Top 10 Core Exercises (For Thicker Abdominals) - Inside Bodybuilding (2023)

Our abdominal muscles are stimulated constantly throughout the day — contracting each time we cough, walk up the stairs, bend down to pick something up or turn to move in a different direction.

Our abdominals work as stabilizer muscles, thus without sufficient strength in this region, we’d lose our balance and topple over.

However, having minimal strength for good balance/posture is different to having optimal strength for bodybuilding.

Due to the abdominals constantly working throughout the day, this places an even greater need to prioritize abdominal training with intense and frequent workouts; via the concept of overload.

This is not only to increase abdominal hypertrophy, and thus visibility; but also to develop a strong core that enhances functional strength.

Below are 10 abdominal exercises we recommend for shocking your core, so that even if Dennis Chan dropped a coconut on your abs from a distant tree top, you’ll remain at least semi-conscious.

Top 10 Core Exercises (For Thicker Abdominals) - Inside Bodybuilding (1)

Contents

  • 1 Top 13 Core Exercises
  • 2 1. Roman Chair Leg Raise
  • 3 2. Abdominal Crunches
  • 4 3. Exercise Ball Crunch
  • 5 4. V Ups
  • 6 5. Cable Crunch
  • 7 6. Hip Raise (Leg Raise)
  • 8 7. Side Bends
  • 9 8. Machine Crunch
  • 10 9. Hanging Leg Raise
  • 11 10. Side Bridge

Top 13 Core Exercises

1. Roman Chair Leg Raise

Found in most gyms, the roman chair is a great piece of equipment for training the hip flexors and abdominals.

Like the free hanging version of the leg raise, the first half of the movement, where the athlete brings their legs up to parallel, is dominated by the hip flexor muscles.

As the thighs travel past parallel, and the pelvic flexes towards the ribcage, the abdominals are strongly active.

Many people mistake the fatigue of the hip flexors as that of the lower abdominal muscles, hence why it is widely stated that the roman chair leg raise is a lower abdominal exercise, and wrongly advised to only take the thighs up to parallel with the ground.

The exercise can be made harder by keeping the legs extended throughout the leg raise.

How to Perform

(Video) Full Core Workout - Build Thick Abs & A Strong Core

Preparation

  • Climb onto the roman chair using the foot supports
  • Press your back onto the back rest, and support your torso with your forearms resting on the arm pads so that your legs are hanging down to the ground

Execution

  1. Raise your knees up towards your chest by flexing at the hips, bending at the knee as you bring your thighs up
  2. Bring thighs past parallel, flexing at the hip for peak contraction of the abdominals
  3. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

2. Abdominal Crunches

The abdominal crunch is one of the most popular abdominal exercises, targeting the rectus abdominis, in conjunction with the oblique muscles, which are located at each side of the abdomen. The crunch has a significantly smaller range of motion compared to a classic sit-up. The abdominals are responsible for the flexion of the lumber and thus are isolated during each crunch, whereas sit-ups involve the hip flexor muscles to a great degree which somewhat inhibits abdominal stimulus.

For those looking to reduce fat around the stomach and hips, the crunch is a great exercise for developing the abdominal muscles, but will not lead to specific fat reduction from the region. Instead, the best approach is to follow a training program and diet which will lead to overall fat loss. You will notice the development of the abdominals to a much greater degree once fat levels decline, leaving you with a much firmer and defined midsection.

How to Perform

Preparation

  1. Firstly place a mat on the floor.
  2. Lie on the mat, with your knees bent / feet flat on the floor
  3. Bend your arms at the elbow, placing your hands close to ears
  4. Keep a gap between your chest and chin throughout, keeping your neck in a neutral position

Execution

  1. Raise your shoulders off the floor, flexing the upper portion of your back whilst the lower back remains stationary
  2. Once peak contraction is reached, pause for a second, and then slowly reverse back to the starting position
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

3. Exercise Ball Crunch

The stability ball crunch is an abdominal crunch variation, which when performed correctly can provide greater stimulus to the abdominals, compared to the traditional crunch.

