There are great exercises you can do to train your abs and get a nice six pack. However, before we start to present the top 3 sixpack exercises, you should know that a low body fat percentage is a prerequisite for visible abs. It's useless in terms of appearance if you have well-developed abs, but they are hidden under a layer of fat.
Reduce your body fat percentage to make your abs visible!
Besides, your abs are already being worked anyway during big multi-joint exercises like the squat, deadlift or shoulder press. If your training plan includes such exercises, you won't need many isolated ab exercises to get a nice six pack. Some trainees don't even perform any isolated ab training and have very visible abs.
Focus on a few very good ab exercises and perform them with full focus!
What makes a good ab exercises?
Ab training is subject to the same principles as the training of other muscles.
So ideally, there is high tension on the target muscles throughout their entire range of motion - from the stretch to the final contraction. This is the case, e.g., for Cable Flys for your chest as a target muscle. On the other hand, when you bench press with a barbell, there is only high tension on your chest in part of its range of motion. There is no tension in the lower part (because you cannot lower the bar lower than your chest) and there is also no tension in the upper part (because your arms cannot be brought together).
In addition, the exercise should have a high level of stability. An exercise is very stable when your target muscles are the limit and not your stabilizing muscles or your coordination ability. For example, the Leg Press is a very stable exercise and the Side Crunches on the exercise ball is not a stable exercise.
In addition to a high range of motion and stability, the combination of different exercises should work your abs from different angles. This way you will ensure that your abs are fully stimulated. Therefore, we will present one exercise focusing on the upper abs, one focusing on the lateral upper abs and one focusing on the lower abs.
You don't have to focus on the lateral lower abs as a man, because these muscles are not conducive to a typical V-shape. As a woman (or if a V-shape is not important to you) you can of course also focus on them.
Good ab exercises have a high range of motion and stability. In combination with each other, they train your abs from different angles.
The 3 best ab exercises
When doing Kneeling Crunches with the cable, there is high tension on your abs throughout the entire range of motion. This is a clear advantage over the conventional lying crunches, where there is no tension at all on your abs when they are stretched (because the floor limits the movement and your abs cannot be fully stretched). With Kneeling Crunches, there is constant tension on your abs - even when you are in the starting position and have fully stretched abs.
Furthermore, the exercise is relatively stable, so it's not your coordination skills or stabilizing muscles that are the limit.
The focus is definitely on your upper abs as you bring your upper body towards your knees.
- Your knees are on the ground in front of the cable pulley and your buttocks rests on your heels.
- Hold the cable above your head.
- In the starting position, your back is slightly arched so that your abs are stretched.
- Move your upper back as far as possible toward your knees and then return to the starting position.
During Side Crunches, there is high tension on your abs almost throughout the entire range of motion. Only in the lowest position there is no tension, because the floor limits the movement and therefore the abs cannot be fully stretched. Although alternative exercises, such as Side Crunches on an exercise ball, involve your abs intensely throughout the entire range of motion, they are also much more unstable.
A clear advantage of Side Crunches (on the floor) is that they are relatively stable.
The focus of this exercise is on your upper lateral abs as you bring your torso sideways toward your hips.
- In the starting position, your back is on the floor with your legs bent sideways.
- You can hold an additional weight (e.g., weight plates or a dumbbell) above your forehead.
- Move your upper back as far as possible toward the hips and then return it to the starting position.
- Your lower back remains on the floor during execution.
Decline Reverse Crunches
When doing Decline Reverse Crunches, there is high tension on your abs throughout the entire range of motion. This is a clear advantage over conventional Leg Raises, where there is no tension in the lowest position because your body is pointing down with your hips extended and there is no force on your abs.
While Decline Reverse Crunches isn't the most stable exercise, it's still more stable (or just as stable) as alternative exercises for the lower abs.
The focus is clearly on your lower abs as you bring your hips towards your head.
In case of back pain: optimize the technique or replace it by, e.g., conventional Leg Raises.
- Grip the handle above your head to stabilize your body.
- In the starting position, your hips rest on the bench.
- You can hold an additional weight (e.g., a dumbbell) between your feet.
- Raise your legs and hips as far as possible and then lower them back to the starting position.
How to integrate it into your training plan?
Now the question is how to best integrate these 3 exercises into your training plan.
Ideally, spread them out over 2-3 different days instead of doing them all in one day. If you have a plan with separate lower body days, it's best to do them towards the end of the lower body days. That way, your lower body workout won't suffer from a weakened core due to ab training on the previous workout day.
Upper Lower plan
If you have an Upper Lower plan and work out 4x a week, you can do 2 ab exercises on one lower body day and 1 ab exercise on the other lower body day.
You can find a complete Upper Lower plan with the top 3 six pack exercises here.
Push Pull Legs plan
If you have a Push Pull Legs plan and work out 6x a week, you can do 2 ab exercises on one leg day and 1 ab exercise on the other leg day.
You can find a complete Push Pull Legs plan with the top 3 six pack exercises here.
Good ab exercises are stable and allow you to have high tension on your abs throught a high range of motion. The exercises should complement each other so that your abs are worked from different angles.
The top 3 six pack exercises are:
- Kneeling Crunches (focus on upper abs)
- Side Crunches (focus on lateral upper abs)
- Decline Reverse Crunches (focus on lower abs)
Spread these exercises over 2-3 days and preferably perform them on lower body days.