Category Abdominal muscles

Abdominal exercises

Abdominal exercises


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles

Focused muscle:   Rectus abdominis (straight abdominal muscle)

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Abdominal exercises are very popular and exist in many different variations and intensity levels. Basically, we can distinguish between abdominal crunches and sit-ups, leg lifts, stabilization exercises like planks, and ab exercises with equipment. The following article explains the workout for the stomach using a ball.

Abdominal exercises with ball

Abdominal exercises with ball are very intense. They all represent versions of the abdominal crunch what trains the straight abdominal muscle (musculus rectus abdominis) as well as the obliques decently. The training with a ball (or other tools) gives more variety, increases the motivation, and distracts us from the real nature of exercising, which is work.

Especially for the training in groups, like in sports clubs or classes at the gym, abdominal exercises with ball are very suitable. The basic execution and form is similar to the abdominal crunch (please read this article first). Keep the head straight in extension to the trunk, press the lumbar spine (lower back) onto the ground, keep the belly tensed at any time, and avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways).

Abdominal exercises with ball in hands

Examples for abdominal exercises holding the ball in your hands can easily be realized. You could perform straight crunches with the arms stretched to the back, overhead, or to the front. Also twisted crunches are possible. Work out with stretched arms switching from one side to the other. You can also rotate your legs within the movement.

We can also practise isometric crunches passing the ball from one hand to the other either directly or rolling it on the floor. Choose to pass it under your head or under the buttocks.

Abdominal exercises

Abdominal exercises

 

Also pass it behind your legs or between them. Or cross one leg on top of the other and pass the ball between.

Abdominal exercises

Abdominal exercises

 

Abdominal exercises – ball switches between hands and legs

In another abdominal exercise the ball can switch between the hands and the legs. Start the straight crunch holding the ball in your hands. Your legs are raised. In the end position you should be able to reach your feet and place the ball between them. In the following repetition you pick up the ball again with your hands and start over. Alternatively you could roll the ball up and down on your lower leg.

Also train with bent legs. In the end position you would place the ball on your lower leg and pick it up again in the following repetition.

Abdominal exercises

Abdominal exercises

 

Abdominal exercises with ball between legs

Another isometric abdominal exercise would be holding the ball between your hand and legs. Here, the legs have to pull closer toward the body. Please do not practise this version if you have complaints in your cervical spine.

Also place the ball between your bent knees and perform the twisted crunch as described above. Or move your legs up and down. Your heels approach the floor and your knees remain bent. Feel free to have your arms support on the floor.

With the ball between your feet you could stretch and bend your legs alternately. Also have your arms support on the floor if necessary. Please be careful with your back and work against a hyperlordosis (hollow back).

Abdominal exercises

Abdominal exercises

 

There certainly are many more variations we can choose from in our stomach training. But most important is to have fun in your workout in order to stay motivated in the long run. More abdominal exercises can be found under the following link: abdominal exercises


Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

 


Side leg raises

Side leg raises


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles, the leg muscles, the butt muscles, complex exercises

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles, Adductors, Abductors, butt muscles

Focused muscle:   Oblique abdominals

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Side leg raises are a very intense and effective exercise for the oblique abdominal muscles that combines the lying versions of the abductor side leg raises and the adductor side leg raises. In accordance, significant training effects can also be achieved for the abductors and adductors of the leg. In its basic version the exercise also represents a variation of the side raises.

Side leg raises

Side leg raises are performed in lying position. We get in lateral position with our hips and knees stretched. Feel free to have your arms support on the ground. Tense the abdominal muscles and stabilize the rest of your body. Raise your legs from the ground and remain in that position (isometric execution). Please avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways) at any time.

Side leg raises variations

Side leg raises variations

 

Side leg raises variations

The isometric version of the side leg raises already is quite intense. You can increase the intensity by performing small upward impulses with your legs (end contraction). It is also possible to work out dynamically. You could bend and stretch your legs alternately or open and close your legs like scissors. The dynamic versions are less intense than the isometric ones.

