There’s a bit of a debate going on on-line about ab exercises and which ones are the best (and worst) to use to tone and define the abdominal muscles.
The debate basically stems from the question of how the abs should be treated. Are they actually one muscle group? Or are they several muscle groups that should be worked on individually? Well, here are my thoughts for whatever they are worth.
I’ve applied ab exercise coming from both directions…i.e. treating the abs as one muscle group and “just” doing one major exercise for them (with variations like twists added) and as several separate muscle groups and hitting them from different directions. And the results from this (totally subjective and unscientific) experiment were interesting.
My favorite ab exercise has always been the incline crunch. That is, using a slant board and crunching several inches up and then back for as many reps/sets as I can do in one session. After the body adapted to the point where I could do 12 reps and 3 sets, I added weight, holding a 10 pound dumbbell to my chest, then as time went on adding more weight.
My theory for this exercise is simply that since I am on an incline, my entire group of ab muscles are involved in the movement, starting with the lower abs as I begin my crunch and working the mid and upper abs as I continue through the entire movement. And using heavier and heavier weight, to failure, encourages muscle growth rather than simple toning. To tone, I would have simply increased my number of reps per set rather than add weight. Btw, I don’t like sit-ups and I discourage anyone from doing them, simply because the lower back and hip flexors get involved in the exercise and there’s a real chance of injury from that exercise.
I also went at the abs from the other direction. That is, I would do regular crunches and also add hip thrusts and/or leg lifts to work the lower abs separately. I also did “the bicycle” routine for awhile, which has been recognized by researchers at the American Council on Exercise as “the best” ab exercise out there. And I have to agree that it is an excellent workout for the abs. However, you can only add weight to “the bicycle” if you use wrist and/or ankle weighs, which is an added expense and a waste of money, IMO.
So, which is the best way to work on the abs? Well, try them all! And then go with the one(s) that you enjoy and feel will do the best job on your abs. Personally, I will stick to my incline crunches. I’m getting great depth/definition from this workout, I can freely add weight as I go and my risk of injury is minimal. But of course your mileage may vary!