When you think of a fit person, I'm willing to bet you picture someone with a sleek waist and a beautiful six pack. Visible abs muscles are, to many of us, the best way to tell just how fit someone is. The more pronounced their six pack, the fitter they are, right?
Well, that's not entirely true…
A beautiful six pack denotes a very low body fat percentage, but that has little to do with overall fitness. Someone with killer abs could be totally inflexible and have limited muscular endurance and strength.
Still, we all want a six pack, which means spending a good deal of time working our abs. If you want to get that washboard look, read on to find out about the best ab exercises for women to do. As a bonus, we'll teach you which exercises are a total waste of time!
The 6 Worst Ab Exercises For Women
You'd be amazed by how much time you can waste on ineffective exercises! There are lots of exercises that you may think are good (such as isolation exercises), but in the long run, the reward isn't worth the time invested. They may yield limited results, or they increase your risk of injury. Either way, they're a waste of time.
Here are a few of the abs exercises you should avoid:
1. Leg Throws -- This exercise (lying on your back and having a partner throw your legs forward) has the potential to be excellent, but for most people, it just increases the risk of injury. It can place serious strain on the lumbar spine as those with insufficient abs strength have to rely on their back to arrest the motion of their legs.
2. Sit-Ups -- This timeless exercise is another one that places a strain on your spine. The movement pushes your body beyond your abs' range of motion, taking the attention off your gut and placing it on your back. Performing this exercise can increase your risk of bulging spinal discs and lower back strain.
3. Hanging Leg Lifts -- The biomechanics of this exercise just don't make sense! The raising of your legs engages your hip flexors more than your abs, and the fact that you're working against gravity only increases the strain on your hips and spine.
4. Bicycles -- This classic exercise may be ready to go the way of the dinosaurs. The twisting action engages your obliques slightly, but it's your hip flexors that do most of the work. The back and forth can strain your hips while doing very little for your abs.
5. Russian Twist -- Your lumbar spine is not as flexible as the rest of your back, and it's not designed to rotate. The more you twist, the more you grind the vertebra together. The fact that you're leaning back increases the risk that you'll engage your lower back to make up for insufficient ab strength.
6. Crunches -- This may sound silly; after all, crunches are the most popular ab exercise, right? Well, crunches are similar to sit-ups, in that they often engage your lower back. However, they're also less effective for developing a strong core, and they encourage poor posture.
If you want to avoid time-wasters, it's time to eliminate these movements from your workout completely!
The Best Ab Exercises For Women
Now that you know which the WORST abs exercises are, it's time to take a look at the BEST ab exercises for women. The exercises below place all the attention on your core, reduce the risk of spinal strain and engage your core muscles as effectively as possible. They are the exercises most likely to build serious ab strength--making it possible for you to have finally that six pack you've always dreamed of! Don't forget to get a perfect yoga mat for all your ab exercises!
Image Source: Popsugar Fitness
The Plank is one of the most glorious--and most challenging--of the abs exercises for women and men alike. At first glance, it looks like a simple one, but once you're 20 to 30 seconds in, you'll feel the burn!
The basic plank is simple. It's essentially the position you assume to perform push-ups:
- Hands flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
- Feet together.
- Butt and hips tucked in.
- Head up and back straight.
And that's it! You stay in that position for 30 to 60 seconds (as long as you can hold it). Before the end of the minute, you'll feel the burn in your back, abs, and even your obliques.
Watch this video master the plank:
The beauty of this exercise is that there is ZERO motion, so there's little risk of spinal strain. All of the focus is on the muscles that are holding you in place, meaning a wicked core workout. It's the perfect exercise for beginners, as it's 100% safe and fairly easy to perform.
Best of all, there are so many variations on the classic plank! Once you master the basic plank, you can move on to harder versions of the exercise, such as:
And so much more…
EVERY abs workout should include the plank as it's one of the best exercises to build those killer abs!
Image Source: In Motion Life
Without the "throw", Leg Raises are some of the most effective exercises to build solid abs muscles--particularly your lower abs. The weight of your legs forces your abs to do the work of lifting, leading to a serious lower body workout!
Not sure how to do Leg Raises correctly? Watch this video see how they're done:
Now, as with any abs exercise that involves the movement of your legs, you have to strive to control the motion of your legs. If you're not careful, you can take the focus off your abs and transfer the strain to your hip flexors.
