All abs exercises are not created equal, but you might not know exactly what moves you should avoid and which you should pencil in to your training program. You may be wasting your time on some core workouts that you’ve been doing for years, and Athlean-X founder Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S. wants you to ditch them (or at least be more informed about them).
In his latest YouTube video, Cavaliere ranks 15 ab exercises from worst to best—and you may be surprised at his picks. He offers his guidelines and criteria on how he ranks each move.
“How multidimensional are they? Are they hitting just one single area or are they helping us do more than one thing? Because the abs are capable of much more,” says Cavaliere. “Do they have scalability to them, allowing beginners to all the way up to advanced to be able to work up within their ability level on that exercise. Or do they require a lot of equipment, which makes it not possible for a lot of us to do?”
From there, he starts out at the bottom of the ranking chart with the worst ab exercises (aka the exercises you might want to stop doing).
Cavaliere says he likes the Russian Twist, but says it’s done wrong more than any other ab exercise in the gym.
“Too often, people do not rotate at all on the exercise and instead tap their hands side to side. This turns this move into nothing more than an isometric with very little benefit to your six pack,” says Cavaliere.
Cavaliere notes like the Russian Twist, the Bicycle Crunch is one of the moves for which most people struggle with execution issues.
“The lack of rotation at the shoulders is evident and it turns what should be a good move into one that is commonly done wrong,” says Cavaliere.
Dumbbell Side Bend
“I don’t like it, and it belongs in the ‘worst’ category because it’s an inferior ab exercise,” says Cavaliere. “It does more for your obliques than it does for your abs, and even there it’s not effectively the best thing you can do.”
He notes that it’s what happens at the low back that is the worst thing about it.
“You can create some compression on the side that you’re leaning towards, and you can create tightness in the quadratus lumborum, which leads to chronic back pain,” says Cavaliere.
“The basic plank is one of my least favorite exercises for abs since it is too easy and remedial for almost all doing it,” says Cavaliere. “You need to find a version of the movement that is challenging enough to knock you out of being able to do it in 90 seconds or less.”
He also notes if you’re not contracting your glutes, this exercise can turn into nothing more than a hip flexor tightening re-enforcement exercise, because you’re driving and keeping yourself up off the ground by pushing through your hip flexors.
Lying Leg Raise
This move adds unnecessary stress to the low back by either overworking the hip flexors according to Cavaliere, which can lead to an arching lower back which can cause low back pain or just overactive hip flexors.
Hanging Leg Raise
Cavaliere likes this move, but it can have major limitations. “If you’re limited in your ability to hold the bar, it will cause fatigue in your hands before your abs, which leads to less desirable results,” says Cavaliere. “The second thing is if you still have the tendency to just lift your legs up in space and you’re not focusing on your pelvis. To make it better, you need to focus on moving your pelvis and curling it underneath.”
He notes that if your ass is showing to the person standing in front of you, your pelvis is curling.
Ab Wheel Rollout
This is another exercise that people just don’t perform correctly, in this case by not keeping the tension on the abs for the whole move.
“People tend to roll themselves all the way back and take all of the stress off of the abs, and that makes the exercise less effective,” says Cavaliere.
Hanging Knee Raise
By keeping the knees tucked in, this move is easier than the hanging leg raise where you keep your legs straight, and decreases the tendency to lift with the hip flexors because it’s easier to curl the pelvis, says Cavaliere. Its limitations come with the hand and grip strength, however.
This move ties in the obliques with the rectus abdominus thanks to the slight twist, as you focus on just moving the pelvis alone, says Cavaliere. However, its limitations come with the hand and grip strength as well.
Single-Sided Slow Carry
This is another strong oblique move that can be made harder by being performed slowly, says Cavaliere. By picking up one foot off the ground, it creates more instability by having one leg off the ground and making the opposite side oblique contract hard in conjunction with your core for a great stability exercise.
Side Bridge Twists
This move is an anti-side bend that allows you to do a lateral flexion from the bottom up. By lifting your trunk up off the ground to create that pillar strength with the assistance of the obliques plus the rotational control and stability, it’s an amazing ab move with layered benefits, says Cavaliere.
“The levitation crunch works the upper abs with a minimal ab exercise that anyone can do,” says Cavaliere. Simply lift your shoulder blades off the ground.
“The swiper works the lower abs while ensuring that you lift your pelvis instead of your legs,” says Cavaliere. Swipe your hands under the tailbone.
Gymnast Ab Tuck
“The gymnast tuck is a home option that also hits the lower abs hard,” says Cavaliere. The focus is folding your trunk at the level of the pelvis, creating a posterior pelvic tilt responsible for the flexion of the spine that creates the activation of the abdominals.
“The best ab exercise however is the sliding tuck. This bodyweight ab exercise can be done with just some socks on a slick floor,” says Cavaliere. “The key is to not pull with the hip flexors but rather to hinge the pelvis into posterior tilt with the strength of the abs. Add a slight turn at the bottom and even pull in the knees if you desire more lower ab exercises.”
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