Top 5 Abs Exercises

For a flat, toned stomach, try these top 5 abdominal exercises.

The best part – no equipment needed!  These abdominal exercises are ideal for you to try in the privacy of your own home, and are a great addition to a cardio workout performed on home exercise equipment such as exercise bikestreadmills and elliptical trainers (cross trainers).

These exercises will work all the muscles of the abdominal region, which will help you achieve:

  • Better posture
  • Improved balance
  • Stronger core and abdominal muscles
  • Flatter stomach
  • Prevention against lower back injury
  • Better sports performance

The Abdominal Muscles

These top 5 abs exercises will work all the major muscles of the abdominal region.

To perform each exercise effectively and safely, start by learning how to control the Transverse Abdominis muscle.  This muscle is a large flat sheet of muscle which lies deep underneath the other more visible abdominal muscles.   It acts like a ‘corset’ providing protection to the lower back and keeping the stomach flat.  We use this muscle when we laugh, sneeze or cough.  If you put your hand on your stomach and give a little cough you will feel the stomach contract inwards – this is the work of the transverse.  It is important to engage the transverse muscle during abdominal exercises.  This helps prevent injury and keeps the other abdominal muscles in a nice, flattened position.  To engage the transverse, pull your stomach inwards towards your spine, as if you were pulling on a tight pair of jeans!  This action of engaging the transverse muscle is also called ‘zipping up’!

The Double Leg Raise

The Double Leg Raise is a great exercise that is ideal for both beginners and more experienced exercisers:

  • Start lying on your back with your arms by your sides
  • Raise both legs towards the ceiling, keeping the legs straight and toes pointed
  • Slowly lower the legs towards the floor – taking about 3 seconds to lower, and 2 seconds to raise them back towards you

To make the exercise harder, simply lower the legs further towards the floor.

Take care not to arch the lower back!  If you feel any discomfort in the lower back, then simply raise the legs back towards you.

Repeat 10 times

The Side Plank with Raise

The side plank targets the waist muscles (internal and external obliques).  This exercise is best performed with bare feet or trainers to avoid slipping on a mat, carpet or floor:

  • Start by lying on your side, with your legs straightened.
  • As you look towards your feet, make sure your shoulders, hips and ankles are all in a straight line.
  • Your elbow underneath you should be directly below the shoulder
  • Place your other arm on your hips
  • Contract the abdominal muscles and raise your hips several inches off the ground.

This should take 1 – 2 seconds

  • Lower your hips back to the ground and repeat

To make this exercise harder, try not to touch the ground with your hips but lower them just so they are hovering above ground level.

You can also extend the hand over your head on the upward phase of the movement, for extra balance and core stability.

Repeat 10 times on each side

Sit Ups

The good, old-fashioned sit up is one of the best exercises for strengthening the rectus abdominis muscles (the so-called ‘six-pack’).

Unfortunately, most people do not perform the exercise correctly.

Here is the best guide to performing a sit-up effectively and safely!

Step One:  Lie on your back with your knees bent, and feet on the floor.

Note:  Do not place your feet underneath anything or ask anyone to hold them!

Step Two:  Imagine that you have an orange stuck between your chin and chest.  You don’t want to squish the orange!  This means that will need to retain a gap between your chin and chest at all times during the exercise.

Step Three:  Place your hands on your thighs.

Step Four:  Engage your abdominal muscles (see the section above for more information).

Step Five:  Using your abdominal muscles, slowly raise your shoulders off the ground, sliding your hands towards your knees.  Take about 2 – 3 seconds to perform this.  Look towards the ceiling retaining that space between your chin and chest.

Step Six:  Lower back towards the ground, placing the head fully on the floor again taking about 2 – 3 seconds to lower.

Well done!  You have now performed a sit-up correctly and efficiently!


To make the exercise harder:

Harder:  Cross your hands over your chest

Much Harder:  Place your fingers on your ears, extending the elbows outwards

Harder Still:  Extend the hands behind the head, holding a small weight.

When performing the sit up, bring the weight in front of your chest and push it slightly towards the ceiling.

Repeat 10 – 20 times

Bicycle Crunches

Recently voted the best ever abdominal exercise by the San Diego State University Biomechanics research group, the bicycle crunch targets all the major abdominal muscles:

  • Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground
  • Raise your knees towards your hips, taking your feet off the ground.
  • Your lower legs should now be parallel to the ground with your knees above your hips
  • Place your fingers behind your ears.
  • Twisting the upper body, try to push your right elbow towards your right knee.
  • If you can, extend the other leg at the same time.
  • Change to the other side, pushing your left elbow towards your right knee.

Repeat 20 times (10 on each side)

The Plank

The plank is one of the best core-stability exercises there is.  Targeting the deep abdominal muscles, the back, hamstrings and glutes, this a great all-round core and abdominal exercise:

  • Lie on your front with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders
  • Curls your toes under and push your feet up so that your body is in a straight line (like a plank of wood)
  • Engage your abdominal muscles and hold the position for as long as you can!

If your lower back starts to feel sore during the exercise, raise your hips higher.

Length of Time Rating
30 seconds Poor
45 seconds Average
60 seconds Good
1 minute 30 seconds Excellent
2 minutes Outstanding

If you need to make the plank harder, you can try:

  • Raising alternate legs every 5 seconds
  • Performing the plank on a Swiss Ball, Bosu or medicine ball
  • Try an ‘Around The World’ plank – raise one arm or leg for 20 seconds, before moving onto the next arm or leg.  Finally try raising one arm and the opposite leg for 10 seconds, and repeat with the opposite sides!

These exercises can all be completed without the use of specialist equipment.

Even better results can be achieved if you have access to a home gym – for example, the  Bowflex Xtreme SE2, or by using weights such as the Cap Barbells.

This article was written by Sheona Bird, BSc, MSc, ACSM, Reps Level 4

Sheona is a health and fitness specialist who has been providing expert advice, coaching and instruction since 2005.