The key to the ball crunch is to position the ball so that it supports the lower region of the back, allowing the torso to extend down the contour of the ball prior to flexing the torso upward to perform the crunch.

Attention should be given to the size of the stability ball used. Some gym-goers may find the exercise uncomfortable, specifically to the lower back, and may find a smaller ball more suitable due to allowing greater bend in the hip joint.

As with all core exercises, an important point to remember is the myth that surrounds localized fat loss. Abdominal crunches are great for developing the muscles of the abdominals, but they are not going to reduce specific fat levels of the stomach and hips. Instead, an exercise program and diet which promotes overall fat loss should be followed, with exercises such as the ball crunch providing stimulus for the development of the abdominals which will be more notable with overall lower body fat levels.

How to Perform

(Video) The ONLY 5 Exercises You Need for THICK ABS

Preparation

  1. Sit on a stability ball. Lean back onto the ball as you walk forward so that the ball rolls towards your lower back
  2. Proceed until the ball is supporting your lower back, with your head and shoulders free to descend. Hips should be somewhat bent, knees at ninety degrees and feet planted on the ground

Execution

  1. Raise your head and shoulders upward by flexing your abdomen
  2. Stop for a pause once peak contraction is felt
  3. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

4. V Ups

The v-up is a fairly advanced abdominal exercise, which involves the simultaneous flexion of the hip and spine to target the rectus abdominis (a.k.a. the “six-pack”), obliques, and the hip flexors. The exercise requires some level of abdominal strength, so it may not be a suitable choice for a beginner who will likely find the traditional crunch a better starting exercise.

Some state that the raising of the legs from the ground targets the lower portion of the abdominals, while the raising of the shoulders and head targets the upper portion, yet this is not entirely true. The raising of the legs is primarily performed by the hip flexor muscles, not the abdominals. Gym-goers may mistake fatigue of hip flexor muscles as being that of the lower abdomen. The abdominals will come into play, with regards to the leg raise, at the top of the exercise, if the athlete raises their hips off the ground, thus shortening the distance between the pelvis and the ribcage.

How to perform

Preparation

  1. Place a mat on the floor
  2. Lay on the mat with arms out-stretched beyond your head
  3. Legs should also be out-stretched, but with a slight bend at the knee which you will maintain throughout

Execution

  1. Raise your legs and arms simultaneously, bring your head and shoulders off the floor to perform a crunch, keeping your arms out-stretched overhead, and raising your legs so your hips are brought off the ground at the top of exercise
  2. At the top of the exercise your hips should be raised, and arms stretched upward towards your toes
  3. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

5. Cable Crunch

The kneeling cable crunch is a relatively advanced abdominal exercise which allows athletes to add greater resistance to the crunch than just their own bodyweight.

Is it the ability to add greater resistance which makes it a great choice for athletes who wish to develop strength and power by using heavier loads and lower repetitions, which is harder to accomplish with the traditional crunch. It is also popular among bodybuilders who can increase the resistance to work within a repetition range which is more effective for muscle hypertrophy (growth), instead of endless repetitions with their own bodyweight.

How to Perform

Preparation

  1. Set the pin to the correct weight on the station
  2. Attach a rope attachment to the top pulley
  3. Grasp each of the rope handles and pull down as you kneel down on the ground
  4. Place your hands, whilst grasping the rope handles, to either side of your head
  5. Torso should be at around forty-five degrees, with the back slightly hyper-extended ready for trunk flexion to occur

Execution

  1. Whilst keeping your lower body stationary, flex your torso downward whilst keeping the handles by the side of your head
  2. Flex forward until peak contraction is reached. It is the flexion of your rib-cage towards your pelvis which is important to focus on, not your torso toward your thighs
  3. Reverse back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

6. Hip Raise (Leg Raise)

The lying hip raise is considered an abdominal exercise, yet primarily recruits the hip flexor muscles during the majority of the movement as the legs are lifted off the ground via flexion of the hip.

