The Best Ab Exercises, According to Science

Enter the Captain’s Chair

The captain’s chair is a simple apparatus that looks like a tall, seatless chair with arm holds and a back rest, and it can help you develop your ab muscles beyond your imagination. It uses some of the same muscles you activate during hanging leg raises, but at the same time offers support for your back, which makes it more manageable for less experienced trainees and a vital part of a truly effective abs and core workout.

To begin, climb into the chair, press your lower back into the back rest and grip the arm holds with your hands, while allowing your legs to dangle straight down. Now, brace yourself strongly through the shoulders and back and engage your abs to pull your knees up toward your chest in a slow and controlled manner. Make sure to lift your knees above your hips to maximally activate abdominal muscle fibers. Slowly lower your legs to the starting position and repeat.

Need some extra intensity? Try bringing the knees up to either side.

Planks Are Great, Too!

That ACE study we’ve mentioned also investigated the effects of front forearm planks and side planks in terms of muscle activation of the rectus abdominus and the external obliques. Although the results were not as great as expected, that doesn’t mean planks should be excluded when designing a complete ab routine.

Namely, the researchers humbly concluded that there are many deep-seated layers of core muscles that can’t be accessed with electrodes, and therefore the ab-building potential of planks remains to be further discussed. If anything, we already know that planks train the transverse abdominus, an important muscle that stabilizes the spine and significantly contributes to core strength.

Still, for best results, researchers recommend replacing the static plank with its more challenging variations. Once you’ve mastered a solid 60-second static plank, take it to the next level with forearm planks, rocking planks, knee planks, side planks or reverse planks. These variations force the core muscles to work a lot harder and thus offer superior gains. Regardless of which plank variation you choose, make sure to always brace your abs in and squeeze your glute muscles.

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As with many other things in life, nothing is simply black or white in the world of exercises and the way they interact with the complex biomechanics of the human body. So instead of labeling crucial moves as ineffective and eliminating them from your routine, you should make sure to master them and then up the intensity by introducing small modifications that will unlock a whole new level of strength and fitness gains. And there’s no better place to start than the good old crunch!


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