“What’s the best abdominal exercise for a flat stomach?”, is probably the number one question that we’re asked by our clients – so what is it?
Good question. First though, what do we mean by our abdominal muscles, our abs?
Basically your abs are comprised of your abdominus rectus – the ‘six pack’ (should be eight pack really) that runs from the sternum to your pelvis. At the sides are your obliques, the muscles that stretch from above your hips.
Your abs are primarily there to stabilise your upper body and in conjunction with your lower back muscles, act as a girdle around your mid-section.
Because they’re primarily stabilising muscles, their range of motion is small, just a few degrees. As such, the best abdominal exercise works through a small range of motion.
However, before we go any further, let’s clear up a couple of common misconceptions:
Best Abdominal Exercise
#1. You Cannot Spot Reduce
It matters not a jot how many ab exercises you do and whether you do the best abdominal exercise in the world, you will not burn fat around your mid-section that way.
To burn fat you need a combination of diet and aerobic exercise. You can have a great six-pack, but if you’ve a couple of inches of fat covering it no one will ever know!
By all means work your abs as part of a weight loss program, just don’t rely on an ab workout to burn fat…or that rinky-dink ab blaster machine you saw on TV!
#2. Your Stomach is not Flat
Sorry, but your genetics may prevent you from ever having a truly flat stomach.
The abs are not flat, they gently curve outwards. Now some people’s abs curve out more than others, women for example.
The main reason for this being child birth where the abs have to accommodate a growing baby.
If you’re not genetically pre-disposed to having a flat stomach, even the best abdominal exercise on the planet will not help you to get one.
We’ve had clients in great shape, women in particular, with low body fat percentages, yet still with a small ‘pot’ in their lower abdominal region.
There’s little that can be done to change that, although improving your posture can help to some extent.
#3. Not Everyone Will Get a Six-pack
What we mean by that is that the six-pack effect is caused by the lattice of tendons that criss-cross your abs and attach the muscles to bone.
The way that the tendons are arranged over the muscles will determine the pattern of your six-pack or whether you have one at all.
We have a friend with a rock hard, flat mid-section, but her abs are ‘flat’ with little definition at all. The best abdominal exercise on the planet is not going to change that.
Just look at competitive body builders’ abs and you’ll see what we mean – all sorts of shapes and sizes.
So, with that…
What is the Best Abdominal Exercise…?
There are plenty to choose from and all sorts of complicated and tortuous movements you’re advised to go through to get the best results.
Not to mention the wide variety of ab machines to use at home or in the gym.
Well, for our money there are two exercises that qualify for the title of best abdominal exercise. In fact, these are the only ab exercises we do.
#1. The Best Abdominal Exercise Part 1 – The Crunch
We really don’t understand why fitness ‘gurus’ feel the need to try and come up with improved versions of this fundamentally highly effective exercise. Well, to sell more ab blasters, I guess!
One of the functions of your abs is to bring your sternum towards your pelvis. Sit on a chair and lean forward and you’ll feel your abs tighten.
The crunch is an extremely effective way to work your abs, particularly your upper abs, through that range of motion.
Breathe out as you contract your abs and lift your shoulders and breathe in as you return to the floor.
I tend to count to two on the way up, contract for a two count at the top and then count to two on the way down.
Start off with three sets of 10 repetitions and work up to three sets of 20 reps. You do not need to do anymore than this if you do the exercise properly.
Here’s a good tip to make the best abdominal exercise even more effective – keep your abs tense on the way up and on the way down.
Contracting your muscles in this way forces your abs to work harder and keeps them under constant tension.
The easy way to do this exercise is by putting your hands by your side or crossed on your chest.
To make it harder put your hands on the side of your head, but not clenched behind your head as you must not pull on your head.
To make it harder still, put your feet on a chair so your legs are bent at the knees, your thighs being at right angles to the floor.
Do not put your feet under anything when you do your crunches, otherwise you’ll engage your hip flexors rather than your abs, which defeats the object.
#2. The Best Abdominal Exercise Part 2 – The Reverse Crunch, aka Reverse Curl
The second range of motion that your abs work through is to bring your pelvis towards your sternum. The reverse crunch tends to focus on your lower abs and is of particular benefit to woman both before and after pregnancy.
As with crunches, keep to a count of two at each stage of the movement and keep a constant tension on your abs.
Stick to the same number of reps and sets and do them every other day.
There you have it. The best abdominal exercise…ok, exercises.
Three sets of each exercise will take no more than 10 minutes.
As you get better at them, bring the rest between sets down from 30 seconds to a count of 10 rather than doing another set.
“What about your obliques?”, I hear you cry. I don’t directly train my obliques. They get a workout with crunches and reverse curls and to be honest, I want a narrow waist. Big obliques make your waist look blocky.
I also do no twisting movements as this in time can compromise the integrity of your spine and cause injury.
There are loads of ab exercises to choose from, but for us, look no further than these two proven gems to find the best abdominal exercise.