Top 10 Core Exercises (For Thicker Abdominals)

Our abdominal muscles are stimulated constantly throughout the day — contracting each time we cough, walk up the stairs, bend down to pick something up or turn to move in a different direction.

Our abdominals work as stabilizer muscles, thus without sufficient strength in this region, we’d lose our balance and topple over.

However, having minimal strength for good balance/posture is different to having optimal strength for bodybuilding.

Due to the abdominals constantly working throughout the day, this places an even greater need to prioritize abdominal training with intense and frequent workouts; via the concept of overload.

This is not only to increase abdominal hypertrophy, and thus visibility; but also to develop a strong core that enhances functional strength.

Below are 10 abdominal exercises we recommend for shocking your core, so that even if Dennis Chan dropped a coconut on your abs from a distant tree top, you’ll remain at least semi-conscious.

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Top 13 Core Exercises

1. Roman Chair Leg Raise

Found in most gyms, the roman chair is a great piece of equipment for training the hip flexors and abdominals.

Like the free hanging version of the leg raise, the first half of the movement, where the athlete brings their legs up to parallel, is dominated by the hip flexor muscles.

As the thighs travel past parallel, and the pelvic flexes towards the ribcage, the abdominals are strongly active.

Many people mistake the fatigue of the hip flexors as that of the lower abdominal muscles, hence why it is widely stated that the roman chair leg raise is a lower abdominal exercise, and wrongly advised to only take the thighs up to parallel with the ground.

The exercise can be made harder by keeping the legs extended throughout the leg raise.

How to Perform

Preparation

  • Climb onto the roman chair using the foot supports
  • Press your back onto the back rest, and support your torso with your forearms resting on the arm pads so that your legs are hanging down to the ground

Execution

  1. Raise your knees up towards your chest by flexing at the hips, bending at the knee as you bring your thighs up
  2. Bring thighs past parallel, flexing at the hip for peak contraction of the abdominals
  3. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

 

2. Abdominal Crunches

The abdominal crunch is one of the most popular abdominal exercises, targeting the rectus abdominis, in conjunction with the oblique muscles, which are located at each side of the abdomen. The crunch has a significantly smaller range of motion compared to a classic sit-up. The abdominals are responsible for the flexion of the lumber and thus are isolated during each crunch, whereas sit-ups involve the hip flexor muscles to a great degree which somewhat inhibits abdominal stimulus.

For those looking to reduce fat around the stomach and hips, the crunch is a great exercise for developing the abdominal muscles, but will not lead to specific fat reduction from the region. Instead, the best approach is to follow a training program and diet which will lead to overall fat loss. You will notice the development of the abdominals to a much greater degree once fat levels decline, leaving you with a much firmer and defined midsection.

How to Perform

Preparation

  1. Firstly place a mat on the floor.
  2. Lie on the mat, with your knees bent / feet flat on the floor
  3. Bend your arms at the elbow, placing your hands close to ears
  4. Keep a gap between your chest and chin throughout, keeping your neck in a neutral position

Execution

  1. Raise your shoulders off the floor, flexing the upper portion of your back whilst the lower back remains stationary
  2. Once peak contraction is reached, pause for a second, and then slowly reverse back to the starting position
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

 

3. Exercise Ball Crunch

The stability ball crunch is an abdominal crunch variation, which when performed correctly can provide greater stimulus to the abdominals, compared to the traditional crunch.

The key to the ball crunch is to position the ball so that it supports the lower region of the back, allowing the torso to extend down the contour of the ball prior to flexing the torso upward to perform the crunch.

Attention should be given to the size of the stability ball used. Some gym-goers may find the exercise uncomfortable, specifically to the lower back, and may find a smaller ball more suitable due to allowing greater bend in the hip joint.

As with all core exercises, an important point to remember is the myth that surrounds localized fat loss. Abdominal crunches are great for developing the muscles of the abdominals, but they are not going to reduce specific fat levels of the stomach and hips. Instead, an exercise program and diet which promotes overall fat loss should be followed, with exercises such as the ball crunch providing stimulus for the development of the abdominals which will be more notable with overall lower body fat levels.

