Top 5 Best Ab Exercises to Sculpt Your Abs & Build Core Strength

Ab Workout at Home

These are the Top 5 best ab exercises to harden your abs for that 6 pack we all want. The best exercises are the very basic, nothing fancy, ab workout.  No machines, no frills, no glitz…just simple exercises that will build lean, muscular abs. Just like Vince Lombardi’s approach: no flea flickers, no hail Mary’s, just a laser focus on the basics, and getting really good on those basics. 

We all know that washboard abs are the crown jewel of any workout routine…it is the proof in the pudding in terms of lean, hard muscle.  It separates the “super lean” from the “in pretty good shape” physiques.

This is not always true however, as we have all seen guys with 6-pack abs who do not have an overall lean, muscular build.

Table of Contents

Main Takeaways

  • These ab workouts can be done without equipment.

  • Remember that abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym. You need to be at 10-12% body fat for abs to shine.

  • Do some light cardio and warm-up your lower back and core before doing these ab workouts since these will also work your lower back.

  • These ab exercises work your primary abs (6-pack), transverse abs, and obliques.

GENERAL RULE: To achieve 6 pack abs, you will need to manage your diet to get down to 10% body fat. For most people, once you get to 10% body fat you will have a 6 pack showing your abs.

Getting Your 6 Pack Abs

Keep top of mind, you can do crunches 10 hours a day and do the best ab exercises in the world, but if you eat Big Macs and stuffed-crust large pizzas every day, you will likely not see 6 pack abs.  So there has to a balance between your best ab workout, and a clean, nutritious diet. (1)

Abs Structure and Function

Abdominal MusclesThe rectus abdominis, or “abs,” runs vertically on the front of the abdomen.  It is a paired muscle that is connected by the linea alba (white line) in the center.  The two halves mirror each other, and give the presentation of 6 to 8 muscle patches, commonly referred to as a “6-pack.”

The transverse abdominis is more on the interior of your core, and wraps around the spine for support.

The obliques (external and internal) are on the outer edges of your ab muscles, and are primarily activated during twisting movements of the torso.

The function of the abs is to flex the lumbar spine.  This occurs when doing a crunch, and the rib cage moves to the pelvis.  The abs also assist the body in breathing – blow out a hard breath and you will feel your abs contract. (2)

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles Worked 💪

  • Abs
  • Transverse Abs
  • Obliques
  • Erector Spinae (back muscle extending your trunk)
  • Core

Secondary Muscles Worked 💪

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip Flexors
  • Hip Abductors

Top 5 Best Ab Exercises

Top 5 Best Ab ExercisesFirst, remember these basics when performing your best ab exercises:

  • Always properly warm-up before exerting your muscles with a few minutes of light cardio (jog in place, jumping jacks)
  • Most of the abs exercises will exert the lower back, so always warm-up your back before your best ab workout.

With these ab exercises, you are not dealing with weights, so it is best to keep track of your progress by recording the # of reps.  You want your rep count to be going up consistently (maybe not every workout though).  This tells you that you are building lean muscle, and the core is getting stronger.

#1 Crunches Ab Workout

Abs for Quick Home Workouts

  • Start Position:  Lying on your back with knees bent at 90 deg and feet flat on floor, and arms crossed over your chest.  You can lock hands behind your head, or cross your arms on your chest.  Crossed arms on your chest tend to isolate and work your abs more.  Keep your lower back on the floor to isolate your abs.
  • Technique:  Contract your abs as you exhale and roll your shoulders off the floor.  Keep your lower back on the floor.  Flex your abs and hold for 1 second.  Inhale as you return to start position.
  • Reps: Until you feel the mighty burn.

Crunches Ab Workout

#2 Sit-ups Ab Workout

Sit ups

  • Start Position:  Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, and hands locked behind your head.  Keep your entire back flat on the floor.
  • Technique:  Raise your upper body as you exhale until your torso is in a vertical position.  Hold the contraction for 1 second, and then lower your body to the start position as you inhale.
  • Reps:  Until you feel the mighty burn.

#3 Lying Leg Raises

Lying Leg Raises for Abs

  • Start Position: Lying on your back with your hands tucked under your butt, and your legs extended.
  • Technique:  As you exhale, lift your legs up to a vertical position, and when you reach the top, lift your hips slightly off the floor.  Hold this position for 1 second.  Inhale as you lower your legs and return to start position.
  • Reps:  Until you feel the mighty burn.

#4 Flutter Kicks | Scissors

Scissors for Ab Exercises

This is an Army special, and they will definitely punish your abs. This exercise alone can be one of your best ab workouts.

  • Start Position: Lying on your back with your hands tucked under your butt, and your legs extended.  Raise your legs approximately 6″ off the floor.
  • Technique:  Maintaining a stable torso, move your legs up and down in scissor motion.
  • Reps:  Until you feel the mighty burn. Count reps on a 3-count (1-2-3/1, 1-2-3/2, 1-2-3/3, etc).

