Q: What are your top three favorite abs exercises of all time?
A: Instead of just giving you my three favorite abs exercises, I’m going to give you my top three choices for beginners as well as a few options that are great for intermediate/advanced trainees.
With beginners, developing core stabilization is most important. The following three exercises should be performed for 2-3 sets of 30-60 holds. For the side plank and/or Pallof (cable or band) press and hold, you need to perform on both sides to complete 1 set.
Best Abs Exercises for Beginners
1. Plank: Lie facedown on mat. Place forearms on mat, elbows under shoulders. Place legs together with forefeet on floor. Raise body upward by straightening body in straight line (don't let your hips sag). Hold position.
2. Side Plank: Lie on your side on mat. Place your right forearm on mat under your shoulder, perpendicular to your body. Place your left leg directly on top of your right leg and straighten knees and hips. Raise your body upward by straightening through your waist so your body is ridged. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
3. Pallof (Cable or Band) Press and Hold: Adjust a cable machine so the pulley is at chest height. Grab the handle with both hands and walk out so there is tension on the cable. Now, turn 45 degrees so you face sideways in relation to the cable, and assume a hip-width stance with the handle at your chest. This is the starting position. Press the cable straight out in front of you and hold. Brace your midsection and do not let it pull your arms or trunk to the side; the object of the exercise is to resist rotation.
With intermediate/advanced trainees, I still like to work on the stability component of the core, but I also like to transition into making the movements more dynamic (hence the three choices below). I often choose core exercises that are very integrative like medicine ball rotation tosses. You can see this advanced move in action here.
Best Abs Exercises for Advanced
1. Half-Kneeling Chop: Attach a rope handle to the high pulley of a cable station. Kneel down so that your outside knee is on the floor but your inside knee is bent 90 degrees, with your inside foot flat on the floor. Your left side should face the weight stack. With both hands, grasp the rope with an over-hand grip at arm's length, just in front of your left shoulder. Your hands should be about 18 inches apart. Your shoulders should be turned toward the rope, but your belly button should be pointing forward. Your torso should be upright. Allow your torso to rotate as you pull the rope past your outside hip. Don't round your lower back. Keep your arms straight and core braced. Complete the prescribed number of repetitions to your right side, then do the same number with your right side facing the stack, pulling toward your left.
2. Half-Kneeling Lift (Reverse Chop): Attach a rope handle to the low pulley of a cable station. This exercise starts in the same position as the half-kneeling chop (above), except you pull the rope up past your outside shoulder. Keep your arms straight and core braced the entire time.
3. TRX Reverse Crunch: Start on your hands and knees and place each foot through the bottom loop of each TRX band. Lift your knees off of the ground and keep your elbows straight similar to a pushup position. Tighten your core muscles and try to keep your back straight. Use your abdominals to pull your knees in towards your chest. Carefully extend the legs to the starting pushup position.