Study Reveals the Best Abdominal Exercises

Unsure which movements are the best abdominal exercises? You're not alone. Americans are tired of empty promises when it comes to turning flabby tummies into stronger, flatter, leaner abs. The quest for a flat stomach continues for most Americans. For those willing to put a little effort into their workout, a new study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) reveals the best abdominal exercises for getting definite results - and the good news is, expensive abdominal exercise equipment is not necessary to perform the best ab exercises.

Best Abdominal Exercise Equipment for Six Pack Abs

best abdominal exercisesResearch shows us the best abdominal exercises in terms of muscle activation.

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 abdominal exercises 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.

San Diego State University/ACE Abdominal Study on Best Abdominal Exercises: Results

The 13 exercises were ranked from most to least effective for strengthening the rectus abdominus

1. Bicycle maneuver

2. Captains chair

3. Crunches on the fitness ball

4. Vertical leg crunch

5. Torso track

6. Long arm crunch

7. Reverse crunch

8. Crunch with heel push

9. Ab roller

10. Hover

11. Traditional crunch

12. Exercise tubing pull

13. Ab rocker 

For strengthening the obliques, the 13 exercises were ranked from most to least effective

1. Captain’s chair

2. Bicycle maneuver

3. Reverse crunch

4. Hover

5. Vertical leg crunch

6. Crunch on the fitness ball

7. Torso track

8. Crunch with heel push

9. Long arm crunch

10. Ab roller

11. Traditional crunch

12. Exercise tubing pull

13. Ab rocker

The results of this study support ACE’s long-time opinion that it is not necessary to spend upward of $150 on a piece of abdominal exercise equipment. ACE recommends that if a consumer is going to invest in a piece of equipment, the best choice is a high-quality fitness ball that is the correct size for abdominal exercises.

Visit our free ab workouts page that includes many of the best abdominal exercises for some ab strengthening routines that include some of the best abdominal exercises listed on this page.

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