There are loads of great exercises (and loads of variations of those exercises) for your abs and core muscles. However, what’s more important is the approach and combination of exercises — not simply a collection of the hardest ones. A lot of this also depends on where you currently stand with your fitness. If you’re just starting out, you’ll most likely need to start very basic. If you’re a bit stronger, you can add more challenging moves and do more exercises collectively in a workout.
Also, all exercises aside, if your diet doesn’t get your body fat low enough, you won’t see your abs. Read: Intuitive eating for lean muscle
Back to exercising for abs: The best way to get abs is to work the entire core with different types of movements and/or in different directions. For true beginners, you need to stabilize yourself first — exercises like a basic plank, bird dog, deadbug, boat pose, and Superman have you covered.
If you’re a bit more advanced: lying leg lifts, hanging leg lifts, or bench curl ups are tough “flexion” type exercises. Please note, if this hurts, then stop. You’re either doing them incorrectly, or do not have enough basic core strength. A classic sit-up or crunch would be the more rudimentary versions of “flexion” type exercises.
Rotational exercises are also an important component and could include cable chops, medicine ball throws, or Russian twists.
Another component, especially as you progress in strength, are exercises that force you to stabilize in seemingly awkward positions. While a bird dog is a basic stabilization exercise, a more advanced version is a bird dog row. Same thing goes for a plank, while it’s a basic stabilization exercise, there are several more advanced variations such as a plank row, single-arm/single-leg plank, etc.
Other factors that go into training your core and getting your abs to show are the big lift exercises like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. These are pretty much essentials because of just how many muscles they involve and should be a part of your programming either way.
If there’s one key takeaway: be mindful not to do too much in one direction. For example, if you do crunches, then sit ups, then hanging leg raises, that’s a whole lot of flexion movements and other areas of the core are going to be imbalanced. You want a nice mix. If it were four solid ones, shoot for: standard plank, bird dog rows, hanging leg raise, Superman is a good combo. There are many others, but that’s an example of a workout that is balanced. Check out our piece on 25 ways to give your core a great workout here.
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