintaining tension in your abs throughout the entire movement,” says Wealth. “Once you have the movement mastered, you can add additional weights to the barbell. By going up in small increments, though, you’ll stay injury-free.”

    Bird dog

    Equipment: None.

    Do it: Think of this as an upside-down dead bug. Start in a tabletop position, with your shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. Engage your core while simultaneously lifting your right arm and left leg. Your foot should be flexed as you kick back, and your palm should face in towards your body. Pause for one second when your arm and leg are at the same height as your torso, and then bring your elbow and knee to touch underneath the body. Repeat on the other side for one rep, and do five reps for one set.

    Trainer tip: “Be careful not to hyperextend your elbows! Maintaining a slight bend fires up those triceps,” says Wilking. “Keep the neck long by looking down and a few inches in front of you, and use the exhale portion of each breath to create tension.”

    Model: Joshua Cummings at Wilhelmina

    Grooming by Barry White

    You’re Doing Sit-ups All Wrong, According to Personal Trainers

    Here’s how to fix it.

    By Jay Willis

    Get more workout guides from GQ

    • The Best Chest Exercises for Building a Broad, Strong Upper Body
    • The Best Back Exercises for Getting That Perfect V-Shaped Torso

    Want rock hard abs? Top exercises recommended by experts for hot beach body

    One reason why we love our icons is that they give us goals. Be it the svelte Katrina Kaif in Kala Chashma or Kamli, Varun Dhawan’s famous eight-pack, or divas Mandira Bedi and Sushmita Sen raising the bar with their post-workout pictures on social media. But as summer approaches, our struggles with those ever-elusive beach-ready abs come back to haunt us again. According to fitness experts Amaresh Ojha and Ilu Singh, who believe in the mantra, ‘Eat clean, lift heavy’, a desirable core and abs can be achieved by keeping a few things in mind.


    Target the fat: Your belly has two types of belly fat—subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. The former is also known as spare tire, is the fat just beneath the skin. This cannot be specifically targeted. The only way to reduce is to by reducing the overall weight of the body, which can be achieved with proper nutrition, and an exercise regime comprising weight lifting and cardio. However, losing body weight only by doing cardio or practising unhealthy methods will cause your skin to hang and have no firmness.

    My most favourite thing to do!! I could skip lunch for this!! 🤪

    A post shared by Mandira Bedi (@mandirabedi) on Mar 13, 2018 at 8:06pm PDT

    On the other hand, visceral fat — also known as deep belly fat — is stored primarily around your organs such as the stomach, liver and pancreas. This can be targeted, and reduced by eating a high fibre diet, low-carb diet, complemented by proper sleep.

    Most of us make the mistake of overtraining our abs. Your abs also need rest to recover. If you train your abs two days consecutively then make sure you take two days of rest: Ilu Singh

    Focusing on core: The secret to a six-pack is a strong, stable core. Instead of focusing specifically on abs, focus on your entire core: the abdomen, lower back, and pelvis. This doesn’t mean you stop doing those crunches, but that you should add exercises like planks and battle ropes to your arsenal. Go for short cardio sessions (ten minutes), and focus on the right form, instead of the number of repetitions. Also remember to take fewer breaks in between.

    Amp up the intensity: There is no need to do one thousand crunches a day. Avoid overtraining. Instead, focus on compound lifts such as squats/deadlifts, which are excellent for your core. They also help maintain better form in ab exercises. Three days of weight training, combined with strength and core training two days a week, is the ideal workout.

    @yasminkarachiwala innovating ways of using a resistance band @danielbauermakeupandhair doing one of the three things he usually does on set … dancing 💃 working out 💪 or makeup 💄

    A post shared by Katrina Kaif (@katrinakaif) on Feb 21, 2018 at 6:18am PST


    Your time in the gym is only three-tenths of what will get you a flat, strong stomach. The rest is eating clean. Without that, all that hard work in the gym will count for nothing.

    Protein: Yes, the holy grail of all body-building, protein will help you gain muscle and aid recovery. But take care to opt for lean protein (eggs, chicken and turkey, low-fat dairy, and fish). Your recommended protein intake depends on a number of factors (daily physical activity, height and body weight, workout goal), and can be easily calculated online.