Side leg raises with bent knees

Side leg raises with bent knees


Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

 


Ab exercises with equipment

Ab exercises with equipment


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles

Focused muscle:   Rectus abdominis (straight abdominal muscle)

Fitness level:   Beginner, advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Machine exercises


 

Ab exercises can be performed in many different ways with various tools. Such equipment helps us to develop more motivation and vary our training. But within the ab training we also have many very intense exercises that do not require any equipment, like the abdominal crunch, the plank, or leg lifts. The following selection gives you an idea of different pieces of equipment that can be used for your abdominal training.

Ab exercises with equipment

For all ab exercises it is important to start with low weights or intensities. Otherwise there would be the risk of overcoming the resistance mostly with the strength of the hip flexors instead of focusing on curling the trunk. As your training level increases it is quite recommendable to more and more work out in the area of highest muscle tension (best form of exercise). Especially for this training method it is important to avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways) at any time.

Ab exercises on the cable machine

Ab exercises on the cable machine can be performed in sitting or kneeling position using a rope. For the seated version we use an incline bench. Incline the seat cushion of the bench on the first or second level. Take a seat with your back facing the cable machine and the cable coming from behind. Your feet fixate under the foot of the bench. Hold the rope with both hands on your chest. From that position curl your trunk without bending your hip joints.

For the kneeling version we use a gym mat, a cushion, or similar. Kneel in front of the machine right below the cable. Fixate the rope with both hands on your chest. Curl your trunk to the front using your abdominal muscles and avoid the activation of your hip flexors

Ab exercises on the cable machine

Ab exercises on the cable machine

 

Ab exercises on the machine

There are different machines for the abdominal training. Most of them work with a similar motion sequence curling the trunk. Sit down inside of the ab crunch machine and fixate your feet in the respective fixture (cushion rolls, footrest, etc.). Also fixate the upper body by grabbing the respective handles. Curl your trunk solely with the power of your ab muscles and try not to activate the hip flexors. Also try not to pull down the handles with your arms, what would activate the latissimus.

The ab twister represents a machine with a quite different motion sequence. Here, we rotate the legs especially using our obliques. Investigations performed by Buskies W., Boeckh-Behrens W. (2010) showed that the intensity of this exercise is extremely low. It is recommended to not use this kind of machine for the training of the abdominal muscles.

Ab exercises on the machine

Ab exercises on the machine

 

Ab exercises with the ab roller

Ab exercises with the ab roller are quite popular because of the comfortable neck position. Lay down with your head on the respective cushion and try to relax your neck. Your hands grab the bow right above your head. Have your heels press into the floor or lift your legs from the ground. From that position curl your trunk with the power of your abs. Try not to use your arms pushing the bow to the front, what would activate the latissimus and decrease the intensity for your abdominals.

Ab exercises with the ab roller

Ab exercises with the ab roller

 

Ab exercises with the ab slider

Ab exercises with the ab slider are well-known from commercials. We don’t necessarily need the slider for the workout. On plain ground we could easily use a towel as well. We start in kneeling position. It is recommended to use a gym mat or cushion to protect the knees. Grab the ab slider (or the towel) with both hands and start sliding forward in a smooth and controlled movement. Don’t go all the way down but stop approximately on the half of the way. Pull back to the starting position.

This ab exercise has to be taken with care. Especially in the end position the lower back is strained considerably what could worsen or even cause back problems. There also are extreme versions of this exercise that slide all the way to the front or even lift the knees. In these variations the lower back is strained even more what makes this exercise a no go for health-oriented athletes.

Ab exercises with the ab slider

Ab exercises with the ab slider

 

There certainly are many more ab exercises that use other pieces of equipment. Important for you to know is that there actually is no need for tools and machines when it comes to the workout of the abdominals. Exercises using the own body weight can be very intense and offer a large variety at the same time.


Antagonist: Lower back muscle

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

 


Hanging leg raises

Hanging leg raises


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles, the leg muscles, complex exercises

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles, thigh front

Focused muscle:   Rectus abdominis (straight abdominal muscle), Oblique abdominals

Fitness level:   Experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Hanging leg raises represent one of the most effective exercises for the abdominal muscles. It can be performed on the wall bars or pull-up bars. A variation would be on the bars with our forearms supporting.

