Upper ab workouts are key to your overall ab workout regimen, and you’re likely already doing them if you do traditional ab workout. But what motion determines upper abs vs lower abs? We’ll answer that important question today.
And contrary to what some people believe, the abs benefit from direct work. These muscles are like any other in the body and respond to training stress by growing and getting stronger.
Also, like other muscles in the body, emphasizing different regions of the abs is beneficial for more balanced development and strength. To that end, we’ve dedicated today’s post to upper ab workouts.
We’ll discuss how to target the upper abs, what upper ab exercises you can do, what it takes to get a six-pack and much more.
Ready? Let’s discuss.
How to Activate the Upper or Lower Abs
The abs are a thin superficial muscle that spans from the ribcage to the pelvic bone. It is flanked by the external and internal obliques. The abs are necessary for torso flexion (where the ribcage gets closer to the pelvic bone) and upper body stability.
Any activity that requires whole-body stability or forces a degree of torso flexion will activate the whole rectus abdominis muscle. In other words, you cannot isolate the upper or lower abs.
That said, you can emphasize one portion over another with specific exercises.
To target the upper abs, you must do upper ab exercises where your upper body is in motion. Examples include crunches, sit-ups, etc. During such movements, your lower body is stationary, and you must raise and lower your torso.
In contrast, to emphasize the lower abs, you must do activities where your lower body is in motion. Good exercises include knee and leg raises, frog and flutter kicks, scissors, etc.
Activities where the upper and lower body are in motion will train both portions of the rectus abdominis to similar degrees. Examples include bicycle crunches, hollow holds, planks, and V-up crunches
List of Effective Upper Ab Exercises
Here is a list of 10 fantastic exercises to emphasize the upper abs:
- Sit-ups and weighted sit-ups
- Crunches and weighted crunches
- Twisting crunches
- Hollow hold (1)
- Cable crunch
- Stability ball crunch
- Russian twist
- Decline sit-ups and crunches
You can organize these into countless upper ab workouts and combine them with movements that emphasize the lower abs. For example, here is a simple workout for the upper and lower abs:
- Cable crunch – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Decline sit-ups – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
- Lying leg raises – 3 sets to failure
Upper Abs Workouts are when your upper body is in motion and doing the work: sit-ups, crunches, twisting sit-ups, etc.
Lower Ab Workouts are when your lower body is in motion and doing the work: leg lifts, scissors, frog kicks, etc.
There is, of course, overlap (upper & lower) anytime you are doing ab exercises, but this rule outlines the primary emphasis.
Upper Ab Exercises
Twisting Crunches (upper abs & obliques)
Jackknife Sit-ups [upper & lower abs]
How to Get a 6-Pack
Many people think that getting a 6-pack comes down to the right ab routine, which isn’t the case. Doing ab exercises strengthens and develops the rectus abdominis, but it doesn’t necessarily get you defined abs.
To get a 6-pack, you must lose enough fat and get down to 10-12 percent body fat. In other words, the old saying, “Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym” is true to a large degree. (2)
Make sure to check our simple 5-step plan to ripped abs. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
Safety Tips and Final Considerations
Ab training is mostly safe, so long as you don’t go out of your way looking for trouble. One of the most important things to do is warm up well before training. (3)
For example, you can do a combination of some light cardio (e.g., jogging in place) and dynamic stretching (e.g., torso twists) to prepare your body. The warm-up sequence doesn’t need to take you longer than 5 to 7 minutes.
Additionally, allow for natural spinal flexion (lower back rounding) when performing sit-ups, crunches, and other ab exercises. Doing so is necessary for flexing your abs effectively and optimizing muscle activation.
Plus, keeping your lower back from arching reduces the stress, lowering the risk of nagging aches.
More ab exercises and workouts:
- Read, T. (2021, January 6). Hollow hold: A complete guide. Healthline.
- Lindberg, S. (2018, September 27). What’s the ideal body fat percentage for ABS? Healthline.
- Elizabeth Quinn, M. S. (2020, March 13). Prevent injuries. Verywell Fit.