How to Perform 

Preparation

  1. Sit on a stability ball. Lean back onto the ball as you walk forward so that the ball rolls towards your lower back
  2. Proceed until the ball is supporting your lower back, with your head and shoulders free to descend. Hips should be somewhat bent, knees at ninety degrees and feet planted on the ground

Execution

  1. Raise your head and shoulders upward by flexing your abdomen
  2. Stop for a pause once peak contraction is felt
  3. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

 

4. V Ups

The v-up is a fairly advanced abdominal exercise, which involves the simultaneous flexion of the hip and spine to target the rectus abdominis (a.k.a. the “six-pack”), obliques, and the hip flexors. The exercise requires some level of abdominal strength, so it may not be a suitable choice for a beginner who will likely find the traditional crunch a better starting exercise.

Some state that the raising of the legs from the ground targets the lower portion of the abdominals, while the raising of the shoulders and head targets the upper portion, yet this is not entirely true. The raising of the legs is primarily performed by the hip flexor muscles, not the abdominals. Gym-goers may mistake fatigue of hip flexor muscles as being that of the lower abdomen. The abdominals will come into play, with regards to the leg raise, at the top of the exercise, if the athlete raises their hips off the ground, thus shortening the distance between the pelvis and the ribcage.

How to perform

Preparation

  1. Place a mat on the floor
  2. Lay on the mat with arms out-stretched beyond your head
  3. Legs should also be out-stretched, but with a slight bend at the knee which you will maintain throughout

Execution

  1. Raise your legs and arms simultaneously, bring your head and shoulders off the floor to perform a crunch, keeping your arms out-stretched overhead, and raising your legs so your hips are brought off the ground at the top of exercise
  2. At the top of the exercise your hips should be raised, and arms stretched upward towards your toes
  3. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

 

5. Cable Crunch

The kneeling cable crunch is a relatively advanced abdominal exercise which allows athletes to add greater resistance to the crunch than just their own bodyweight.

Is it the ability to add greater resistance which makes it a great choice for athletes who wish to develop strength and power by using heavier loads and lower repetitions, which is harder to accomplish with the traditional crunch. It is also popular among bodybuilders who can increase the resistance to work within a repetition range which is more effective for muscle hypertrophy (growth), instead of endless repetitions with their own bodyweight.

How to Perform 

Preparation

  1. Set the pin to the correct weight on the station
  2. Attach a rope attachment to the top pulley
  3. Grasp each of the rope handles and pull down as you kneel down on the ground
  4. Place your hands, whilst grasping the rope handles, to either side of your head
  5. Torso should be at around forty-five degrees, with the back slightly hyper-extended ready for trunk flexion to occur

Execution

  1. Whilst keeping your lower body stationary, flex your torso downward whilst keeping the handles by the side of your head
  2. Flex forward until peak contraction is reached. It is the flexion of your rib-cage towards your pelvis which is important to focus on, not your torso toward your thighs
  3. Reverse back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

 

6. Hip Raise (Leg Raise)

The lying hip raise is considered an abdominal exercise, yet primarily recruits the hip flexor muscles during the majority of the movement as the legs are lifted off the ground via flexion of the hip.

Whilst many athletes only perform the leg raise until the legs are perpendicular to the ground, the exercise can incorporate the abdominals to a much greater degree by lifting the glutes and tilting the hips towards the shoulders at the top of the exercise, as seen with a lying hip thrust. This additional component to the exercise will recruit the rectus abdominis as the pelvis flexes towards the ribcage.

How to Perform 

Preparation

  1. Lay mat on the floor
  2. Lay on the mat, arms down by your sides to improve balance, and legs extended with a slight bend in the knee

Execution

  1. Raise your legs upward by flexing at the hip, until your thighs are perpendicular to the floor
  2. At this point, lift your glutes off the floor
  3. Reverse the movement back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

7. Side Bends

The dumbbell side bend adds resistance to the lateral flexion of the spine, and therefore is a good exercise for targeting the obliques (the muscles that create an inwards ‘v’ on each side of the abdomen).

