5 of the Best Abdominal Exercises

Abdominal muscle weakness and poor control of your trunk (or “core”) negatively influence athletic performance and activities of daily living.  Poor trunk muscle strength is associated with injuries in baseball players and several other sports.  Also, exercises to improve trunk muscle strength improves soccer and distance running performance.  Trunk muscle weakness is also linked to falls in older adults and low back pain in adults and children.

How to Integrate Abdominal Exercises into Your Program

Abdominal exercises that improve coordination of the trunk should be integrated into a comprehensive total body strength training program.  Training should never focus on any single muscle or body part.  In general, abdominal exercises should start in supported positions, like lying on your back, and progress to more functional positions, like standing.

Abdominal exercises target muscular endurance with short sustained holds (8 to 10 seconds). As abdominal exercises become less challenging, the number of repetitions should be increased.  Or the exercise itself should be progressed to a more challenging position.  The 5 exercises below are ordered from the most basic to the most challenging.

Dead Bugs

Begin lying on your back with your arms held straight up. Your feet begin off the floor.  Bend your hips and knees to 90 degrees.  Gently flatten your low back into the floor and maintain this abdominal contraction throughout the exercise.  Simultaneously raise your right arm overhead and extend your left leg without touching down.  Hold this position for several seconds and maintain low back contact with the floor.

Reverse the movement back to the starting position. Then, perform the opposite diagonal pattern with the left arm and right leg.  Alternate sides with each repetition.  Maintain low back contact with the floor throughout the exercise. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions on each side.  Do 2 to 3 sets several times per week.

Stability Ball Roll-Outs

Begin in a tall-kneeling position with both your hands on the ball.  Roll your hands along with the ball until your elbows or upper arm contacts the ball.  Your elbows should remain extended as your hands and hips move together.

Engaging your glutes and abdominal muscles helps maintain proper position during the exercise.  As you lower your body towards the floor, maintain a neutral spine and avoid arching your low back.  Hold this position for several seconds before reversing the movement back to the starting position.

Perform 8 to 12 repetitions on each side.  Do 2 to 3 sets several times per week.

Side Plank with Rotation

Begin in a side-lying position resting on one elbow.  Raise your trunk and knee off the floor.  Fully support yourself on one elbow and both feet.  While maintaining the side plank position, reach up and then under and behind your body with the top hand.  This will cause some trunk rotation and challenge your oblique abdominal muscles.

Hold this position for several seconds before reversing the movement back to the starting position.  Perform 8 to 10 repetitions on each side.  Do 2 to 3 sets several times per week.

Half-Kneeling Cable Chop

Get in a half-kneeling position next to a cable column or anchored resistance band.  The kneeling position removes contributions from your lower body and increases the demands on your trunk, pelvis, and hip musculature.

From a balanced and upright kneeling position, pull the cable or band diagonally across your body towards your opposite hip.  Maintain a neutral spine and trunk position throughout the exercise.  Avoid rotating your body as your arms pull across the body.  Resisting this movement is what activates your abdominal muscles.

Hold this position for several seconds before reversing the movement back to the starting position.  Perform 8 to 12 repetitions on each side.  Do 2 to 3 sets several times per week.

Lateral Lunge with Press and Reach

This advanced exercise starts from a standing position next to a cable column or anchored resistance band.  Holding the handle or band close to the body, initiate the exercise with a lateral lunge.

Next, slowly press your arms straight out in front of your body.  The band or weight will induce a rotational challenge to your trunk muscles.  Resisting this movement is what activates your abdominal muscles.

Finally, slowly raise your arms straight overhead while maintaining the lunge position.  Maintain a neural spine and trunk position throughout the exercise.  Hold this position for several seconds before reversing the movement sequentially back to the starting position. Perform 8 to 10 repetitions on each side.  Do 2 to 3 sets several times per week.

Closing Thoughts on Abdominal Exercises

Abdominal exercises are one component of a comprehensive exercise program targeting total body strength and performance.  Abdominal exercises performed in isolation are rarely successful for improving performance or decreasing low back pain.  When developing your program, consider these 5 trunk muscle exercises.   Performing each exercise in a controlled fashion, with a focus on proper technique and muscular endurance will elicit the best results for the long-term.

If you are having difficulty getting started, contact your physical therapist today.  Take the first step and schedule your initial examination.  The physical therapists at BSR have been helping the people of Southern Ocean County move without pain since 2007.  We would love to help you achieve your goals.


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