(Video) Why Weighted Ab Exercises Are A MUST For VISIBLE Abs (+ 6 BEST ONES!)

Whilst many athletes only perform the leg raise until the legs are perpendicular to the ground, the exercise can incorporate the abdominals to a much greater degree by lifting the glutes and tilting the hips towards the shoulders at the top of the exercise, as seen with a lying hip thrust. This additional component to the exercise will recruit the rectus abdominis as the pelvis flexes towards the ribcage.

How to Perform

Preparation

  1. Lay mat on the floor
  2. Lay on the mat, arms down by your sides to improve balance, and legs extended with a slight bend in the knee

Execution

  1. Raise your legs upward by flexing at the hip, until your thighs are perpendicular to the floor
  2. At this point, lift your glutes off the floor
  3. Reverse the movement back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

7. Side Bends

The dumbbell side bend adds resistance to the lateral flexion of the spine, and therefore is a good exercise for targeting the obliques (the muscles that create an inwards ‘v’ on each side of the abdomen).

It is important to only move through the lateral plane, not allowing the torso to flex forward or extend backward. The hips should remain stationary throughout.

As stated, the side bend is good for the development of the obliques, but it will not lead to localized fat loss from the waist like some believe. If you wish to reduce fat levels around your waist then a training program and diet suited to overall fat loss should be followed (calorie deficit). The combination of fat loss and muscle hypertrophy (size) will lead to a more defined appearance.

How to Perform

Preparation

  1. Stand erect, grasping a suitably weighted dumbbell to one side of the body

Execution

  1. Keeping the hips stationary throughout the exercise, bend laterally at the waist so that the dumbbell descends down the side of your thigh
  2. Stop just before the dumbbell reaches knee level, and then reverse the movement to descend to the starting position
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

8. Machine Crunch

Primarily targeting the rectus abdominis, but also recruiting the obliques, the seated machine crunch is perfect for those who wish to add greater resistance to the crunch exercise.

Similar to the kneeling cable crunch which also allows for the addition of resistance, the machine crunch is ideal for athletes who wish to work with high loads and lower repetitions than the bodyweight crunch variations allow.

This is particular useful for strength and power athletes who traditionally work within a low repetition range. Additionally, bodybuilders and gym-goers who wish to primarily focus on the muscular development of their abdomens will find the machine crunch great for working within a repetition range suited for muscle hypertrophy (growth) – typically being around ten to fifteen repetitions per set.

(Video) The Best Core Workout For Thicker, Stronger Abs (YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!)

How to Perform

Preparation

  1. Set the pin to the correct weight on the weight stack, and adjust the chest pad height if necessary
  2. Sit on the seat, plant feet on the ground/platform, and press chest against the pad

Execution

  1. Flex your upper torso forward and downward by contracting your abdominals, causing the pad to descend
  2. Once peak contraction is reached, reverse the movement back to the starting position
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

9. Hanging Leg Raise

The hanging leg raise is commonly mistaken as primarily a lower abdominal exercise, probably due to the fatigue noticed in the hip flexor muscles by athletes. During the initial portion of the exercise, as the thighs are brought up to parallel with the ground, the hip flexors are highly active. As the thighs go past parallel, and the athlete begins to flex his/her pelvis towards their ribcage, the abdominals are strongly recruited, with the hip flexors taking a backseat.

The easiest way to perform the leg raise is with the legs bent, but the exercise can be made harder by keeping the legs extended throughout the raise. Another twist on the exercise is to drastically reduce the range of motion, turning it into a hanging hip raise. This entails not letting your thighs go below parallel to the ground, therefore cutting out the initial leg raise portion of the exercise where the hip flexors are the primary recruiter. This places greater tension on the abdominals.

