The best ab exercises work more than one muscle group at a time or target your muscles differently from some of the more traditional exercises. The best ab exercises also require minimal equipment to get the job done, so those without gym memberships don't have to suffer. Always remember that for fabulous abs, you'll need to do not just the strength and toning moves, but follow a well-balanced diet and incorporate cardio into your routine. For most moves, aim for 10 to 20 reps (10 to 20 on each side when appropriate).
1. The Bicycle
Lie on your back with your hands behind your head. Lift the head and shoulders and bring the knees up to a 90-degree angle. Twist at the waist to bring your right elbow to your left knee, then go back to starting position. Twist your left elbow to the right knee and then return to the starting position.
This move works the upper and lower abs as well as obliques. You also don't need any equipment (unless you want a mat for extra cushioning).
2. The Corkscrew
Lie on your back with your feet in the air, palms flat on the ground at your sides, knees slightly bent. Lift your hips off the floor using your abs and simultaneously twist your legs to the right. Lower, then repeat on the left side.
This move was voted one of the best abs moves by MensHealth.com. It works the lower abs and obliques and requires no special equipment.
3. Exercise Ball Crunch
Lie across the ball on your back, face up. Your middle and lower back should be resting on the ball. Use your abs to lift your torso off of the ball and squeeze your ribs down near your hips. Lower and repeat the desired number of times. Don't let the ball move.
This requires equipment, but it's inexpensive. If you have a gym membership, you can probably find an exercise ball there. Holding the ball steady makes your muscles work harder, giving you better results.
4. Long Arm Crunch
This is just like a regular crunch that you do on your back on the floor, but your arms are extended overhead. This makes the upper abs work much harder as they contract to bring your torso and shoulder blades up away from the floor.
This move ranked #6 in an American Council on Exercise (ACE) study. The extra weight of the extended arms makes this crunch more challenging than the traditional kind.
5. Reverse Crunch
Lie on your back with your palms flat on the floor by your sides. Raise your knees to a 90-degree angle and cross your ankles. Tighten your abs, contracting so that you are pushing your feet toward the ceiling with your hips rising off of the floor. Lower slowly and repeat.
This targets your lower abs and doesn't require any special equipment.
6. Plank Pose
There isn't much movement here at all, but it's one of the best ab exercises nonetheless. Lie face down on the floor or a mat, then push yourself up on your toes and forearms. Hold for 15 to 60 seconds and lower down. You'll need to use your core to keep your back straight, your abs in tight, pelvis tilted slightly forward. You can also do the plank pose on your palms instead of your forearms or even extending opposite arms and legs away from the body. For example, extend the right arm in front and left leg behind, hold for as long as possible, then switch sides. For even more intensity, put a stability ball under your lower body.
It's a good exercise overall, but the stability ball variation was voted a top abs move by AskMen.com.
7. Windshield Wipers
Lie on your back with your arms straight out by your sides. Hold your feet together and lift them to a 90-degree angle. Without lifting or moving your torso, twist your hips to move your legs as far to the right side of the mat as possible. Bring them back to starting position and repeat on the other side. Be sure to stay focused. Move slowly and stay in control.
This move will work your lower abs and obliques; you may be surprised by how challenging it is at first!
Lie on your back on a mat. Raise your hands above your head and then lift your upper body and straight legs at the same time. Try to touch your toes. Lower slowly and repeat.
This move works upper and lower abs simultaneously.
9. Side Crunch on the Ball
Place one hip on a stability ball with your legs out to the side, one slightly in front of the other for balance. Make sure that your torso is not on the ball. Put your hands behind your head and contract your obliques to lift your torso up, crunching on your side. Hold for three seconds and release back down. Do 10 to 20 reps on one side, then switch sides and repeat. In addition to your normal side-crunch motion, you'll be using your core and legs to stabilize the ball.
Your muscles work harder to hold the stability ball in place while you crunch, giving you better results and a stronger core all around.
10. Captain's Chair Leg Raise
This one requires a piece of gym equipment called the Captain's Chair. It looks like a chair with no seat, with a padded back and arm rests. You hang from it by propping your arms on the arm rests, then lift your legs to your chest. Lower legs and repeat. For extra oblique work, you can twist at the waist, bringing your knees first to your right side, then twisting to the left on the next lift.
This exercise works the lower abs and obliques. It's similar to a reverse crunch, but the weight of your legs add additional resistance. This move can also work the hip flexors if you straighten your legs.