10 Exercises for All-Around Ab Strength

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.
·6 mins read

From Men's Health

One of the hallmarks of a ripped physique is chiseled, noticeable upper ab definition. Well-defined upper abs right below your chest help create the V-taper effect that plenty of guys chase, immediately drawing the eye. That’s why plenty of guys work extra-hard to target their upper abs, chasing core definition in this one specific area.

Thing is, for many reasons, this isn’t the best way to train your core, and it’s not the best way to get the six-pack of your dreams, either. A strong, functional set of abs is more than upper abs; it’s upper abs, lower abs, obliques, hip flexors, glutes, and spinal extensors working as one balanced unit. And while you may want to focus on your upper abs, over-focusing on upper abs won’t create that ripped, chiseled visual you may think.

The better approach, instead, is to build your core as the integrated unit that it is. Yes, that’s going to involve plenty of upper ab training, but you don’t need to target your upper abs with exclusive movements to get there.

The Function of Your Upper Abs

When people talk about the “upper abs,” in general, they’re speaking about the upper part of the rectus abdominis, a long muscle that extends from the bottom of your sternum to the bottom of your pelvis (your pubic bone). One of the rectus abdominis’ main jobs is something called “trunk flexion,” essentially, the movement of your upper torso toward your thighs (think: situps).

The idea of trunk flexion is sometimes broken into two parts, too. There’s hip flexion, a motion driven heavily by your hip flexors, in which the hips move toward your torso. And then there’s spinal flexion, a motion primarily driven by the rectus abdominis, in which your spine flexes forward toward your knees. Imagine the opening moments of an old-school crunch, when lower back remains on the ground but your shoulder blades come off the ground; that’s an example of this upper-abs-dominated spinal flexion.

Thing is, these movements don’t necessarily need to be broken into separate parts. In fact, they shouldn’t be broken apart, because that’s not how your core is meant to operate. During just about any classic core movement, from a Russian twist to a V-up to a situp to a hanging leg raise, your entire core, from upper abs to lower abs to hip flexors to obliques, is active and tense.

Why It’s Not Worth Targeting Specific Rectus Regions

Your core is meant to work as this integrated unit, and it’s best trained as an integrated unit to prevent imbalances that can create long-term issues. This is seen most often in those who focus only on lower ab and hip flexion moves: Their hip flexors often tighten, pulling their torsos forward.

Similarly, if you attempted to “target” your upper abs, and actually succeeded (no guarantees on that, anyway), the strength you created in those muscles might tug your torso forward instead of giving you the six-pack look you were actually pursuing.

The Better Plan: All Around Core Strength

Your better plan, instead, is to focus on all-around core strength, relying on moves that push all your core muscles to work together. You’ll be training your core to work with the synergy it’s meant to have. This will leave you stronger for both sports activities (you’ll be more ready to take contact on the basketball court) and everyday activities (think: picking up a heavy box) alike.

You’ll also have a great chance to carve extreme overall abdominal definition because you’ll be able to challenge your core with greater loads. A combination of upper abs, lower abs, and obliques can move more weight on, say, a Turkish getup, than your upper abs can move by themselves during, say, a weighted crunch.

Train your abs for all-around core strength, and you’ll get the results you want. These 10 moves can drive you to that all-around core strength, too.

Moves for All-Around Ab Strength

Plank

The basic plank builds all-around core strength. Remember to squeeze your glutes, which are part of your core, when you do this.

Elevated Plank Row Hellset

Yes, you can train more than your abs during certain core moves! Your entire core must bring stability when you row upwards during this elevated plank, attacking upper abs, lower abs, and glutes. Make sure your hips and shoulders stay square to the ground!

Copenhagen Knee Drive Series

Your entire core works (and doesn't get a break) during the Copenhagen Knee Drive series. Yes, it targets the obliques, but your upper abs will be screaming, too.

Hollow Hold

The basic hollow hold is a key core move that attacks the upper abs (and your whole core) without adversely affecting your posture. Load it up with a weight for more challenge.

Resisted Plank Stability Challenge

Planks are basic, but again they challenge your entire core. And adding the band forces you to deal with anti-rotation, another key way to develop total core strength.

Dragon Flag Flutter Challenge

Working through dragon flags challenges the entire rectus abdominis in a unique way: It must hold up your legs while keeping them in a straight line. Your abs have no chance to breathe.

Hollow Rock to Sprinter Situp Challenge

The hollow hold and hollow rock are two terrific ways to organically attack the upper abs. Both force your core to operate against anti-extension, essentially making sure you don't arch your back. That's a key function of your entire rectus abdominis.

Sprinter Situp to Gator Roll Countup

This one attacks the upper abdominals during the sprinter situp, especially if you execute the sprinter situp with your arms long, so your core has to balance an ultra-long lever.

Single-Arm Pullover to March

Few moves will shred your entire core like this one, which challenges balance and also pushes upper and lower abs to stabilize against anti-rotation and anti-extension.

3-Step Core Getup

This core move from fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. attacks upper abs, lower abs, and glutes, all at once, and because you're using a unilateral load, it'll hammer obliques, too.

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