What is The Best Abdominal Exercise to Get Six Pack Abs?

June 25, 2007

I often get asked what the best abdominal exercise is to get six pack abs. Here is my answer every time…

There isn’t an abdominal exercise that can be considered the best!

Having a ripped midsection is much more a result of having a low body fat level…not about working your abs with a particular lift. What kills me is that I see personal trainers taking their clients through all sorts of crunching exercises to “really hit their midsection”.

Let’s take a look at a diagram…

best abdominal exercise

The main part of the ab muscle is the rectus abdominis. It is actually one big muscle that is segmented by tendons. The definition you see in someone with six pack abs, is a result of the tendons crossing over the main ab muscle. All of us have these tendons that crisscross the ab muscle. If you were to get below 10% body fat, you will see the effect of these tendons…which creates that washboard look. You would be able to see this, even if you didn’t do a single ab exercise!

I would say that 90% of having six pack abs is being at a low enough body fat percentage. Maybe 10% is by working the ab muscle directly with various types of crunches and leg lifts. My advice is to hit cardio hard and watch your diet if you want great abs.

I will reveal my detailed ab workout in another post…I just wanted to make sure everyone understood the big picture of what it takes to get nice six pack abs. If I HAD to give an answer to the question of…the best abdominal exercise, I would have to say all the various cardio machines in the gym.

best abdominal exercise

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Marissa February 3, 2009 at 8:28 pm

concentrate on what? My stomch used to be perfect! But now since I started eating more..It sucks really bad. I mean, you can feel the abs are there, but the fat is in the way, too. I’m 5’5 about 128 or so. Everyone says I’m skinny, but I don’t think so. I work out 24/7. But it makes me hungry. Especially because I run alot. My upper abs are great, but my lover..blech. as well as my love handels! They’re pretty bad.

Chris December 22, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Simple advice, and yet it really is that simple, not that you’d know if you listened to the mainstream fitness industry!

I was asked recently what I recommended, and I say what I always say, interval training/HIIT a few times a week aswell as some resistance training, a structured and disciplined diet program (which I go on to explain about ESE), and a few abdominal exercises like Swiss Ball Elevated Planks and Side Planks.

Still they ended up taking the advice of some 7 day a week gym going Arnie worshiper and spent a fortune on fat burning pills and hitting steady state cardio for an hour at a time…sigh.

Mike April 4, 2010 at 1:04 am

Dear Rusty,
I have read your articles on various concepts, various times. I wouldn’t call myself a “religious” follower of your site, but I do look upon it every once in a while to find some answers. I even got your “vacation blueprint” for I was trying to find some ways to help my workout regiment. I also looked at other articles too for some advice. I am 16 year old male, around 5’7″ and 145-150 lbs. I have also around 7.5 percent body fat, the last time I check which was about a couple months ago. I am a very active teenager, I do winter season wrestling and have been for 4 years now. I started in about 7th grade. I also workout 3 days a week, use to do 5 but now just 3. I run every once in a while, but since wrestling’s over I hardly do. I love to workout, it is one of my favorite hobbies. I always try to push myself in the gym and increase weight and vary exercises often. I am really trying to get great abs. And I know there is not a single way to do that. For a workout I do as many crunches, on a decline bench with leg restraints, for about 6 mins. I change up the crunches while doing the exercise. Regular crunches, then I do backward twist and negatives. Sometimes I do some reverse crunches as well on the bench. (I’m not sure of the name for the backwards twits ones, that’s what I call them. But I start with my chest at my knees and go backwards while twisting my body, to work my obliques) Anyway, I would highly appreciate some tips on how to get some serious 6 packs. I know you probably have a ton of articles on the site but some are confusing or a bit vague. Also I want to apologize for the length of this post but I want to inform you with as much info about my body and physique to make it easier for you to advise me. Please help me, my abs are okay but not wear I want them to be.
P.S. your help would be greatly appreciated.