How to Perform

Preparation

  1. Hang free from a pull up bar which allows ample clearance when your legs are extended

Execution

  1. Raise your knees up towards your chest by flexing at the hips, bending at the knee as you bring your thighs up
  2. Bring thighs past parallel, flexing at the hip for peak contraction of the abdominals
  3. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

10. Side Bridge

Recruiting the obliques via lateral flexion of the spine as the athlete raises their hips off the ground, the side bridge is commonly performed as an isometric exercise, with the athlete holding the position for a desired amount of time. The abdominals are also recruited in this isometric manner, as they contract to help stabilize the trunk.

For those unfamiliar with the term “isometric exercise”, it is an exercise in which the target muscles contract to hold the position, and therefore do not shorten or lengthen like with dynamic exercises.

The isometric development of the obliques and rectus abdominis is an effective way of preventing back injury.

How to Perform

(Video) At Home Core Workout | Clutch Life: Ashley Conrad's 24/7 Fitness Trainer

Preparation

  1. Place a mat on the floor
  2. Lay on your side, propping yourself up by resting your forearm on the floor (facing perpendicular to your body), with legs extended

Execution

  1. Keeping your forearm stationary to support your upper torso, raise your hips and thighs off the ground until your body is aligned
  2. Hold the position for a desired amount of time
  3. Slowly lower your thighs and hips back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions/sets

FAQs

How do I make my core thicker? ›

The best way to build a big, strong core is by carrying heavy loads multiple days a week. Use different implements and don't be scared to go heavy. Picking up heavy-ass weights and walking with them is primal. And from a strength and hypertrophy standpoint, it enhances a midsection like no other.

What is the number 1 best exercise for abs? ›

According to the study, the bicycle crunch was the most effective exercise when analysing the muscle activity in the abdominals. To complete a bicycle crunch, lie on your back with your lower back pressed into the ground, bring your knees in towards your chest and lift your shoulder blades off the ground.

How can I make my core more visible? ›

The key to your ab workouts is resistance. Try exercises like Russian twists, hanging leg raises, and side bends for a more effective workout. Try three sets of 15 reps. Do this 2-4 times a week alongside your cardio.

What is the fastest way to gain abs? ›

  1. Check your diet. Getting a six-pack requires lowering your body fat percentage. ...
  2. Do cardio. Cardio can help you achieve a low body fat percentage, which is key for having a visible six-pack, Root says. ...
  3. Build your core. ...
  4. Heel tap.
  5. Leg lower.
  6. Side plank dips. ...
  7. Russian twists. ...
  8. Oblique crunch.
6 May 2021

What are the top 3 exercises for abs? ›

Opt for these five exercises to maximize your workout time instead:
  • The plank. Plank. ...
  • The bicycle crunch. Why: In the San Diego study, this exercise was the second highest in terms of strengthening the obliques in participants. ...
  • Side plank. ...
  • Vertical leg crunch. ...
  • Reverse crunch.
7 Jan 2020

What is the most intense ab workout? ›

The 7 Hardest Ab Exercises
  1. Dragon Flag. Lie faceup on a bench and grab the bench next to your ears so that your elbows are bent and your upper arms are next to your head. ...
  2. Cross-Climber With Feet on Swiss Ball. ...
  3. Medicine-Ball V-Up. ...
  4. Standing Barbell Rollout. ...
  5. Swiss-Ball Jackknife With Push-Up. ...
  6. Front Lever. ...
  7. Turkish Get-Up.
27 Jan 2015

What exercise works all your abs? ›

The bicycle manoeuvre, or bicycle crunches

According to the ACE study, this is the most effective ab workout. For this position, you lie on your back on a yoga mat with your legs in the air and knees pulled towards your chest. Fingertips should be placed behind your ears.

Should I do core every day? ›

While Feliciano doesn't advise doing a heavy core workout every day that's only going to do more harm than good, there is a way you can train your abs on a daily basis without any negative consequences. Doing just a little core work each time you workout is totally fine.

