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A woman is on her yoga mat at home doing a plank in order to strengthen her core.

The 5 Best Exercises for Your Abs (& They Aren’t What You Think)

When it comes to fitness, it’s easy to get caught up in aesthetics. We see pictures of men and women with flat tummies and six-pack abs. So, we quickly assume that’s how we’re supposed to be. We read all the magazines and all the articles.

We then assume that the best ab exercises involve pumping out 100 basic crunches a day. That’s got to do it, right?

Okay, let’s reel this in and rewind for a second.

Sure, flat abs would be great. But they aren’t exactly picturesque of perfect health (low body fat never really is, especially for women!). In other words, let’s take the focus off of how we look. Instead, let’s strive for getting stronger and improving core strength.

Are you with me?

Here’s another thing: The best ab exercises aren’t what you think they are.

In this article, we’re setting the record straight. We’re going to discuss the best ab exercises for men and women. And yes, some of these may help you get that flat tummy you’ve been desperately wanting. But they’ll also improve your overall health, balance, stability, and more.

So, what exercises for abs should you actually be doing?

First, Say Goodbye to These Ab Exercises

1. Crunches

Crunches only really target your rectus abdominis. It doesn’t target your abs as a whole. In other words, by simply doing 100 of these a day, you’re missing all your other abdominal muscles.

Skip ‘em for now! We’ve got more effective ab exercises coming your way.

2. Straight Leg Sit-Ups

Ideally, exercises for your abs are supposed to help protect your lower back from injury. In fact, many individuals experience low back pain due to a weak core (which includes your abs!).

Yet, this popular exercise kind of does the opposite.

It places a ton of stress on your lower back, which increases your susceptibility to injury. This is not ideal and not wanted. So, let’s wave goodbye to this one for now.

3. Standing Side Bends

You’ve probably been told these are killer oblique exercises. And alright, they do work the obliques. But again, your poor back!

These side bends put a ton of strain on your back, especially if you’re holding onto a pair of weights. Simply put, they aren’t really worth it. Ditch these.

You might be interested in: Your Guide to a Rejuvenating Self-Massage

Try These 5 Ab Exercises Instead

1. The Plank

This classic is still a classic, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

The good ol’ plank engages your transverse abdomonis, rectus abdominis, and obliques, meaning you’re targeting your full abdominals with this one.

And it’s pretty straight-forward.

Set yourself up on your forearms, where your elbows are just below your shoulders, and your body creates a straight line from your head to your heels.

New to the plank? Drop to your knees if you need to! Work on building up to the full thing. We recommend striving to hold it for at least 30 seconds (if you can go for that full minute!). Do this 2-3 times.

Then, here’s a twist: Do the same thing but from your side to create a side plank, stacking your legs on top of one another and stacking your shoulders on top of one another. Make sure to do both sides for optimal benefits.

2. The Bicycle Crunch

woman-doing-a-bicycle-crunch

Personally, I love this one! It makes your obliques burn but also engages the rest of your abs as well.

Begin by lying face-up on a comfortable surface. Bend your elbows and place your hands behind your ears. Bend your knees, lifting your feet off the ground, and positioning your knees above your hips and pelvis. In a controlled movement, bring your right elbow to almost touch your left knee while extending your right leg.

Then, bring your head and elbows back to the center. Send your left leg straight and bring your left elbow to your right knee.

Do this for 12-15 reps and 2-3 sets at a time.

3. Toe Touches

If you’re in the midst of doing bicycle crunches, you can transition right into this one.

Plant your feet on the ground and bring your right hand to tap the front of your right ankle. Then, use your left hand to tap the front of your left ankle. Continue to alternate sides. Ensure you keep your shoulder blades up and off the ground to keep your abs fully engaged!

You might also want to try: The Ultimate Booty Band Workout

4. Mountain Climbers

woman-doing-mountain-climber-exercise

This one burns! And it even gives you a little cardio burst.

Begin in a full plank (this means on your hands and not your forearms). Drive one knee up toward your chest. As you send it back, drive your other knee up. Continue to alternate sides.

If you want to make things more interesting and really target your full abdominal muscles, switch between driving your knees straight up toward your chest and also to the side.

Aim to do 20 reps at a time and do 2-3 sets.

5. The Dead Bug

The dead bug is an ultra-safe and effective exercise to tone and strengthen your abs. In fact, it’s even used in rehab for low back pain.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy!

Start by lying face up. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and position them above your hips. Extend your arms straight-up. Now, here you have a few options.

You can extend one leg straight at a time or one arm down behind your head at a time. Or you can extend your opposite arm and leg at the same time, alternating sides during each new rep. For beginners, we’d recommend starting with just extending one limb at a time and then progressing up from there!

Aim to do 12-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets at one time.

Now, Bring it All Together!

Exercises for abs are great! But you also don’t want to forget about compound movements - the best three being the bench press, squat, and deadlift.

These also engage your core in a very functional way. This means that it translates over into everyday life, saving you from aches and pains that may happen as you go about your day.

Strengthen those abs with the five best ab exercises above! Ditch the ones you’ve been wasting time on (you don’t need them!). Then, go after all your fitness goals and more.

Related article: The Only 3 Strengthening Moves You Need

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

"Believing in yourself is really half the battle," says Krista. Anything is possible and you really can achieve anything you set your mind to, is her motto. Physiotherapist, Piano player, skydiver, yogi, adventure traveler and energetic force of positivity, Krista is herself a (delightful) force to be reckoned with! As... Read More

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