    You need your digestive system healthy and metabolism fast. And fruits help you do that. Know your body, before you plan a diet chart for yourself: Amaresh Ojha

    Chuck refined carbs out: Yes, you heard that right. Refined carbs are easily digested in the body, and can spike blood sugar levels. What’s worse — in case of excessive blood sugar, extra sugar is converted to fat. Opt for complex carbs (found in oats, brown rice, wholewheat bread, sweet potatoes), which contain fibre, and are slowly digested in the body.

    Yoghurt: A fast metabolism and good digestion is key to abs. Yoghurt aids digestive health, and probiotics have been deemed helpful in reducing belly fat.

    Nothing is impossible

    A post shared by Varun Dhawan (@varundvn) on Jan 25, 2018 at 1:01am PST

    Fibre: Starving yourself is neither easy nor advisable. So, gorge, but on fruits such as guavas, raspberries and apples, and sprouts. Fibre-rich foods keep you full for longer with fewer calories.

    Hydration: This is necessary to prevent bloating and to flush out the excess sodium. Excess sodium means water retention, and hence water weight in your lower stomach.


    Upper abs


    2)Knee crunches


    Middle abs


    2)Mid crunchers

    3)C-sit hold

    Lower abs

    1)Hanging leg raise

    2)Reverse crunches

    3)Bicycle crunches


    1)Cross crunches

    2)Sitting twists

    3)Side jack knives


    1)Planks and side planks


    3)Arm/Leg raise planks

    4)Reverse planks

    5)Climber taps

    6-Pack Exercises To Get You Rock Hard Abs


    Take our FREE 1 Minute Quiz to find out EXACTLY what Diet & Training is Best for You.

    6-pack exercises are probably one of the most searched fitness-related entries on the Internet. Male or female, young or old, almost everybody wants to get washboard abs. If you want to build a solid set of abs, then you need an equally solid 6-pack workout program. Here are seven of the best ab exercises to help you build the body you’ve always dreamed of.

    6-Pack Exercises You Should Definitely Be Doing

    1. Jackknife Sit-Up

    Jackknife sit-ups are great 6-pack exercises to strengthen your lower abs. It’s a challenging workout, but the basics are fairly easy to master.

    • Lie on the floor and extend your arms and legs.
    • Make sure your limbs are straight and raise them to about a 35 to a 45-degree angle from the floor.
    • Your goal is to touch your feet while your legs are in the air. Your form should be similar to a jackknife, hence the name.
    • Hold the jackknife position for three seconds. Afterward, slowly lower your limbs back to the starting position.
    • Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

    2. Bicycle Crunch

    The bicycle crunch is a great exercise that works all your ab muscles. Your upper, lower, and oblique ab muscles will be targeted while doing these 6-pack exercises.

    • Sit on the floor with your feet tucked in front of you. Place your hands behind your head.
    • Raise your legs while keeping them bent. Your knees should be facing the ceiling.
    • Raise your torso to about a 35-degree angle from the floor.
    • Mimicking a pedaling motion, stretch your right leg as you try to touch your left knee with your right elbow
    • Do the same with your other leg. This counts as one rep.
    • Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

    3. Forearm Plank

    The forearm plank has quickly gained popularity as one of the best 6-pack exercises. In fact, once the plank becomes too easy for you, you can turn it up a notch with some plank variations.

    • Assume a pushup position but use your forearms, not your hands, to support your weight.
    • Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
    • Make sure to keep your body straight with your head, hips and feet aligned. Keep it tight at that position.
    • Keep your core muscles, meaning your abs and your lower back, engaged the whole time.

    4. Alternating Heel Touch

    Despite being easy to execute, this exercise is a great way to work your oblique ab muscles.

    • Lie down with your feet on the floor and your knees bent.
    • Lift your torso and swing few inches to the right then try to touch your right heel with your right hand.
    • Repeat the same move with the other side. This counts as one rep.
    • Do three sets of as many reps as you can.

    5. C-Curve Weighted Pass

    The c-curve weighted pass is a great ab exercise that strengthens your core. Remember to contract your ab muscles throughout the workout for maximum efficiency.