What is the most effective core workout? ›

Here are five of the best exercises to tone your abdominal muscles and build core strength overall:
  • Planks.
  • Leg lifts.
  • Reverse crunches.
  • Russian twists.
  • Bird-dog crunches.
21 May 2022

How long does it take to get thick abs? ›

A good rule of thumb (and a safe one) is to aim to lose 1 to 2 percent of body fat per month. So, unveiling your abs can take anywhere from 3 months to 2 years. It really does vary.

What makes your abs bigger? ›

Proper nutrition, fat-loss dieting, and a low body fat percentage are still of paramount importance when it comes to achieving a six-pack. But what many people fail to realize is that the abs are just like any other muscle. If you choose the right abs exercises and get stronger with them over time, the abs will grow.

Why are my abs strong but not visible? ›

You have too much body fat.

The single most important aspect when it comes to getting your abs to show is having a low body fat percentage. All humans have abdominal muscles that can be made more visible with training – but ultimately to see your abs you need to be at 10% body fat or less (18% or less for women.)

How can I make my abs 3D? ›

In order to maintain my 3D abs, I do these five movements 2-3 times per week. I make sure to use a good amount of weight to help build that thick abdominal wall. Give them a try!
...
Give them a try!
  1. Kneeling Cable Crunches. ...
  2. Mason Twists. ...
  3. High Knees. ...
  4. Short Sprints. ...
  5. Leg Raise.

How do you hit all core muscles? ›

The plank is the best overall core workout you can get, and it can stimulate up to 130 percent more ab action than a crunch. The plank will target the whole set of your obliques, the rectus abdominis, and strengthen the lower back. Plus, you can do it anywhere.

How many planks a day should I do for a stronger core? ›

As a general guideline, Doug Sklar, a certified personal trainer and founder of PhilanthroFIT in New York City, recommends striving to do three sets of up to 60 seconds. “It's OK to start with shorter sets and work up to 60 seconds,” he says. Plus, shorter planks can still give you a solid workout, Sklar says.

How many times a week do bodybuilders train abs? ›

20-30 minutes, 3 times a week at a challenging pace should start producing results. For those of us with a slower metabolism, we may need up to 45 minutes 6-7 times a week.

How long should I hit core? ›

Aim to do a core workout two to three times a week. Start with basic exercises. When you can do a full set of reps easily, move on to a slightly more advanced set of exercises. Changing exercise routines can also help prevent boredom and keep you motivated.

How many sets of core should I do in a week? ›

For the most effective core-training routine, Gutch and Parker recommend: Work the core 2-3 days per week. Schedule at least one full day of recovery in-between. Perform 2-3 exercises, 2-3 sets each.

Why is it so hard to gain abs? ›

The primary obstacle to unveiling abdominal definition is, unsurprisingly, fat. “If you have fat covering your abs, you're not going to see a six-pack, and as a result, it's a not a realistic goal for most people,” says Kathleen Trotter, personal trainer and author of Finding Your Fit.

What is scientifically the best ab exercise? ›

The Best Ab Exercises, According to Science
  1. Do crunches—the right way. The resounding ab winner in the muscle-activation studies is, in fact, the standard crunch. ...
  2. Bicycle crunches are good, too. ...
  3. Visit the captain's chair. ...
  4. And do your planks, too. ...
  5. Stop trying to target your “lower” abs.

Which part of abs is hardest to get? ›

1) Obliques.

Pretty much everyone does the standard ab crunches, but crunches aren't going to develop your obliques. Your obliques are the muscles at the sides of your abs. You have both internal and external obliques and they are really big, potentially strong muscles that need specific exercises to target them.

What happens if you train abs everyday? ›

Not only can working out abs every day lead to postural problems, but also muscle imbalances. Your abs complex, which is all your abs muscles are comprised of the rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, internal obliques, and external obliques.

Is it good to always keep your core tight? ›

Having a strong core also allows your body to function properly long-term. It helps you stand straighter, stabilizes your body, minimizes back pain, and gives you proper balance, preventing injuries and falls. Maintaining a strong core is essential to keeping yourself mobile and healthy.

