Women want a flat belly, while the men are in it for six-pack abs – at the end of the day, working out your upper abs is a useful endeavor for just about everyone. In fact, without isolation work on each of the muscle groups that make up your abs, there’s no chance that you can achieve the results you want. Today we’re focusing on the upper abdominal muscles, not the lower or the oblique ones. They’re located in the long strand of muscle fiber called the rectus abdominis. It’s great to have long, lean legs, or strong arms, but if you can’t show off those V-shaped abs, then there isn’t much point to training, is there. Secondly, your abs, be they inner or outer, upper or lower, pay a pivotal part in several sports such as football and basketball, since they help you run, jump, and throw.
Last, but definitely not least, upper ab exercises can help with pain relief in a wide variety of cases. Together with back stretches, they’re recommended as therapy for people with occupational issues, caused, for instance, by sitting in a recumbent position, in the same chair for eight hours. You may already be using stretching as a way to warm up, but you should also know that ab exercises are used by runners and by people with pinched nerve syndrome, in order to get rid of pain in the lower back. Usually, back pains are solved by enhancing the support capacity and power of other muscle groups, such as your pec muscles – but the same applies to the upper abs. Unlike compound training exercises and complex plyometric workouts, stretches are gentle enough to be used therapeutically by kids, seniors, women over the age of 50, and anyone in between.
Working your upper abs out for whatever purpose you may be targeting is very important – and bear in mind that it only works when paired with a nutrient-rich, healthy diet. Work on improving your dietary plans, then check out our breakdown of several approaches to the best upper ab exercises out there.
Upper ab exercises for beginners
Alright, let’s get you started in your quest for flat abs, the ultimate six-pack and strong upper ab muscles. But before we dole out some good examples of simple exercises for any beginner, we should once more emphasize some basic, easy principles of training your upper abs. This is what you always need to remember when you train:
· Workout all your ab muscles. Intense isolation work is good, but if you don’t work out your oblique muscles and lower abs, too, you’ll get a flat upper ab, with a flabby belly pouch and soft lovehandles. A total ab routine is a good idea!
· Don’t forget the cardio. Without the proper amount of cardio integrated into your daily workout routines, you might as well stop training at all. Cardio and strength training should always go hand in hand for significant muscle gains.
· A flat belly is made in the kitchen. Not everyone may agree, but the truth is that without a clean diet, it will be next to impossible for you to keep your belly as flat and toned as you’d want it to.
That being said, let’s get to the workout schedule per se. Some basic principles apply here as well:
· Take it slow. In order to see some results with the exercises below, you need to remember to take 2-3 seconds to rise, hold the top position for at least 1-2 seconds, then lower yourself back down for another 2-3 seconds.
· Quality over quantity. A full set of any of the exercises below is 15 reps, but if you can’t pull them all off, then focus on performing all of them correctly, in proper form, even if you can only do 5 reps at first. As you gain strength, feel free to increase the number of sets, or even that of reps up to 20-30, for supersets.
· Challenge yourself. The easiest way to keep your muscles fired up when your work out your upper abs is to stop yourself from coming down completely on each rep.
Sit on the edge of a solid chair, with your feet on the floor. Sit up straight and lengthen your spine. Grab the seat with both hands, breathe out and tuck your knees into your pecs, without rounding your lumbar area. Hold for 2 seconds, then inhale as you slowly lower your legs back down.
With your back on an exercise mat and your arms by your side, lift your legs to the point where your soles are directly facing the ceiling. Your palms should be flat down on the floor and your legs at a 90-degree angle with your chest. By pushing with your abs, lift your hips off the floor. Make sure you’re not lifting through your palms, with the aid of your arm muscles, bicep and tricep. It’s alright if, during the hip lift, your legs angle in toward your head.
The corkscrew is actually a modified version of the hip lift. Begin in the same position as described above, but, as you twist your hips to one side, start raising your legs. Alternate sides as you go along and, as before, remember to bring yourself back down very slowly. This exercise relies in part on the strength of your trap muscles, so you can be sure your trapezius is also getting a good workout in the process.
