Before I introduce you to some of the best abdominal exercises out there, let’s get one thing very clear: if you’re looking to show off your abs (i.e. get a six-pack), you need to watch what goes into your mouth (i.e. follow a clean diet that’s not excessive in calories). No amount of specific abdominal exercises can spot reduce the belly fat that’s covering up your muscles!
In other words, we all (anatomically) have a washboard, and exercise can make that washboard stronger and harder, but you won’t get to see that washboard until you take the laundry off of it (i.e. reduce your body fat by controlling your diet). Losing fat and keeping the muscle is the focus of my book: Strength Training for Fat Loss.
Science Shows Us the Best Ab Exercises
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy compared core muscle activation using a Swiss ball versus traditional abdominal exercises in order to help determine which abdominal exercise options offer the most bang for our abdominal-training buck.
The researchers in this study looked at the EMG activity (electrical activity produced by muscles) of several Swiss ball abdominal exercises such as pikes, knee tucks and roll outs, along with two traditional abdominal exercises (the crunch and bent-knee sit-up).
Note: EMG is short for “Electromyography.” EMG measures the electrical activity of muscles during exercise. It should be noted that while EMG doesn’t directly measure muscular tension, it is a way to measure the central nervous system’s signal to the muscles. In that, increased EMG activity is indicative of the nervous system’s attempt to produce more muscular force.
The researchers in this study looked for the exercises that created the highest EMG activity in the Abdominal muscles (Rectus Abdominis, Obliques internal and external) while also creating the lowest EMG activity in the lower back ad hip flexors muscles.
The researchers concluded that “the Swiss ball roll out and Swiss ball pike were the most effective exercises in activating upper and lower rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and latissimus dorsi muscles, while minimizing lumbar paraspinals and rectus femoris activity.”
Translation: The ball pike and ball roll out exercises force your abdominals to work the hardest, while your lower back and hip flexors–areas that often take over during other traditional abdominal exercises–are almost completely left out. So while a crunch works your abs with assistance of the back and the hip flexors, a roll out or pike isolates your abs for a more effective workout.
The Pike Roll Out: The Single Best Abs Exercise
In light of the results of the study, we’ve taken both the Swiss ball pike and ball roll out exercise and combined them to make one ultimate abs move: The pike roll out, which we’ve nicknamed “the single best abs exercise”.
A comprehensive abdominal training program should include several different exercise applications to ensure your workouts are well rounded and hit your abs from all angles. That said, the purpose of this article is to share with you the one abs move–the pike roll out–that we put at the top of the list.
In other words, if you were only going to do one abs exercise, I’d say the pike roll out is the exercise to do!
Escamilla RF, et al. Core muscle activation during Swiss ball and traditional abdominal exercises. 2010 May;40(5):265-76.
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