    • Sit with your butt and feet on the floor. Your knees should be bent.
    • Hold a dumbbell in front of you with both hands. Lower your torso a bit to form a curve with your spine. This will be your starting position.
    • Slowly bring the weight down to your left side. With your arms extended, rotate to the left as your reach back to touch the floor with your dumbbell.
    • Slowly go back to the starting position and proceed to do the same movement with your other arm. This counts as one rep.
    • Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

    6. Hanging Leg Raise

    The hanging leg raise should be performed slowly if you want to get maximum results. This is one of the more advanced 6-pack exercises on the list. Just remember to perform this exercise steadily. Do not lift your legs hastily or use the momentum to swing your legs up.

    Take our FREE 1 Minute Quiz to find out EXACTLY what Diet & Training is Best for You.

    • Hang from a chin-up bar.
    • Raise your legs until they form a 90-degree angle.
    • Slowly lower your legs. This counts as one rep.
    • Keep your core tight as you do this exercise.
    • Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

    7. Flutter Kicks

    This is a great exercise that targets your lower ab muscles and thighs. Flutter kicks are an alternative to the hanging leg raise if you haven’t mastered it yet.

    • Lie on the floor with your feet extended and your hands at your sides.
    • Raise both legs at an angle. This is your starting position.
    • Slowly raise your left leg a little higher than the right.
    • Alternate legs as if you are fluttering or flapping your feet.
    • A set of alternate flutters count as one rep. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

    Check out this 5-minute ab workout you can do at home in this video by V Shred:

    Incorporate these 6-pack exercises into your workout routine for a tighter stomach with bulging abs. In addition to doing these ab workouts, you should do some cardiovascular training to lower your body fat. This’ll lessen the amount of blubber blocking the ab muscles you’ve sculpted. Get off your butt, put on your trainers, and start doing these exercises for a healthier, sexier you!

    Looking for an in-depth theory of getting hardcore shredded abs? We’ve compiled a whole list of workouts and exercises you can do to make your abs leaner and stronger, and then we put it all in an easy-to-use, easy-to-read program just for you.

    What are your favorite 6-pack exercises? Post them in the comments section below!

    Up Next: The WORST Ab Exercise Ever (STOP THIS TODAY!)

    A celebrity trainer reveals why crunches won’t give you rock solid abs — here’s what you should be doing instead

    The INSIDER Summary:

    • The most effective way to get rock solid abs isn’t to target them directly, but to walk and do upper and lower back exercises.
    • Walking burns the fat that obstructs your abdominal muscles, and targeting the back elongates the torso.
    • Targeting the ab muscles too much can lead to over strengthening, which can shorten the torso.

    The number of people who actually have washboard abs is far fewer than the number of people who want them.

    Why is it that you can spend hours in the gym doing targeted ab exercises and still not achieve the elusive six pack?

    According to celebrity trainer and nutritionist Harley Pasternak, who’s worked with Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Megan Fox, and more, ab exercises aren’t going to get you rock solid abs — walking is.

    Pasternak says that what most people don’t realize is that everyone is born with abdominal muscles. So technically, everyone starts life with a four-pack or a six pack.

    However, everyone is also born with body fat, and in most cases, that body fat ends up obscuring and covering up the abdominal muscles.

    Unfortunately, those ab exercises you’re doing — anything from crunches to using that random machine at the gym that says it works your abs — is doing nothing to burn the fat that’s covering your ab muscles because, according to Pasternak, you can’t target fat burn.

    Walking, on the other hand, does exactly that: it burns fat.

    Pasternak says that he gives all of his clients a step goal ranging from 10,000-14,000 steps per day. If they’re hitting that, they’re already halfway there to washboard abs.

    Walk as much as possible. Redd Angelo / Unsplash

    The other half comes from targeting other parts of your body that aren’t your stomach.

    “If you want to have a great midsection, then don’t worry about the midsection,” Pasternak said.

    Instead, you should focus on strengthening your back. According to Pasternak, targeting your upper and lower back helps to elongate your torso, whereas targeting your abs too much (over strengthening them) can actually shorten your torso, which can give you what Pasternak refers to as a “pooch.”

    For lower back strength, Pasternak recommends superman exercises, and for upper back, he recommends a TRX back row.

    So stop killing yourself with crunches, and go for a long walk instead.

    4 Of The Hardest Ab Exercises Known To Man

    Most guys who work out want impressive abs.

    In fact, if you ask most guys, it is probably the muscle group that they are most concerned about…

    Having prominent, visible abs is the ultimate sign of being super fit (and it doesn’t hurt that women rate it as one of the most desirable male body parts).

