20 best abs exercises to build a six-pack
A set of six – or eight – perfectly crafted abs is at the top of most MH readers’ wish lists, but most men don’t know how to make this muscle-building wish come true. There’s so much more to building a cobblestoned core than constant crunches; not to mention the fact too many reps of this ab-crafting staple can do serious damage to your lower back. It’s time to expand your armoury in the search for superior abs.
Whatever your standard, there’s something below to suit both the keg-carrying noob as well as the guy upgrading from six to eight abs. Whether you chose one exercise and do a pyramid set for the perfect finisher to any workout, or take of five exercises for five sets and create a bespoke abs day as part of your weekly training programme – these are the moves you need. Good luck.
Barbell floor wiper
Lie on your back on the floor, holding a barbell over your chest with straight arms. Keeping your legs straight, raise your feet directly above you. Start lowering them towards the right side of your body but don’t let them touch the ground. Reverse back to the L-shaped position, lower to the left, then reverse. That’s one rep.
Top tip: Pause and hold for a second when your feet are hovering an inch from the floor. This will not only work your obliques but, because your body is working against the rotation, it’ll hit your whole core too.
Load a barbell with 5kg plates and grab the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Position your shoulders directly over the barbell and slowly roll the bar forwards. Pause and then reverse the move.
Top tip: The further you roll out the harder it gets. Don’t over extend and let your hips sag. One short rep with a set core is superior to a full one with an arched back.
Set the cable to the highest pulley position. Stand side on to the machine, grab the handle with both hands, step away from the tower and stand with your feet shoulder width apart. With your arms fully extended, pull the handle down and across your body to the opposite knee while rotating your torso. Pivot your back foot and bend your knees. Return to the start position slowly under control.
Top tip: Don’t let the cable whip you back to the start position or you’ll waste half the rep. Fight against the weight and take a full three seconds to return to the top of the rep. The strength you gain from rotation exercises is immediately applicable to the sports field. Power through.
Cable core rotation
Hold a cable with both hands to your right side, so your left arm is straight and stretched across your body. Only moving your arms, pull the cable to the opposite side until your right arm is straight. Return the cable back to starting position and repeat.
Top tip: Lock out your arms and shoulders, resisting the urge to drag the weight around with these muscles. The more you are able to isolate your core the quicker your six-pack will start to emerge.
Lie back and hold the bench behind your head. Bend your knees and kick your legs up towards the ceiling, bringing your backside and back off the bench. Slowly move your body back down to starting position, then repeat.
Top tip: It might make it easier, but don’t swing your legs back up to the top of the rep. Instead, slowly pull your legs into a crunch before extending them upwards – it’s two moves for the pain of one.
Flat bench lying leg raise
Lie back on the bench with your legs extended in front of you off the end. Use your hands to grip the bench and steady yourself. Keeping your legs straight as possible, exhale and raise them until they are perpendicular to the floor. Slowly lower to the starting position.
Top tip: Force your lower back into the bench by tensing your core. Not only will this ensure you use more of your mid-section throughout the rep, it’ll take strain off your spine and help injury proof the move.
Medicine ball slam
Stand with your knees slightly bent holding a medicine ball above your head with your arms extended. Bend forward at the waist and use your core muscles to slam the ball against the floor about a foot in front of you. Let your arms follow through so you don’t fall forward. Catch the ball on its way back up and repeat.
Top tip: Make sure you’re using this move as an abs exercise, not a shoulder builder. Focus on crunching your abs as you bring the ball towards the floor, you’ll be amazed at how much more power you generate. It’ll bounce so high you’ll have to look out for low ceilings.
Medicine ball V sit-up
Grab a medicine ball and lie down on your back holding the ball over your head. Your arms and legs should be outstretched with your hands and feet lifted just above the floor. Begin the exercise by simultaneously raising your torso and legs up to touch the medicine ball to your feet. Then slowly lower back towards the floor. That’s one rep.
Top tip: Work against the weight of the ball and don’t let it push you back to the floor in a slump. Control the descent and make sure you always have your shoulders off the floor. This will keep your abs engaged throughout the entire rep – no rest for the ripped.
Lie on your side with your right leg on top of your left. Put your right hand behind your head, elbow flared out, and the other on the floor in front of you for balance. Contract your obliques to bring your right leg and elbow together, then slowly lower. Perform all your reps on one side before swapping.