Should you keep your core tight all the time? ›

The abdominal contraction (“corset”) that leads to an increase in intra abdominal pressure works well to support the spine during challenging physical activity, but it shouldn't be prolonged, as it can affect the depth of breathing and the tone of the pelvic floor muscles.

Is a 30 minute core workout enough? ›

Yes, it is! Most people think that if they can only fit in 30 minutes of exercise it won't be enough, especially compared to a 45-minute spin class or a 1-hour yoga class. However, 30 minutes of exercise is more than enough time to get in a great workout.

What are 3 exercises for core? ›

Here are our top 5 core exercises!
  • Plank. The plank is a perfect start to your core strengthening journey; with minimal movement, this exercise can be adapted to something harder or easier depending on how you feel. ...
  • Reverse crunch. ...
  • Bird Dog Crunch. ...
  • Bicycle Crunch – Sitting. ...
  • Glute Bridge.

Why do bodybuilders have big abs? ›

Palumboism, named after bodybuilder Dave Palumbo, is a rare condition that results in a bodybuilder's abdomen appearing unnaturally round, extended, and oversized in proportion to their chest. Based on anecdotal evidence, it's widely believed that Palumboism is caused by a combination of: rigorous bodybuilding training.

Are thick abs genetic? ›

Your ability to achieve a visible pack of abs — whether a four-, six-, or eight-pack — is largely determined by genetics. However, healthy lifestyle choices, like losing belly fat and exercising, can provide anyone with a fit and toned abdomen.

How do you get abs insanely fast? ›

  1. Check your diet. Getting a six-pack requires lowering your body fat percentage. ...
  2. Do cardio. Cardio can help you achieve a low body fat percentage, which is key for having a visible six-pack, Root says. ...
  3. Build your core. ...
  4. Heel tap.
  5. Leg lower.
  6. Side plank dips. ...
  7. Russian twists. ...
  8. Oblique crunch.
6 May 2021

Is it OK to work core everyday? ›

A toning style core routine can be performed 4-6 days per week once you have built up your tolerance for those exercises, but if you become overly sore you may need to take a 48 hour break to allow muscles to properly heal. Just make sure you take at least one day off each week, even if you never get sore.

Are 4 packs rare? ›

About 15% of the general population have 4-pack abs, while 2% can only ever achieve a 2-pack. Then, even rarer than the 2-pack is a total of 10 or even 12 abdominal muscles, meaning 5 or 6 bands of the connective fascia. These statistics are the same for men as for women, with the most common being 6-pack for everyone.

How do you know your abs are forming? ›

Your pants and/or shorts are looser in the waistline.

It is the easiest and most effortless way to notice your progress on the journey to a washboard stomach. If your pants are fitting more loosely or if you have to tighten your belt, then you are losing fat around your stomach.

Are stronger abs more visible? ›

“But what most people don't realise is that the abs are just like any other muscle: choose the right abs exercises and get stronger with them overtime and the abs will respond with growth and hence improve the overall look and visibility of your six-pack.”

What exercises give you abs? ›

8 Exercises for Abs: The Pros Share Their Favorites
  • Crunch. "The ab exercise that all other ab exercises are measured against is the simple crunch," Weil says. ...
  • The plank. ...
  • Bicycle maneuver. ...
  • Captain's chair. ...
  • Back extensions. ...
  • Crunches on an exercise ball. ...
  • Vertical leg crunches. ...
  • Reverse crunches.
5 Feb 2013

How long should core workouts be? ›

"If you're going to the gym two to three times per week, I suggest doing 5 to 10 minutes of ab or core work during your workout. Then, give yourself a day of rest in between workout days," he says. Yes, your abs need time to recover just like the rest of your body.

How long should I workout a day to get abs? ›

"You want to be training 5 to 6 days a week to raise metabolism and working for 30-60 minutes in each session. In other words, aim for higher in frequency, less duration and higher intensity ideally," says Henry.

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