There are so many ab exercises out there that it would probably require a several hour-long dissertation to recite each and every one of them. This is great, as variety makes for a more interesting workout schedule—but it can also feel overwhelming when you’re just trying to get down onto your mat and work your core. To help navigate the wide, wide world of core moves, we’ve tapped a trainer to list the best ab exercises that you can turn to.
Whether you’re looking for more of an active recovery that lightly fires up your core or a workout session that burns your entire torso, there are ab moves for you. To help you decide how hard you want to challenge yourself with your core work, Gerren Liles, Equinox master trainer and founding trainer at Mirror, has ranked his top six ab exercises that bring you the best core-quaking fire.
The best ab exercises, ranked
Liles’ absolute favorite core exercise? The classic plank. “The plank is arguably the best ab exercise for several reasons,” he says. “For one, it’s a manageable exercise that anyone can do, from kids to seniors. You’re in a position to contract a multitude of muscles, including your glutes and quads. And there are many ways to either modify or progress it.” Check out this list of 11 plank variations that will switch up the move.
To get a one-two punch of cardio and core work, Liles loves mountain climbers. “This is a classic go-to move for bringing the heat to your core,” he says. “You get the cardiovascular benefits from the knee drives, as well as the stabilization that comes with maintaining the plank position, especially if you attempt to minimize any rocking back and forth in the process.”
According to Liles, crunches are a tried-and-true exercise that are a mainstay in abdominal training. “It’s a practical active recovery exercise because it doesn’t require other muscle groups to be engaged. There are also many variations to spice things up, like cross-body crunches or reverse crunches,” he says. The only downside? “Most people do them incorrectly, often putting a strain on their neck or not focusing enough on engaging their lower back as well.” So pay attention to form.
Dumbbell woodchops work as a functional core exercise. “Woodchops are excellent because you can train for both rotation or anti-rotation,” says Liles. “This exercise is transferable to many activities and sports, like golf or baseball.” You’ll really feel this one in your obliques.
5. Leg lifts
Leg lifts are deceivingly tough, since only your legs are moving here. “When done correctly, your legs can serve as a powerful resistance to train your abs,” says Liles. That said, these can also hurt your back, so form is key. “It’s critical to make sure your lower back is protected, which you can do by consciously driving your mid and lower back into the floor, or by putting your hands underneath your lower back.”
The OG sit-up is still a great ab move to turn to. “Sit-ups are a common core exercise, usually done most effectively when your feet are anchored,” says Liles, noting that keeping your feet down will help you maintain a neutral spine and limit the use of momentum to lift your back off of the floor.
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