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Our 15 Favorite Ab Exercises for 2019!

Matt Skeffington

Matt’s primary role at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning is to make sure that our coaches and clients are consistently improving, all while operatin...

Matt’s primary role at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning is to make sure that our coaches and clients are consistently improving, all while operatin...

Dec 21 12 minutes read

There has been quite a breakthrough in the past few years when it comes to abdominal training. 

Through both research and training, we now know the key to a great looking core is the combination of the right nutrition, training, and recovery.   

Today, we are going to cover the training piece.

The problem with most abdominal training is that it tends to be very unbalanced. 

The majority of prescribed ab exercises only target the rectus abdominis (think 6-pack muscles) and trains the abs to produce motion (example - flex your spine), seen during exercises like crunches. 

This imbalance in ab training not only overdevelops your anterior abs but can also have a negative impact on your posture and performance. 

Only training the anterior abs leave the obliques (lateral abs) underdeveloped.

Think of our core as a weight belt around your midsection.

We want strength in the front.

We want strength on the sides and we want strength in the back.

360 degrees of strength and stability around your spine is the goal. 

Having great abs isn't just about them looking good. 

Strong, balanced abs has been shown to:

  • Reduce low-back pain
  • Increase mobility at your shoulders and hips
  • Improve workout strength and performance
  • Increase workout endurance

So, what type of ab exercises should you focus on?

Just training the 6-pack muscles with exercises like crunches misses one of the key components of abdominal training – to resist motion at your spine. 

Here's an example:

You go to pick up a heavy suitcase off the floor.

You bend down, squeeze the handle and stand it up.

Without even thinking about it, your abs (in this case your lateral abs) contracted to create tension and stabilize your spine. This prevents you from excessively bending your spine. 

Without this happening or without this happening well, you would:
A) Not be able to pick up the suitcase
B) Hurt your back
C) Both 

Training your abs to resist motion not only creates some great looking abs, it's one of the most important injury prevention tools -- especially at your low-back.

It should make up roughly 80-90% of your total abdominal training. 

This is done with core stability exercises like planks and many of the exercises we're about to cover below. 

Let's review. 

When it comes to choosing abdominal exercises, we want exercises that:

  1. Target both the anterior (front) and lateral (side) abdominals
  2. Mainly challenge you to resist motion at your spine

So now let's get into the TOP 15 Ab Exercises for 2019.

The exercises that are going to get you your strongest, best looking, low-back pain preventing abs EVER!

Enjoy!

1| Kettlebell Jackhammer

The kettlebell jackhammer is a great exercise that targets the anterior core. As the kettlebell and legs go out, your abs need to work very hard to keep your low-back flat and prevent you from arching. These are tough but you will love them!

Key Points:

  • Start on back with legs up at 90 degrees and KB in hands, arms straight 
  • If you're new to the jackhammer, start light with a 10-20lb kettlebell
  • Tighten your ab and press your low-back into the floor
  • Keeping your low-back flat, slowly reach arms back overhead and extend legs
  • Go as far as you can without losing low-back on the floor
  • Exhale as you go
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps

2| Band Anti-Rotation Walkouts

The band anti-rotation walkout is one of our favorite lateral ab exercises. It hits that tough to get, love-handle area. These also have the added benefit of also really working your hips and shoulders.

Key Points:

  • Attach band to a sturdy post at hip level
  • Grab the band with a hand over hand grip 
  • Walk the band out a bit and bring it to your chest
  • Press the band out and sit into low athletic position
  • Without moving arms take 3 side steps out and back
  • Stay low and keep abs tight
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps/side

3| Swiss Ball Stir the Pot

Here is a great way to increase the difficulty of the front plank. The instability of being on the ball plus the arm movement makes these a fantastic ab exercise! 

Key Points:

  • Start with forearms on ball and fists directly under eyes
  • Feet should be wider than shoulder width
  • Keep glutes squeezed and hips tucked under
  • Stay tall by keeping chest away from ball
  • Without moving your body, slowly make small circles with just your arms
  • Start with 3 sets of 8-10 reps/side

4| Ab Wheel Rollouts

The ab wheel rollout is an ab favorite at DSC because they really work your abs.

They are tough probably the most advanced ab exercises on this list so ease into them and keep your range-of-motion small at first. 

Warning: these are tough and will make you sore! 

The eccentric (resistance to stretch) muscle action during the rollout places a great deal of stress on your abs. 

Key Points: 

  • Start on knees with arm straight and hands on roller handles
  • Keep hips tucked under, glutes tight and abs braced tight
  • Start by slowly rolling forward, keeping arms straight
  • Let hips and nose fall towards floor
  • Keep straight line from knees to head
  • Go as far down as possible without losing position
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps

5| Band Dead-Bugs

The band dead-bug is another fantastic ab exercise. It's also great for improving posture as it works to lengthen out your spine. 

Key Points:

  • Start with hands on band, arms straight, and low back flat to floor
  • Keep hands pressing into wall
  • Lift legs to 90 degrees, knees bent
  • Slowly reach one leg out, pause and exhale through mouth
  • Press low back into floor as you exhale
  • You should feel abs working
  • Start with 3 sets of 5 reps/leg

6| Landmine Anti-Rotations

The landmine rotation is a hidden gem and is a great way to build the strength of that trouble spot -- your obliques (lateral abs). 