It is important to only move through the lateral plane, not allowing the torso to flex forward or extend backward. The hips should remain stationary throughout.

As stated, the side bend is good for the development of the obliques, but it will not lead to localized fat loss from the waist like some believe. If you wish to reduce fat levels around your waist then a training program and diet suited to overall fat loss should be followed (calorie deficit). The combination of fat loss and muscle hypertrophy (size) will lead to a more defined appearance.

How to Perform

Preparation

  1. Stand erect, grasping a suitably weighted dumbbell to one side of the body

Execution

  1. Keeping the hips stationary throughout the exercise, bend laterally at the waist so that the dumbbell descends down the side of your thigh
  2. Stop just before the dumbbell reaches knee level, and then reverse the movement to descend to the starting position
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

 

8. Machine Crunch

Primarily targeting the rectus abdominis, but also recruiting the obliques, the seated machine crunch is perfect for those who wish to add greater resistance to the crunch exercise.

Similar to the kneeling cable crunch which also allows for the addition of resistance, the machine crunch is ideal for athletes who wish to work with high loads and lower repetitions than the bodyweight crunch variations allow.

This is particular useful for strength and power athletes who traditionally work within a low repetition range. Additionally, bodybuilders and gym-goers who wish to primarily focus on the muscular development of their abdomens will find the machine crunch great for working within a repetition range suited for muscle hypertrophy (growth) – typically being around ten to fifteen repetitions per set.

How to Perform

Preparation

  1. Set the pin to the correct weight on the weight stack, and adjust the chest pad height if necessary
  2. Sit on the seat, plant feet on the ground/platform, and press chest against the pad

Execution

  1. Flex your upper torso forward and downward by contracting your abdominals, causing the pad to descend
  2. Once peak contraction is reached, reverse the movement back to the starting position
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

9. Hanging Leg Raise

The hanging leg raise is commonly mistaken as primarily a lower abdominal exercise, probably due to the fatigue noticed in the hip flexor muscles by athletes. During the initial portion of the exercise, as the thighs are brought up to parallel with the ground, the hip flexors are highly active. As the thighs go past parallel, and the athlete begins to flex his/her pelvis towards their ribcage, the abdominals are strongly recruited, with the hip flexors taking a backseat.

The easiest way to perform the leg raise is with the legs bent, but the exercise can be made harder by keeping the legs extended throughout the raise. Another twist on the exercise is to drastically reduce the range of motion, turning it into a hanging hip raise. This entails not letting your thighs go below parallel to the ground, therefore cutting out the initial leg raise portion of the exercise where the hip flexors are the primary recruiter. This places greater tension on the abdominals.

How to Perform

Preparation

  1. Hang free from a pull up bar which allows ample clearance when your legs are extended

Execution

  1. Raise your knees up towards your chest by flexing at the hips, bending at the knee as you bring your thighs up
  2. Bring thighs past parallel, flexing at the hip for peak contraction of the abdominals
  3. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

 

10. Side Bridge

Recruiting the obliques via lateral flexion of the spine as the athlete raises their hips off the ground, the side bridge is commonly performed as an isometric exercise, with the athlete holding the position for a desired amount of time. The abdominals are also recruited in this isometric manner, as they contract to help stabilize the trunk.

For those unfamiliar with the term “isometric exercise”, it is an exercise in which the target muscles contract to hold the position, and therefore do not shorten or lengthen like with dynamic exercises.

The isometric development of the obliques and rectus abdominis is an effective way of preventing back injury.

How to Perform 

Preparation

  1. Place a mat on the floor
  2. Lay on your side, propping yourself up by resting your forearm on the floor (facing perpendicular to your body), with legs extended

Execution

  1. Keeping your forearm stationary to support your upper torso, raise your hips and thighs off the ground until your body is aligned
  2. Hold the position for a desired amount of time
  3. Slowly lower your thighs and hips back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions/sets