Hanging leg raises

Hanging leg raises are most effective when performed with longest lever. This can be realized by stretching the legs horizontally. This version is quite difficult and requires a well pronounced musculature. Easier variations would be practised with bent legs or by raising the legs not as high (shorter lever). Shorter levers can also be applied toward the end of the set when a complete repetition with long lever no longer is possible. This would exhaust the muscle in an optimal way.

Hanging leg raises with a free back are more intense than with your back resting on a wall. Leg lifts in lying or sitting position are far less intense in comparison with the hanging version. This is due to the large amount of stabilization work our muscles have to perform in hanging position to keep the pelvis erected.

Hanging leg raises – execution

Get in a hanging position, tense the abdominal muscles, and erect the pelvis. Raise your stretched legs without momentum in a controlled and smooth movement to the horizontal line. Hold this position as long as possible. With the increasing exhaustion you can start to bend your legs. Please abort the exercise when you are no longer able to keep the pelvis erected. At the end of the set please lower your legs smoothly. Too much momentum can harm the lower back.

You could also work out dynamically lowering and raising your legs in small amplitudes. Even more intense are small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension (longest lever). The exercise becomes easier with bent legs. Here, we don’t have to work on the horizontal line only. Feel free to further raise your legs.

Hanging leg raises variations

Hanging leg raises variations

 

Hanging leg raises with twist

Hanging leg raises with twist are less intense since we work out with shorter levers. We take a similar starting position. The abdominals are tensed and the pelvis is erected. From that position we raise our bent legs and start twisting them without momentum smoothly and controlled from one side to the other.

Hanging leg raises, twist

Hanging leg raises, twist

 

Hanging leg raises on the bars

Hanging leg raises on the bars are actually not performed from a hanging position. Our forearms support on the bars. The execution stays similar. Keep the abdominal muscles tensed and the pelvis erected. To ensure highest intensity make sure to not have the buttocks move toward the back too far.

Leg raises on the bars

Leg raises on the bars

 

All versions of the hanging leg raise activate the hip flexors. Athletes with complaints in the lower back, pronounced hollow back, or shortened hip flexors should not practise this exercise. If back problems occur during or after the training please switch to other exercises for the abdominals. Also avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways).


Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

 


Reverse crunch

Reverse crunch


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles

Focused muscle:   Rectus abdominis (straight abdominal muscle)

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Reverse crunch is an exercise that belongs to the family of the abdominal crunches. But instead of the upper body we lift up the legs and especially the pelvis to activate the abdominal muscles.

Reverse crunch

The reverse crunch is a moderate exercise for the abdominals. Compared with the (regular) abdominal crunch the activation of the lower ab muscles cannot be increased with its reverse version. But it helps us to actively practise the erection of the pelvis.

Reverse crunches begin in supine position. Our legs are raised from the ground with our knees bent at approximately 90°. We actively erect the pelvis pushing our knees upwards. The pelvis slightly raises from and moves back to the ground alternatingly. Make sure to lift up the pelvis solely with your muscle strength. Avoid fast or sudden movements as well as working out with momentum.

To intensify the reverse crunch hold the pelvis at the highest position performing very small up and down impulses. Keep breathing calmly and avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways).

Total crunch

The total crunch refers to the combination of the abdominal crunch with the reverse crunch. Again, compared to abdominal crunches, with its total version unfortunately the intensity will not be increased. But with the focus on lifting upper body and pelvis to the same time, it allows us to improve our coordination.

Performing total crunches we could either roll up the upper body and raise the pelvis simultaneously. Or we could keep the pelvis lifted moving up and down with the upper body and vice versa. Please never hold your breath and keep breathing calmly.


Familiar exercises represent the bicycle crunch, variations of the ab crunch, sit-ups, and as mentioned the abdominal crunch.

Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

Reverse crunch variations

Reverse crunch variations

 

Total crunch variations

Total crunch variations

 

Total crunch variations

Total crunch variations


Side raises

Side raises


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles, the leg muscles, the butt muscles, complex exercises

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles, Adductors, Abductors, butt muscles

Focused muscle:   Oblique abdominals

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Side raises represent a highly effective exercise for the oblique abdominal muscles. We could either work out freely or with fixated legs. In some variations the adductors and abductors can be trained as well.