James June 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I agree 100% with what you said Rusty. Everybody has washboard abs, but you have to have a low body fat % to see them. I maintain a healthy diet, and exercise 3 times a week. I hardly ever do an exercise that isolates the abs, but I have a six pack. I can testify that people are convinced abdominal exercise is the solution to washboard abs, because people are always asking me what ab exercises I recommend!

Belly Burner July 2, 2010 at 1:14 pm

The tips this article gave on developing abdominals including the graphic were helpful. Thanks for posting this.

Akash August 26, 2010 at 11:47 am

May I know that how I can reduce my side fat near my hips

Bloom to Fit October 15, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Akash,

You can’t spot reduce. You can’t choose where you want to eliminate fat. Instead, concentrate on increasing the intensity of your workouts, thus elevating your heart rate and burning maximum calories (during and AFTER the workout). Over time, you’ll see fat disappearing not only from your hips but from everywhere. That’s how the body works.

Mike @ Papa Star Health January 4, 2011 at 2:05 am

@ Akash,

You could also try to do some side planks to tighten your side obliques. But yes you need to do resistance training, eat healthy and eat less calories. It takes a 3,500 calorie deficit to burn a pound a fat so focus on burning those calories and consuming healthy low calorie food.

Mark's Fat Burning Food and Fitness Blog April 12, 2011 at 5:19 am

Rusty,

definitely right on: everybody has a six pack, it’s just that some “cover it up” !;-)

Once lean, though, there’s superior exercises to make that washboard stand out better, give it wider squares, razor sharp lower abs, etc.

My all-time favorite is the Abs-Lever, aka the “Dragon Flag”.

Not for the Beginner!

I demonstrate them on a video in case you want to check it out, under the Post: “Mark’s 4 Week Abs Routine” …

P.S.
Can’t wait to see what all you have to offer in your free Abs Report, knowing you it will be out-of-the-box, top-profile stuff, taking the trainee to that next new level …

Keep it up man,
Thanks,

Mark

Dennis Blair Fort Collins Personal Trainer April 25, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Absolutely. People still believe you can spot reduce by doing thousands of crunches to get six-pack abs. It truly does boil down to what you are putting in your mouth!

Colin April 25, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Rusty, i have a question. i am in phase three of the visual impact course and have a four pack, i have just a little fat covering the lower abs. i just recently bought the eat stop eat book but im nervous about trying this because im only 19. do you think it is safe for me to fast and eat lower calories for a while?

Broseph - size and strength gains May 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm

A lot of people dont understand the amazing anatomy behind the ‘6 pack’. Doing endless crunches wont give you an amazing set of abs. You have to get to a low enough bodyfat and train them from different angles. Leg raises, crunches, etc.

Sonny June 3, 2011 at 8:33 am

Great advice! I’ve been saying this for YEARS but it falls on deaf ears..however I feel diet is the most important factor in creating a six pack; in my opinion cardio is all but useless for getting the “look” and may even be counterproductive.

Andreas Schumacher June 6, 2011 at 5:26 am

Best exercise are deadlifts and front squats .. perhaps some hangning leg raises. I would recommend to have a healthy meal after 17 o’clock and you will be much better off with your abs ever.

Grant @ Storage Shed Plans June 7, 2011 at 6:11 pm

The best exercise that works for me is situps on a swiss ball and running. I have always had low body fat so it doesn’t take much for me to get my abs showing

George @ Scholarships For Moms June 9, 2011 at 1:13 am

I am a fan of hanging leg raises. Those always seem to work charms for me.

Jon With Cell Phones For Kids June 9, 2011 at 1:17 am

I always enjoy doing traditional situps. I know its a bit boring but it is what works for me.

Cary @ Scholarships For Moms June 9, 2011 at 1:18 am

Hanging leg raises work charms for me. Also I tend to use swiss balls

Trey- Scholarships For Women June 24, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Yes, doing a lot of crunches isn’t going to give you a six pack. Now, doing endless crunches and having a low body fat will give you a six pack.

Mark - Look Sharp Fitness July 13, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Lowering your body fat is should be the most important thing in your mind if you are trying to get a six pack.

