A Lean Life

Top 5 Best Ab Exercises to Build Lean Abs

6-pack Abs

6-pack Abs

These are the Top 5 best ab exercises that I learned as an Army Ranger, and they have stayed close to my heart years later.

I go to the gym and I see all of this fancy equipment to build great abs, and I have tried nearly all of these machines, and some are very good.  I still find that the best exercises are the very basic, nothing fancy, ab workout.  No machines, no frills, no glitz…just simple exercises that will build lean, muscular abs.  I am a big believer in the Vince Lombardi approach: no flea flickers, no hail Mary’s, just a laser focus on the basics, and getting really good on those basics.

The workout is very simple – 5 exercises – but when used in combination (Bi-sets and Tri-sets), this is when things get powerful.  And it all can be done quite quickly.  It is tailor-made for 30on3 Workouts • simple, proven, powerful

Now, we all know that washboard abs are the crown jewel of any workout routine…it is the proof in the pudding in terms of lean, hard muscle.  It separates the “super lean” from the “in pretty good shape.”

This is not always true however, as we have all seen guys with 6-pack abs who do not have an overall lean, muscular build.

Keep top of mind, you can do crunches 10 hours a day and do the best ab exercises in the world, but if you eat Big Macs and stuffed-crust large pizzas every day, you will likely not see 6 pack abs.  So there has to a balance between your best ab workout, and a clean, nutritious diet.

As you can see below, the effects of poor diet and junk food are far-reaching:

Effects of Junk Food

So easy on the junk food, and as a good general rule…you need to be in the 10% body fat range to see the abs shine.

Abs Structure and Function


Location of Abdominals

The rectus abdominis, or “abs,” runs vertically on the front of the abdomen.  It is a paired muscle that is connected by the linea alba (white line) in the center.  The two halves mirror each other, and give the presentation of 6 to 8 muscle patches, commonly referred to as a “6-pack.”

The transverse abdominis is more on the interior of your core, and wraps around the spine for support.

The obliques (external and internal) are on the outer edges of your ab muscles, and are primarily activated during twisting movements of the torso.

The function of the abs is to flex the lumbar spine.  This occurs when doing a crunch, and the rib cage moves to the pelvis.  The abs also assist the body in breathing – blow out a hard breath and you will feel your abs contract.

Top 5 Best Ab Exercises

Best Ab Exercises

Best Ab Exercises

First, remember these basics when performing your best ab exercises:

  • Always properly warm-up before exerting your muscles:
    > A few minutes of light cardio to warm the muscles (jog in place, jumping jacks)
    > Do some dynamic stretching to loosen the muscles
  • Most of the abs exercises will exert the lower back, so always warm-up your back before your best ab workout.

With these ab exercises, you are not dealing with weights, so it is best to keep track of your progress by recording the # of reps.  You want your rep count to be going up consistently (maybe not every workout though).  This tells you that you are building lean muscle, and the core is getting stronger.

#1 Crunches

  • Start Position:  Lying on your back with knees bent at 90 deg and feet flat on floor, and arms crossed over your chest.  You can lock hands behind your head, or cross your arms on your chest.  Crossed arms on your chest tend to isolate and work your abs more.  Keep your lower back on the floor to isolate your abs.
  • Technique:  Contract your abs as you exhale and roll your shoulders off the floor.  Keep your lower back on the floor.  Flex your abs and hold for 1 second.  Inhale as you return to start position.
  • Reps:  Until you feel the mighty burn.

#2 Sit-ups

  • Start Position:  Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, and hands locked behind your head.  Keep your entire back flat on the floor.
  • Technique:  Raise your upper body as you exhale until your torso is in a vertical position.  Hold the contraction for 1 second, and then lower your body to the start position as you inhale.
  • Reps:  Until you feel the mighty burn.

#3 Lying Leg Raises

  • Start Position: Lying on your back with your hands tucked under your butt, and your legs extended.
  • Technique:  As you exhale, lift your legs up to a vertical position, and when you reach the top, lift your hips slightly off the floor.  Hold this position for 1 second.  Inhale as you lower your legs and return to start position.
  • Reps:  Until you feel the mighty burn.

#4 Flutter Kicks | Scissors

This is an Army special, and we used to get killed with these in Ranger school.  I have very vivid memories of the instructors screaming for more flutters and my tank was already on empty…good times.
They will definitely punish your abs.  This exercise alone can be one of your best ab workouts.

  • Start Position: Lying on your back with your hands tucked under your butt, and your legs extended.  Raise your legs approximately 6″ off the floor.
  • Technique:  Maintaining a stable torso, move your legs up and down in scissor motion.
  • Reps:  Until you feel the mighty burn.  I count reps on a 3-count (1-2-3/1, 1-2-3/2, 1-2-3/3, etc).

#5 V-up’s (Jackknife Sit-up)

Start Position:  Lying flat on the floor with your legs extended and your arms extended behind your head.

Technique:  Lift your legs and torso at the same time as you exhale, and extend your arms until they are parallel with your legs.  Hold the contraction for 1 second, then inhale as you return to start position.

Bi-Sets and Tri-Sets to Supercharge the Best Ab Exercises

I do a lot of bi-sets and tri-sets with the exercises above to get a really great overall ab workout in a short time.

  • Bi-sets  =  2 exercises in quick succession with no rest (crunches straight to leg raises)
  • Tri-sets  =  3 exercises in quick succession with no rest (crunches – scissors – leg raises)

These exercises fit in very well with my 30on3 Workouts, so you can maximize your 30 minutes in the gym, 3 days a week, and still get a killer ab workout.

So, try these bi-sets and tri-sets (all in quick succession, with 30-second rest between sets):

3 sets:  Crunches – Flutter Kicks
3 sets:  Sit-ups – Lying Leg Raises

3 sets:  Crunches – Lying Leg Raises – Flutter Kicks
3 sets:  Sit-ups – Flutter Kicks – V-ups

I know this looks and sounds very simple – it doesn’t have to be complicated.  You should have 5 – 8 best ab exercises in your ab workout, but you simply don’t need 20.

Avoiding Injury

If you have ever suffered a back injury, then you know just how miserable life can be.  For me, it ruined just about every day.

I finally got things straightened out, and learned a lot in the process.  One thing I learned from a very reputable orthopedic…besides doing just lower back pain stretches, it is very important to also do ab exercises to strengthen your core.  This can have big impact on your lower back.

So another great advantage of doing the best ab exercises…it will improve and strengthen your lower back.  All so important as the years pass.

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