Also, be careful not to use your lower back to raise the legs. Those without sufficient abs strength will often use their lower back, but this can lead to spinal strain. Make it all about your stomach muscles to make it as effective as possible.
Captain's Chair Leg Raises
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The Captain's Chair is an ideal exercise for beginner to intermediate trainees. It is excellent for your abs, but it's easier than many of the ab exercises for women listed below.
How does the Captain's Chair work? Watch this video see how it's done:
The beauty of this exercise is that it's using your body weight to make the workout difficult, but if it's too easy, you can always add more weight. Wear ankle weights, or hold a kettlebell, medicine ball, or weight disc between your feet. The more weight you use, the better the workout!
Why is this exercise so good for your abs? Well, it's all in the "pulling" movement. Your lower abs muscles contract (along with your hips) to pull your legs upward. However, unlike Hanging Leg Raises, your legs aren't hanging on your hips. This reduces the strain on your hip muscles and joints, emphasizing the abs workout.
Best of all, your back muscles never come into play. You can reduce the risk of lumbar strain by performing this exercise. It's all in your abs!
Image Source: Fit and Lean
This is NOT an easy exercise, but it's amazing to help you work your abs. Your stomach muscles clench to keep your knees off the ground, leading to a killer workout!
How do you do the Abdominal Hold? Watch the video see how it's done:
This movement involves ZERO motion, so your hip flexors do very little work. They are engaged to keep your legs off the ground, but your lower abs bear most of the brunt of the workout. Your arms and shoulders get a nice workout from this movement, and your upper abs are engaged to keep your upper body balanced. In hits every part of your core with very little risk of injury or strain!
Image Source: HowCast.com
For some reason, EVERYONE has an Ab Wheel lying around the house or gym. These devices became incredibly popular in the last few decades, and now you can find one just about everywhere you go. Better for you, as it gives you a chance to do one of the best ab-focused exercises around the Ab Wheel Rollout.
Watch this video see how to perform the perfect Ab Wheel Rollout:
What makes the Ab Wheel Rollout so awesome is the fact that you can change it up according to your fitness level. If you're new to ab workouts, you can perform the Rollout on your knees, and you don't have to lower yourself all the way to the floor. Over time, as you build your core strength, you can fully extend your arms and eventually lift your knees from the floor.
Of course, if you're ready to kick things up a notch, there are lots of exercises you can do with the Ab Wheel--Side Rollout, Around the World, and so on. You've got a wide range of movements to help you build a killer core!
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This exercise is the single exception to the "No crunches, ever!" rule. Regular crunches on the hard floor are tough on your lumbar spine, but the elasticity of an exercise ball helps to reduce the pressure on your spine. The result: an excellent AND safe workout for your abs!
How do you do the Exercise Ball Crunches right? Watch the video see how it's done:
This is a no-weight-needed exercise. Your back is cushioned by the elastic ball, but your abs do all the work of raising your upper body into the crunch.
Of course, if you're not careful with your form, you can still injure your back and neck. Proper form means keeping your shoulders back and your head relaxed. If you round your upper back and shoulders, it places added strain on your neck. Rounding your spine will change the focus of the movement from your abs to your lower back.
Keep your form nice and tight by engaging your abs and hips. You should ONLY feel the burn in your abs. Anywhere else, and you're doing the workout wrong!
Image Source: Skinny Mom
Flutter Kicks can be a bit hard on your back and hips, but they work your obliques along with your abs. They're highly effective for building a solid six pack!
Watch this video see how to perform them correctly:
The key to effective Flutter Kicking is to use ONLY your abs. If that means placing your hands beneath your buttocks to lift your hips slightly, so be it. If you feel a pull in your butt or lower spine, it means you're working your spinal muscles--NOT a good idea!
Image Source: Donna Moderna
Think you've got what it takes to tackle a high-difficulty Pilates movement? The Hundred is a surprisingly challenging abs workout that will push your core to the limits of its endurance. Best of all, you don't need any machines, accessories, or weight to do it. It's all you, baby!
Want to know how to perform The Hundred? Here's a simple instructional video to help you get it right:
Determination coupled with discipline is the best combination for the right disposition in achieving your goal. These exercises would help you get that ideal body and enjoy its lasting effect for many years to come. Hard work really pays off especially when you're driven to get what you want.