Forget all those crunches and leg lifts and what not until you lower your body fat. Once you get it closer to your goal, then do some ab exercises. Working your ab muscles will make them bigger and will make them stand out more. Which is what everyone wants 🙂

Aj July 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Hi Rusty .
I’m a 6’1 guy when i start lifting i was 240 now i’m 195 . I worked hard an year to loss weight but now i have loose skin on my abs and i tried everything but i can’t get rid of it ! What should i do can u help me ?

Aaron August 3, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Achieve low body fat with diet
And do heavy squatting

No cardio or ab crunches will be ever needed to achieve rock-solid abs.

Toni August 22, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I got some pretty decent abdominal definition just from cleaning up my diet and running a few times a week paired with some HIIT. Once you make the decision to do it, it’s really not that difficult. You just have to want it bad enough. Although I do feel sorry for guys because their body fat has to be lower for the abs to be visible, not so for a girl. I will agree that most of the work to achieve a six-pack has to do with your diet. You can perform all the cardio in the world but if your diet is not on point, you’ll never see your abs.

John August 31, 2011 at 11:51 pm

I was wondering what exercises to do to get the V shape. It’s also known as Apollo’s belt or Adonis belt. Is there something specific for that?

Nel M. September 15, 2011 at 7:20 pm

ts more of a question, my upper ab-rectus muscles stick out further than my lower ones and i would like to even them out. i know leg lifts but what else. i can send a pick if u need a better description

Nel M. September 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm

its more of a question, my upper ab-rectus muscles stick out further than my lower ones and i would like to even them out. i know leg lifts but what else. i can send a pick if u need a better description

Marc September 16, 2011 at 1:50 pm

i once had 6 pack abs, mabe 6 years ago. i went on an atkins style diet. I just did marathon style cardio everyday. No carbs whatsoever, I payed the price though, I got what everybody has ever wanted, but I sacrificed tons of muscle to achieve it. In the end it really wasnt worth it because I was thin with 6 pack abs, and no muscle mass. I now look at the bigger picture, I have a 4 pack and have mass once again. I look diesel again.

29 October 5, 2011 at 2:47 am

U mentioned in the article to hit cardio hard.

What about a thin guy like me? If I hit cardio hard, would I be losing muscle?

29 October 5, 2011 at 2:47 am

and how hard is hard? 10 minutes on the treadmill?

Liporidex October 17, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Rusty, While much of what you say is true re: body fat %, don’t you think that a more developed set of ab muscles will stand out MORE given the same sub 10% body fat %?

Pretty important then. Personally, I like the combination of diet, minimizing fat content AND ensuring all ab muscles and fascia get worked and tightened
Do Fat burners Work?)

Niko@noexcusefitness November 2, 2011 at 3:31 pm

If you utilise High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as your form of cardio you won’t lose muscle, in fact you will find that it will promote muscle growth. Gone are the days when you spend hours running on a treadmill, this form of steady state cardio will result in fat loss but also muscle loss. Think of the difference between the body of a sprinter and the body of a marathon runner. Both have low body fat percentages, but the sprinter maintains muscle at the same time. The secret is the sprinters trainining is HIIT. I use a combination of HIIT and Weight Training to maintain muscle whilst carrying only 10% body fat, all without living the life of a monk.

AJ December 6, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Hello,

I’ve been following your site for I’d say the past three months or so and have went from 193 to 173 presently. I’m 5’8″ male, 39 years old. I started doing scoobyshomebodybuildng.com intermediate workout program off his site and now doing advanced intermediate.

What I realized once I ran into your site is that I definitely don’t want the body builder build but a lean ripped look more like this guy you have pic’d under this topic with the girl wrapped around him :}

So what I’ve done which has worked as far as losing the weight and building alittle bit of mass..