#5 V-up’s (Jackknife Sit-up)

Jackknife Sit-ups for Abs

  • Start Position:  Lying flat on the floor with your legs extended and your arms extended behind your head.
  • Technique:  Lift your legs and torso at the same time as you exhale, and extend your arms until they are parallel with your legs.  Hold the contraction for 1 second, then inhale as you return to start position.

Bi-Sets and Tri-Sets to Supercharge the Best Ab Exercises

Bi-sets and tri-sets with the exercises above can give you a really great overall ab workout in a short time.

  • Bi-sets = 2 exercises in quick succession with no rest (crunches straight to leg raises)
  • Tri-sets = 3 exercises in quick succession with no rest (crunches – scissors – leg raises)

So, try these bi-sets and tri-sets (all in quick succession, with 30-second rest between sets):

Bi-sets
3 sets:  Crunches – Flutter Kicks (no rest in between)
3 sets:  Sit-ups – Lying Leg Raises (no rest in between)

Tri-sets
3 sets:  Crunches – Lying Leg Raises – Flutter Kicks (no rest in between)
3 sets:  Sit-ups – Flutter Kicks – V-ups (no rest in between)

You should have 5 – 8 best ab exercises in your ab workout, but you simply don’t need 20.

Variation is Key With Ab Work

Making sure you have great variation in your ab workout regimen is key. So keep the exercises always in rotation to keep your abs engaged and challenged. If you do the same sit-ups every week, then you are cheating yourself out of max gains!

And the good thing is there are so many different exercises that you can perform to work all areas of your abdominals. So always keep them in rotation so your abs never get too comfortable.

I spent some years in U.S. Army Infantry, and we did a ton of core work and ab workouts. When I was in the Army, sit-ups were one of the two exercises performed on the annual APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test). I believe that is still part of the annual assessment even today.

Upper versus Lower Abs

And part of this is working both your upper and lower abs. And it’s easy to know where the emphasis is when you think upper versus lower.

If your upper body is in motion, like crunches and sit ups, then the emphasis is on your upper abs.

And on the other hand, if your lower body is in motion and doing the work, like scissor kicks and frog kicks, then your lower abs are getting the main emphasis. So you’ll want to incorporate both into your workouts to ensure you’re getting a good balanced focus on your abs.

Transverse & Obliques

And the same is true for your transverse abs and obliques. You want to include some turning movements to ensure you’re engaging your transverse abs and obliques. If you are doing only straight up and down motions, then you are not fully engaging the muscles on each side of your abs.

And the great thing about ab work is that you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. Most exercises can be done with no equipment, or items that you can purchase pretty cheap at Walmart. We always recommend a workout mat to protect your back, at a minimum.

How Often to Perform Ab Workouts

To get a really good workout on your abs to build and strengthen your core, you only need to perform ab workouts a few times a week. This is sufficient to work your abs really hard – a few days a week – so they then have a few days to recover after each workout. So space your ab days a few days apart.

And again, make sure you have a very good mix of exercises: sit-ups, crunches, planks, leg lifts, scissors, frog kicks, twisting sit-ups, bicycles, hanging leg lifts, and more. They are all easy to perform, so choose two to three on your ab days and that will provide you a great workout.

Ab Workouts

ExerciseRepsSets
Crunches501
Scissors201

NOTE: Rest 20 seconds between sets, 60 seconds between exercises

ExerciseRepsSets
Crunches502
Scissors202
Sit-ups302

NOTE: Rest 20 seconds between sets, 60 seconds between exercises

Avoiding Injury

If you have ever suffered a back injury, then you know just how miserable life can be. (3)

Any good orthopedic doc will tell you…besides doing just lower back pain stretches, it is very important to also do ab exercises to strengthen your core. This can have a big impact on your lower back health, and preventing injury.

So another great advantage of doing the best ab exercises…it will improve and strengthen your lower back.  All so important as you move towards middle age and beyond.

Getting to the Next Level

If you are looking for an added boost in the form of a supplement to help build lean muscle, you might consider a top protein powder. A top protein powder can add a very healthy dose of amino acids to your nutrition plan, which can help build muscle and strength. Check our review of top protein powders for more info on this muscle-building supplement.

Looking for more bodyweight exercises that will grow your abs? Check our calisthenics ab workout to learn more. Is your upper ab lacking? Try our upper ab workouts to get that complete 6 pack.

Doing ab workouts but your abs are still not visible? Check our 5-step program to get your abs ripped for the summer. Learn more about ripped abs, and how to achieve them.

Picture of David Williams

David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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References

  1. Link, R. (2019). The Best Diet for Abs: Foods to Eat and Avoid. Healthline.
    https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/diet-for-abs.
  2. Abdominal Muscles. Physiopedia. (n.d.).
    https://www.physio-pedia.com/Abdominal_Muscles.
  3. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020). Back pain. Mayo Clinic.
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906.

Click to see our medical disclosure.