    Now most of you already know the typical, run-of-the-mill ab exercises; you know, the ones that have been plastered across every major fitness magazine for the last 2 decades.

    We’ve all heard of crunches, bicycles, planks, side-bends, etc – and while all of them can be effective, none of them are probably very exciting to you, right?

    Well, you’re in luck, cause today I’m going to give you something different.

    I’m going to show you 3 of the most challenging, ab-defining exercises in the world.

    They are tough – certainly not for the faint of heart – and realistically you won’t be able to do any of them right away (if ever).

    But they are also incredibly effective – and if you are able to master them, you’ll be turning heads at the gym AND the beach next summer.

    1) The Dragon Flag

    Now some of you may have seen this before, even if you’ve never tried it yourself.

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    The dragon flag was originally popularized by Bruce Lee, and was also featured in Rocky as part of Stallone’s intensive training regime.

    To do the dragon flag, you lie on a standard weight bench, and grip the end of the bench with both hands firmly for support.

    At this point, slowly hoist your body up into a vertical position, with your feet pointing towards the ceiling, legs straight, and your weight resting on the back of your shoulders.

    From there, the goal is to bring your legs down slowly while keeping your body as straight as possible.

    Once you get to the bottom, pause, and then bring your body back up to the starting position – again, trying not to bend your knees – and at no point should your lower back make contact with the bench.

    Now this is hard, and realistically you won’t be able to do it unless you have a well-developed core already.

    However, it is a fantastic ab exercise, and you’ll feel like a bad ass doing it, so don’t shy away from it just because it’s tough as hell.

    I suggest starting out by doing dragon flags with your knees bent, which is considerably easier, and then working up to doing reps with your legs completely straight.

    Here is a video that shows you how to do a dragon flag properly:

    2) Standing AB Rollouts

    The ab wheel is a great exercise for building core strength, and it certainly isn’t a walk in the park.

    But you know what is much harder than regular ab rollouts?

    Standing ab rollouts!

    Instead of starting from a kneeling position, you do these standing while gripping a loaded barbell.

    To perform the exercise, you then just roll the bar forward, keeping your toes on the ground the entire time, until your entire body is stretched out.

    From that point, you’ll use your core to roll the bar back towards your feet, until you are in a standing position again.

    It’s insanely tough to do, but well worth trying if you’ve already mastered more conventional rollouts.

    Here is a video that shows you how to do standing ab rollouts properly:

    3) Front Lever

    Have you already mastered the plank and want something that’ll really challenge your core?

    Then look no further than the dreaded front lever.

    This is an exercise that very, very few guys can do – even those that have been training for years!

    To do these, you’ll want to stand under a straight pull-up bar, and grab it with a shoulder-width grip.

    Then pull yourself into a hanging position, as if you were going to do a regular pull-up – but then instead of completing the pull-up, use your core and back muscles to pull your entire body completely straight, so that you are horizontal to the ground.

    This should look kind of like an upside down plank when done correctly.

    From there, like the plank, the goal should be to hold it for as many seconds as possible (even 5 seconds at the beginning is a great start).

    Here is a video that shows you how to do front levers properly:

    4) The Human Flag

    OK, so the 3 ab exercises that I’ve discussed are hard – no doubt about it.

    But the truth is that none of them even come close to the difficulty of this final exercise…

    The human flag is, bar none, the toughest ab exercise of them all.

    It requires incredible core strength and endurance to pull off, but looks awesome as hell.

    Imagine doing a dragon flag horizontally as you hold on to a pole.

    Sound crazy? Well, that’s exactly what the human flag basically is.

    In fact, when does correctly, it kind of looks like you’re floating in mid air.

    And it can be done pretty much anywhere, leading to this recent craze.

    To give you a sense of just how hard it is, check out this world record attempt, where the guy manages to hold the human flag for close to 40 seconds (the actual world record is just over a minute).

    Know of any hard ab exercises that you think deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments below!

    Not all ab exercises are created equal. In fact, many are simply a waste of workout time. A study conducted at the San Diego State University Biomechanics Lab examined the electromyography (EMG) activity results garnered by popular core exercises. Here’s how they stacked up, along with some of our other favourite (and least favourite) ab exercises:

    Don’t waste your time with:

    1. The basic crunch

    Why: The basic crunch is just that—basic. Don’t waste countless hours on a less-than-stellar exercise that does little to fully engage your abdominal muscles.