And this is the routine I’m following started this week:

Monday
Bodypart Exercise Number sets Number reps Tempo
abs crunches 3 8-30 1s up 1s dn
abs bicycles 3 8-30 2s up 2s dn
chest dumbbell press 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
chest dumbbell flys 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
chest pushups 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
triceps chair dips 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
triceps dumbbell french press 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
Weights: 60 minutes & Cardio: 20 minutes – jog, brisk walk or bike
Wednesday
Bodypart Exercise Number sets Number reps Tempo
abs crunches 3 8-30 1s up 1s dn
abs bicycles 3 8-30 2s up 2s dn
lats overhand pullups 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
lats dumbbell rows 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
lats underhand pullups 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
biceps dumbbell curls 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
biceps hammer curls 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
Weights: 60 minutes & Cardio: 20 minutes – jog, brisk walk or bike
Friday
Bodypart Exercise Number sets Number reps Tempo
abs crunches 3 8-30 1s up 1s dn
legs lunges 3 6-12 each leg
legs stiff legged dead lifts 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
legs calf raises 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
shoulders alternating dumbell press 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
shoulders side raise 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
shoulders reverse flys 3 6-12 2s up 2s dn
Weights: 60 minutes & Cardio: 20 minutes – jog, brisk walk or bike
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, & Sunday
Cardio: 20 minutes – jog, brisk walk or bike

Ofcourse, instead of jogging or walking, I do the HIIT stuff you talk about either sprinting, or mountain biking or jump rope kicked my ass and whatever else I learn from here..

I’m also pretty much in a fasted state with just the black coffee and I”m good to go and I do actually get a better work out on empty stomach then eat few hours later and I’ve really dropped the weight now, sometimes I just end up eating one meal usually per day (El Pollo loco lol) and I snack on nuts or a fruit or two and milk or whatever..I tried the Primal diet but I almost ended up chocking somebody at the DMV so I started eating some good carb eventually..It started messing with my heat the no grain etc. biz.

I can see a two pack on my which is exciting man! thanks! I fully confident with all the tools here that I will look amazing on new years lol..

any suggestions from anyone about anything would be appreciated

AJ

AJ December 6, 2011 at 11:24 pm

oh, and I don’t rest between sets, I pretty much super set or whatever, working on one part and then another and back and forth..this usually for me means I end up doing alot less reps then whats recommended off this guys site…but I do get a pump yet I want to gain some mass specially in areas that are behind and I take it I should go easy with parts that are ahead? to balance things out?

My aim really is to get as strong as I can, I’ve had injuries from martial arts in the past, joint injuries and I really thought I was done with working out but thanks to this slow tempo light weights, I’m actually able too, this is great!

Sorry for the long story, I haven’t posted this whole time but just read and read and still reading learning…best site I’ve found on the net yet. Keep up the great work and great attitude! peace~

Tim March 19, 2012 at 8:08 am

Hi Rusty,

I can’t quite manage the hanging leg raise without swinging yet; my upper body just always seems to swing. So I resort to doing the leg raises propping myself up with my forearms instead. The only problem is that I always feel it much more around my hip flexors than my lower abs! This may be a result of having unflexible hamstrings and my inability to raise my legs far up. What do you suggest?
Many Thanks,

Tim

Vix- Miss Fitness Life September 2, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Hey Rusty- great to see you are sharing the message about reducing body fat, not crunches or ab workouts making great abs.

Keeon Taylor November 16, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Great break down on the abs and the different exercises that can help anyone get that coveted six pack abs. The low body fat comes from exercise routines that get your heart rate up and boost your metabolism and good nutrition.

Mike Foze November 28, 2012 at 7:37 am

Very good article Rusty!

I agree wholeheartedly. The most important aspect of achieving the shredded ab look is low bodyfat which can be achieved from dieting and cardio alone. But to build the lower section of your core you need to focus on lower ab exercises for men

Sereyvorn - Build The Body February 18, 2013 at 3:56 am

Hey Rusty,

I totally agree with you, there is no BEST ab workout.

I like how you keep it super simple. Low enough body fat will result in visible ABS – PERIOD.

Although, incorporating some form of abdominal exercises is great for developing core strength.

But a solid approach to strength training (intense training), you can easily achieve the visible six pack through manipulating: diet and cardio.

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