Top 5 Best Ab Exercises to Build Lean Abs

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.

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)

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):

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

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.

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.

Learn more about ripped abs, and how to achieve them.

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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  1. Link, R. (2019). The Best Diet for Abs: Foods to Eat and Avoid. Healthline.
  2. Abdominal Muscles. Physiopedia. (n.d.).
  3. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020). Back pain. Mayo Clinic.

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