The study, led by Peter Francis, Ph.D., at the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University, compared 13 of the most common abdominal exercises (some involving equipment) and ranked them to reveal the best abdominal exercises and the worst abdominal exercises. Subjects in the study included 30 healthy women and men, ages 20-45, ranging from occasional to daily exercisers. They were put through a battery of abdominal exercises, including the traditional crunch, modified crunches, partial body-weight exercises, and exercises using both home and gym abdominal exercise equipment. Muscle activity in the abs and other muscles was monitored during each exercise using electromyography equipment.
Each of the 13 exercises was ranked for muscle stimulation in the rectus abdominus (the long, flat muscle extending the length of the front of the abdomen) and in the obliques (the long, flat muscles extending along the sides of the abdomen at an angle).
Overall, the best-performing abdominal workouts at home were: the bicycle maneuver, the captain’s chair, and the crunch on exercise ball (see below for the full list of results).
According to the researchers, although crunches on a fitness ball generated less activity in the obliques and rectus abdominus than some of the other exercises, it also generated significantly less activity in the thigh muscle - making it more targeted to the abs and one of the best abdominal exercises there is.
Of the three pieces of infomercial equipment tested, the Torso Track faired better than the Ab Rocker. The Torso Track was only marginally more effective than the traditional abdominal crunch. However, a significant number of subjects reported lower-back discomfort while using the Torso Track. The Ab Roller was no more effective than the traditional abdominal crunch, while the Ab Rocker was up to 80% less effective. These results are consistent with ACE’s 1997 study of popular ab exercise products.1