Top tip: If you’re new to this move it could fatigue your hip flexors before you feel any benefit in your obliques. Foam roll the problem area after every session to loosen the tendons and help you up the reps.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Put your right hand behind your head, elbow flared out, and your left palm down perpendicular to your torso. Contract your abs to lift your shoulders off the floor and rotate your body to bring your right elbow towards your left knee. Slowly lower and repeat all your reps before swapping sides.
Top tips: Add these to every abs workout as a finisher. They’re the perfect way to skip your nascent six and go straight for an eight-pack.
Get in a press-up position, with your hands beneath your shoulders and core locked to ensure a straight line from head to heels. Tense your abs and fight the urge to raise your hips as you lift your left foot and right arm until they’re parallel to the ground. Slowly lower and repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.
Top tip: Lifting two limbs turns this standard plank into a rotation exercise too, which works your core through every plane. That’s great news for your abs, but only if you can handle it. If the wobble gets too much just lift one limb at a time – it’ll still add a rotation but make it more manageable.
Start in a plank position with you forearms shoulder-width apart. Plant your palms on the floor and extend your body upwards, ensuring your torso remains straight throughout. Lower your body slowly to the starting position and repeat.
Top tip: You want bigger arms and shoulder to go with your washboard abs, right? This move combines upper-body work with your standard plank – and 3 sets of 20 to any plank circuit.
Sit on the floor with your hands planted behind your back and your legs bent in front of you. Raise your hips upwards so only your hands and feet are planted on the floor. Start walking using your hands and feet to propel you forwards.
Top tip: Lifting yourself an inch from the floor won’t work anything other than your shoulders. Keep your hips as high as possible to ensure you work your core throughout the walk. Aim for 25 metres and try to ignore the funny looks in the gym.
From a press up position, raise one foot off the floor and bring your knee up towards your elbow. Pause then return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Top tip: Make the move more difficult and work your obliques even harder by adding an extra half rep to each side. Lift your knee to your elbow, reverse and inch and then squeeze back to your elbow. It’s a killer.
Lie back on the ground with your arms extended straight behind your head. Pull your knees in towards your chest, lift your backside off the floor and simultaneously lift your arms over your head to perform a crunch. Return to the start position and repeat.
Top tip: Lock out your arms above you for the entire rep. This’ll help open up your abs and work the muscles through a greater range of motion for faster ab-related gains.
Lie back and lift your heels a couple of inches from the floor by contracting your core. Alternately lift raise one leg and lower it, mimicking the kick you do in a pool.
Top tip: Start crossing your legs from side-to-side out in front of you, not just up and down. This’ll work your abs in multiple directions and hit your obliques for a solid centre that extends further than the six cobblestones in front of you.
Hanging leg raise
Grab a pull-up bar and lower yourself into a dead hang. Let your legs straighten and pull your pelvis back slightly. Tense your core and raise your legs until your thighs are perpendicular to your torso. Hold then lower slowly back to the starting position.
Top tip: Let your legs dead hang at the bottom of each rep. This will force you to generate movement with your abs and stop you relying on the momentum of the down swing to get back up. If you’re swinging, you’re not winning.
Weighted ab curl
Attach a rope to a high pulley and kneel in front of it, with the handles held either side of your neck. Without moving your hips, contract your abs to bring your elbows to your thighs. Pause for a moment then slowly return to the starting position.
Top tip: Go heavy. This is one of the few moves that isn’t reliant on your bodyweight and you don’t need to do 20 reps just to fell it. But keep the rep tempo steady and don’t jerk into the movement, you’re not going to catch the weight by surprise.
Lie back with your knees bent and hold a sandbag with both hands, extending your arms above you. Tense your core as you lift your torso up so your upper body forms a V shape with your thighs. Lower under control back to the start position.
Top tip: Tuck your toes under something to keep them planted on the floor and make it easier to keep the rep under control. Under normal circumstances we’d call this cheating, but because you’re taking on the extra weight, we’ll give you a free pass.
Sandbag Russian twist
Sit on the floor with your feet planted in front of you and hold the sandbag in front of you with arms extended. Quickly twist at the torso, turning from side to side, keeping the bag elevated off the floor. Return to the middle at the end of each set.
Top tip: Keep your shoulders locked and your backside planted to isolate your abs and then twist explosively. Your core will have to work even harder to stop the momentum of the bag.