Side raises

Side raises start in lateral position. With stretched hips and knees we lift our legs from the ground. Keep the entire body stable and your abdominals tensed. To intensify this exercise you could lift the upper body from the ground as well. With lifted legs and upper body it is hard to stabilize the body. Feel free to lean against a wall or similar, if necessary. Performing side raises isometrically already is very effective. To intensify the exercise stretch your arms above your head. Small up and down movements further intensify the workout.

Side raises free

Side raises free

 

The variation with raised legs and upper body combines the exercises adductor side leg raises, abductor side leg raises, and side leg raises.

Side raises variations

Side raises with fixated legs are the most effective variation of this exercise for the oblique abdominal muscles. Here, you could have your legs fixated by a partner, the wall bars, a suitable machine, bench, or chair at the gym, or similar. The hips should be stretched. Either hold the upper body on the horizontal line or move it smoothly up and down by a few centimeters. Intensify this variation by stretching your arms above your head.

Side raises fixated legs

Side raises fixated legs

 

In both versions, with free and fixated legs, the obliques as well as the abductors of the upper leg and the adductors of the lower leg are being activated. Please note that working out with high levers (entire body in a horizontal line) is the most intense way to perform side raises. Especially these versions bear the risk of press breathing (exhalation against closed airways) what should always be avoided. There are also less intense variations with the upper body on the floor. Here, we can work out with bent knees or bend and stretch the knees alternatingly. It is also possible to open and close the legs like scissors.


Antagonist: Lower back muscle

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

 


The side plank

The side plank


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles, the leg muscles, the butt muscles, Complex exercises

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles, Abductors, butt muscles

Focused muscle:   Oblique abdominals

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

The side plank is a version of the front plank that is very effective for the oblique abdominal muscles. But also the abductors of both legs receive a very good workout with this exercise.

The side plank

We start in lateral position supported by our lower forearm. Either lay your feet one above or one in front of each other depending on what’s more comfortable for you. Keep your head in extension to your spine looking sideways like the rest of your body. Before we go in side plank position make sure all muscles are tensed to give your body a solid base. From that position lift your body from the ground so that just your lower forearm and your feet remain in contact with the floor.

The side plank – variations

The side plank becomes more intense by lifting up the upper leg or/and stretching the upper arm above the head. The side plank becomes easier by supporting your body with the upper arm to the front or/and by performing the exercise on your lower legs.

It is also possible to transform the static side plank to a dynamic exercise by moving the hips up and down or, just when we are on our lower leg, by moving the upper elbow and knee towards each other.

Never go in side plank position in fast or sudden movements but controlled and smoothly. Avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways). Please notice that the knee of the lower leg gets a lot of pressure in side plank position. Especially the outer knee ligament is stressed a lot. If you have knee problems solely perform this exercise on your lower leg.


Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

Side plank

Side plank

 

Side plank lower intensity

Side plank lower intensity

 

Side plank dynamic versions

Side plank dynamic versions


Front plank

Front plank


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles, Complex exercises

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles

Focused muscle:   Rectus abdominis (straight abdominal muscle)

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

The front plank is an isometric stabilization exercise that can be compared with the crouching hover plank. Planks represent a complex workout that activates several muscles simultaneously with main focus on the trunk.

Front plank

We start in prone position with our lower arms and toes pressed into the floor. Performing front planks it is essential to tense all muscles during the entire exercise, especially the trunk, abdominal, and butt muscles. Hold the head straight in extension to the spine looking between both arms to the floor. Please already tense your muscles before you go in plank position to avoid a hollow back. Don’t go in plank position in a fast or sudden movement but smoothly and controlled.

Hold the exercise for up to one minute or abort at a rate of perceived exertion of hard. Abort immediately when muscle cramps occur or when you are no longer able to keep the pelvis erected.

The front plank becomes very intense for the abdominal muscles when the arms and legs pull towards each other. Even further increase the intensity by lifting either one arm or one leg or both, one arm and leg diagonally from the ground. Lower the intensity by performing the exercise on your knees. Avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways) at any time.

One variation of the front plank is the side plank.


Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

Front plank

Front plank

 

Front plank variations

Front plank variations


Crouching hover plank

Crouching hover plank


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles, Complex exercises

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles

Focused muscle:   Rectus abdominis (straight abdominal muscle)

Fitness level:   Beginner, Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

The crouching hover plank is an isometric exercise that trains the abdominal muscles pretty good. We start in tabletop position keeping the back straight. Hold the head in extension to your upper body looking to the floor. In this position both arms and legs press into the floor. Without changing the position both hands and legs pull towards each other. This should put a lot of tension on the abs. Just pulling the left hand and the right leg (and vice versa) towards each other makes it easier. Hold this exercise for up to one minute.

Crouching hover plank

The crouching hover plank becomes more intense if we lift the knees what especially activates the lower abdominal muscles. The elbows are slightly bent in this position. With problems in the hand joint you could also take a lower position on your forearms. Here, it is helpful to have your arms resting in elevated position, like on a bench at the gym. Extending the distance between arms and legs or/and lifting the legs alternatingly would make it even more intense.

Very easy versions represent the crouching hover blank in supine or lateral position. In supine position take one hand below your lower back and the other hand on your stomach. Now activate your abdominal muscles to have your lower back pressing onto your hand on the ground. In lateral position bring both legs bent and on top of each other to the front and have your knees and feet pressing into the floor. Both variations are suitable for beginners and athletes with yet weaker abdominal muscles.


Performing the crouching hover plank activates the hip flexors which tilt the pelvis. Only perform this exercise as long as you can keep the pelvis erected. Please also prevent press breathing (exhalation against closed airways).

Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

Crouching hover plank variations

Crouching hover plank variations

 

Crouching hover plank variations 2

Crouching hover plank variations 2


Straight leg lifts

Straight leg lifts


Muscle group:   The abdominal muscles, the leg muscles

Trained muscle:   All parts of the abdominal muscles, thigh front

Focused muscle:   Rectus abdominis (straight abdominal muscle)

Fitness level:   Advanced, experienced

Type of training:   Own body weight exercises


 

Straight leg lifts represent an extremely effective exercise for the abdominal muscles. This is due to the large amount of compensation work the ab has to perform to stabilize the pelvis. It is essential to know that straight leg lifts activate the hip flexors a lot what causes the risk of developing a hollow back. People with problems in that area should not work out straight leg lifts.

Straight leg lifts

Straight leg lifts in seated or lying position are smoother and less intense than hanging leg raises. We have different start positions we can choose from. We could either work out on the ground with a gym mat, on a bench, or similar. Here, we either choose a lying (supine) position with our arms beside our body or under our head. Or we take a seated position with our upper body raised from the ground at approximately 30 to 45 degrees. Seated our hands could be supporting behind our back. In lying position the exercise is less intense as in a seated position. Seated we can further intensify the workout by taking our hands from the ground holding them beside the upper body or crossed on our chest.

Before we lift our legs we should already tense our ab muscles to pre-erect and stabilize the pelvis what prevents negative effects. From the chosen position we lift our legs straight up. A quite intense exercise would be to just hold our stretched legs in that position close to the ground. It would get even more intense performing small up and down movements. It is also possible to perform circular movements or draw numbers or letters into the air. Furthermore we could bent and stretch our legs alternatingly or both legs together. Notice, that a workout with a long lever (stretched legs) is more intense than with a short lever (bent legs).

Straight leg lifts and hollow back

Straight leg lifts correct execution

Straight leg lifts correct execution

It is important to abort the exercise if you are no longer able to hold the pelvis erected. Also do never lift your legs quickly or in sudden movements what increases the stress for the back. Perform straight leg lifts in a smooth and controlled execution at any time. Putting the hands under the pelvis supports its erection and helps us to execute the exercise in a clean way. Avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways).


Antagonist: Lower back muscles

Stretching: Abdominal stretches

 

Straight leg lifting

Straight leg lifting

 

Straight leg lifts variations

Straight leg lifts variations

 

Straight leg lifts variations

Straight leg lifts variations

 

Straight leg lifts variations

Straight leg lifts variations

 

Straight leg lifts on bench

Straight leg lifts on bench