    2. The ab rocker

    Why: The ab rocker was proven to be no more effective than the traditional crunch. Actually, it was shown to be up to 80 percent less effective. Yes, it’s super easy to do, and that’s why it doesn’t work. By supporting your head, this tool actually deactivates the muscles in the neck that would normally support it. This can lead to neck pain as your supporting muscles weaken. There’s a reason these machines are collecting dust in the corner of your gym.

    3. The straight-leg sit-up

    Why: This old-school exercise is responsible for many back issues. It puts a huge strain on the lower back by provoking you to hurl your upper body forward in an attempt to touch your toes. No thanks.

    4. The standing dumbbell side bend

    Why: Isolating the obliques in this way is not natural and can add unnecessary strain to your back. (How often do you bend straight to the side to pick something up?) Also, many people use the momentum that the dumbbells create and rock side-to-side instead of properly engaging their muscles. Avoid these unless you want to look you’re rocking to the oldies.

    5. The seated twist

    Why: Seated twisting machines are a waste of money and space in fitness facilities. They rotate your lower back beyond its safe range of motion and can also lead to injury if you don’t know what weight to use and how to control the movement. I’ve seen many people snap from right to left with some wicked momentum—ouch!

    Opt for these five exercises to maximize your workout time instead:

    1. The plank

    Plank. (Photo, Roberto Caruso.)

    Why: It stimulates more abdominal activity than a regular crunch and works the muscles in your back as well.
    How: Supporting yourself on your forearms and the balls of your feet, bridge up and position your body in one straight line. Pull your abs in tight and hold for 30-60 seconds.
    Kick it up a notch: From the plank position, reach forward with your right hand, hold for a count and slowly return to the starting position. Do the same with your left hand and repeat.

    2. The bicycle crunch

    Why: In the San Diego study, this exercise was the second highest in terms of strengthening the obliques in participants. It also stimulates more abdominal activity than the traditional crunch including your lower stomach and obliques.
    How: Lying on your back, bring your knees up to form a 90 degree angle and keep your hands by your temples. Crunch up and twist across the body while simultaneously performing a bicycle motion with your legs. For example, if you crunch up and to the right you should draw your right knee in and vice versa. Repeat for 20-30 reps total.

    3. Side plank

    Why: Side planks not only torch your obliques, they also stimulate and tone your glutes, quads, hamstrings, inner/outer thighs and your upper body.
    How: Lie on your side with your forearm perpendicular to your body and one foot stacked over the other. Bridge your hip up and hold for 30-60 seconds while maintaining a straight line with your body.
    Kick it up a notch: Raise your top leg so that it’s parallel to the ground (this full version of this is called Vasisthasana in yoga).

    4. Vertical leg crunch

    Why: It stimulated 116 percent more abdominal activity in the study’s participants than the traditional crunch.
    How: Lie on your back with your legs up in the air, knees slightly bent. Try to touch your ankles with your hands by contracting just your abs, but keep your chin off your chest. Repeat for 12-16 reps.
    Kick it up a notch: Reach towards your toes and hold the position for 15 seconds for a V-sit.

    5. Reverse crunch

    Why: Engage your lower abdomen and obliques with this move.
    How: Lie on your back with your hands tucked under your bum and your knees bent. Bring your legs up until they form a 90 degree angle from your torso. Do a pelvic tilt and pull your knees in towards your chest, squeeze and slowly lower to starting position. Aim for 15-20 reps.
    Kick it up a notch: Hold a weight over your head.

    Ripped abs plan:

    One of the best ways to work the abs is to perform a series of core moves in one continuous circuit. Circuits are efficient and effective, allowing you to get the most out of your efforts. For optimum results, perform this core circuit at the end of your intense training sessions. You want your core strong and ready to back you up when you’re in the thick of a tough workout.

    Plank tri-set (regular and sides): 30-60 seconds
    Reverse crunch: 15-20 reps
    Bicycle crunch: 10-15 reps per side
    Vertical chair knee raise: 12-15 reps
    Notes: Perform 2-4 total sets or circuits with no rest between exercises and a 1 minute rest between circuits.

    Alex Savva is a strength and conditioning expert and a professional member of the Ontario Kinesiology Association.

    This article was originally published in June 2016; Updated January 2020.

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