By rotating the bar to the right and left side of your body, your lateral abs are forced to work extremely hard to keep your spine and body stable. You will feel these the next day! 

The bar motion during this movement should resemble tracing the numbers on a clock. The bar starts at 12 o’clock, moves right to 2 or 3 o’clock, back to 12 o’clock and left to 9 or 10 o’clock.

Key Points:

  • Start standing with knees slightly bent, abs braced
  • Place bar at your chest and press it out so arms go straight (12 o’clock)
  • With no body movement bring bar to the right (2 or 3 o’clock)
  • Your right arm should bend slightly, while keeping left straight
  • Return to starting position (12 o’clock)
  • Move bar to left (9 or 10 o’clock)
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps/side

7| Kettlebell Drag Throughs

These drag throughs are a true total-body exercise.

The plank position works your shoulders, your hips, your legs, and core.

By dragging the kettlebell through, your body wants to twist. Your abs have to work double time to prevent your body from sagging and twisting. 

Key Points:

  • Start in plank position with hands directly under shoulders
  • Keep feet wider at hip or shoulder width
  • Keep glutes and abs tight to prevent movement
  • Reach right hand underneath body to grab kettlebell and drag it through
  • Do not let body move
  • Alternate sides
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps/side

8| Slider Mountain Climbers

The slider mountain climber is at the top of our list when it comes to building some good looking abs. The combination of getting your heart rate up, burning calories, and challenging your abs to work make these the perfect ab sculpting exercise. 

Key Points: 

  • Start in push-up position with hands under shoulders
  • Keep upper-body (head to tail bone) still throughout
  • Place each foot on a slider or furniture mover 
  • Punch one knee forward, while keeping other leg straight
  • Quickly switch sides (all one motion)
  • Start with 2-3 sets of :20-:30

9| 1-Arm Kettlebell Straight Leg Sit-Ups

We like straight leg sit ups over knees-bent, traditional sit-ups because they focus more on your abs and less on your hip flexors.

Research also shows the straight leg position takes stress off your low back. Talk about a win-win. 

The 1 kettlebell adds an anti-rotation component making your abs work extra hard to prevent you from twisting. 

Key Points: 

  • Start on back with legs straight, toes pointed up
  • Hold 1 kettlebell in hand with arm straight up
  • Initiate by using abs to pull upper body up
  • Reach through ceiling and finish with kettlebell overhead
  • Slowly lower yourself vertebrae by vertebrae
  • Make these more challenging by adding weight overhead
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps

10| Gator Crawls

The gator crawl may be tied with the rollout for the toughest ab exercise on our list. 

If you're new to the crawl, we suggest starting by mastering the bear crawl and then adding the sliders for the gator crawl.

You can also start by going backwards as it's a bit easier. 

These require a great amount of upper-body and core strength.

Key Points:

  • Start in plank position with feet on sliders
  • Keep abs braced and glutes tight throughout
  • Do not let hips sag
  • Keeping arms straight, walk forward with one hand at a time
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 5-10 yard forward and backward

11| Kettlebell No-Twists

You may have heard of Russian Twists where you have an object in your hands like a medicine ball and you twist side to side to work the abs.

Our no-twist exercise is similar but we want you to slow the movement down and not allow yourself to twist. 

You will feel your abs big time!

Key Points:

  • Start in seated position with legs and torso up
  • Grab a light kettlebell and hold in hands
  • Slowly bring kettelbell to your sides without letting your body move
  • Keep abs braced tight throughout
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps/side

12| Heel-Ups

Think of the heel-up as a safer, more neck friendly ab crunch. These are a favorite amongst our members as they really work your abdominals!

Key Points: 

  • Start on back with low back flat and arms by your side
  • Raise legs up as high as possible, keeping legs straight and together
  • Use abs to raise tail bone off the ground and reach heels towards the ceiling
  • Slowly lower to starting position
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps

13| Atomics

The atomic is a go-to at Dynamic. 

They are quick, fun, and effective and can be done just about anywhere. 

Get ready to feel those abs burning.

Key Points:

  • Start balancing on hip with legs up torso up off the ground
  • Kick the legs out and lean back
  • Keep abs braced tight throughout
  • Kick back in and sit up tall to finish movement
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 10 reps

14| Kettlebell Suitcase Carry

Talk about functional! You are going to crush it next time you're holding a heavy suitcase or the groceries. 

The weight on one side wants to pull and twist you but you need to stabilize your shoulders, core, and abs to resist and keep a good position. These also make a great addition to your cardio circuits!

Key Points

  • Start with KB or DB in one hand with tight grip
  • Keep shoulders back and stomach braced
  • Do not let weight touch your leg or side
  • Keep posture upright 
  • You should feel oblique on opposite side of weight
  • Start with 2-3 sets of 25-40yd walks/side

15| Kettlebell Double Racked Carry

Carries are a favorite amongst our members. Think of these as a weighted and moving plank. Walking with weights is a great way to improve the strength of your grip, shoulders, core and hips. Carries challenge you to control your spine and aid in improving core stability and improve cardio by elevating your heart and respiratory rate.

Key Points:

  • Start with 2 heavy kettlebells in racked position
  • Stay tall and do not let yourself lean back
  • Keep shoulders back and abs braced
  • Do not allow weights to move around
  • Start with 3-4 sets of 40-50 yd walks followed by :30-:45 rest
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