Best Ab Exercises..And the Worst

abdominal musclesDo you know what the best ab exercises are? Many people believe that a basic crunch is one of the best ways to flatten your stomach.  In fact, people will do 100 or more crunches in record time thinking this is the best way to get fab abs.

Although the traditional crunch is effective, you may be surprised to learn that this stomach workout is actually one of the worst abdominal exercises according to research.

Study of the Best Ab Exercises

In a study conducted by the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University, the basic crunch fell well below many other well known abdominal exercises in its effectiveness

Instead of being the best abdominal exercise it actually fell in the bottom 3 abs exercises that were studied. 

In this study, sponsored by the American Council of Exercise (ACE), 13 common abdominal exercises, including some commonly used abdominal exercise equipment, were compared and then ranked from best to worst.

The study for the best ab exercises included 30 healthy men and women varying from ages 20 to 45 with different current exercise habits.  Some were avid exercisers while others were just occasional exercisers.  To measure the effectiveness of each exercise, electromyography equipment was used. 

An electro-what-a-graphy?  Exactly, very technical term, but for the layman’s explanation, electromyography is a technique used for recording and analyzing the activation signal of muscles.  If you want the techie version, check it out here on Wikipedia

During the study, each participant was allowed to practice each exercise and each exercise was introduced at random.  After the practice set, the participants performed 10 to 12 repetitions of the said exercise.  The results were then gathered and analyzed.

Best Abs Exercise Winner Is.....

The top most effective and the best abdominal exercise is the bicycle maneuver. 

Surprised?  Well, after I do the bicycle move, I can feel the muscles in many areas.  This abdominal routine works all the major stomach muscles. 

You can feel it in the obliques, the rectus abdominus (or your six pack) as well as the transverse abdominus.

Following close behind as the best ab exercises were the Captains Chair coming in second and the Exercise Ball Crunch taking third.  

They are grouped by activity in the Rectus Abdominus and the Obliques.  To learn more about all the muscles in your abs, be sure to read this article on the abdominal muscles.

Below is the full list of the 13 exercises included in this study. 

Best Ab Exercise to the Worst

Activity in Rectus Abdominus

Activity in Obliques

Exercise Mean
Bicycle Crunch 248%
Captain's Chair 212%
Exercise Ball Crunch 139%
Vertical Leg Crunch 129%
Torso Track 127%
Long Arm Crunch 119%
Reverse Crunch 109%
Crunch with Heel Push 107%
Ab Roller 105%
Hover 100%
Traditional Crunch 100%
Exercise Tubing Pull 92%
Ab Rocker 21%
Exercise Mean
Captain's Chair 310%
Bicycle Crunch 290%
Reverse Crunch 240%
Hover 230%
Vertical Leg Crunch 216%
Exercise Ball Crunch 147%
Torso Track 145%
Crunch with Heel Push 126%
Long Arm Crunch 118%
Ab Roller 101%
Traditional Crunch 100%
Exercise Tubing Pull 77%
Ab Rocker 74%

Although this study ranked the bicycle crunch as the best abdominal exercise, it also states that all exercises did show results of being effective at working your abdominal muscles; some were just more effective than others.

The key thing here is whichever exercise you choose, whether it be the basic crunch or the best abdominal exercise, remember to do it right. 

You don’t have to use fancy equipment to be effective.

Here are instructions and exercise videos on the top three best ab exercises and more abdominal exercises.

To see the full study as referenced in this article, visit  This link will take you to the PDF file of this study.

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