Decline torso twist
While sitting on the floor with your knees bent and your feet at hip-width distance, reach out in front of you with your arms and clasp your hands together. Tighten your core and lower your upper body about 45 degrees toward the floor. Slowly twist your torso to one side, to the point where it’s still barely comfortable. While you twist around, make sure your arms follow the same rotational pattern, but work with the strength of your torso, not your hips. Slowly twist back around to the central position, then repeat the same move on the other side of your body.
Boat yoga pose
The boat pose is very similar to the V-up, which you’ll find described below, with the amendment that in the initial position of this yoga move, you’re hugging your knees into your chest. Slightly lean back, raise your arms into a 45-degree angle and bring your palms to the level of your knees. Hold this pose for at least 10 seconds. This isometric exercise is also great for your hip flexors and spine and it helps relieve stress and pain.
Bodybuilding upper ab exercises
If you’re into sculpting and cutting your muscles, then these exercises, inspired by P90X, Insanity Bootcamp, Iron Gym Extreme Edition, Crossfit, and other similar high intensity training programs will be up your alley. Some, yet not all, can involve pumping iron, if that’s your thing – and especially if you want to build muscle mass.
Lie on your back with your knees up in the air and your thighs perpendicular to the floor. Clasp your palms at the back of your head, lift your shoulders very slowly off the floor and contract your core. Do the crunches, but without necessarily going as far up as you can. Instead, focus on not letting your shoulders touch the ground, as well as on keeping your abs tight.
The name might make this crunch variety more complex than the usual version, or than the one listed above. However, they’re not at all complicated – you can check out one of the many free online video guides for this move if you have trouble wrapping your head around it. All you need to do is lie on your back, with your knees up in the air and your legs bent in a right angle. As you crunch, lean in toward either diagonal, to bring your elbows to the opposite hip, in turn. At the uppermost position of this move, one hip and its opposite shoulder should be up in the air.
Lie on the floor on one side and fasten your hands behind your head. Bend your legs at the knee and cushion your head with one arm. The opposite elbow should be in the air, pointing to the ceiling. Twist around to lift the elbow on the ground and bring it across your pectoral muscles. Hold the topmost position for one count, then lower and repeat. To get more of a workout, don’t go all the way to the floor. Keep a slow, steady pace throughout the movement, which you can easily find illustrated in pictures for a better understanding.
Use rope handles on a cable resistance machine. Grab a hold of the handles, then lower yourself to the ground, onto your knees. Bend at the waist into a 45 degree angle and push your hips and glutes back. Make sure your core is tightened and your chest sticking out. Crunch toward the floor until your upper body is parallel to the ground. Hold the bottommost position for 1.5 seconds and then extend your body into the initial position. As you develop strength in your abs, remember to increase the weights you use.
TRX body saws
Begin in planking position (the same position in which you start doing pushups), with your legs supported by two TRX bands. Your elbows should be placed in front of your eyes. By using your core abdominals, bring your body back until your bicep muscles are perpendicular with the floor. Hold this extended plank position, with your back straight, for one second. Try to make it tougher on yourself by reaching as far back as you can with each band, while also keeping your lower back straight.
Upper ab exercises without equipment
You can strengthen your obliques, serratus, lower abs, and transverse abdominis as much as you want – it will pay off. However, without any work on your rectus abdominis (i.e. upper abs), you will not get that killer set of abs you’re dreaming of. Now, there are plenty of machines, gym devices, equipment, and weights to help you work out this muscle group. But can you do it at home, without a kettlebell, workout bar or even so much as a dumbbell or barbell? Of course you can. No store-bought exerciser or Theraband can beat the efficiency of moves performed with nothing more than your bodyweight. Simply check out our list of the best upper ab exercises at home. As a matter of fact, we encourage you to download them in pdf form and use them as a workout program or routine cheat sheet on abdominal training day. All the exercises below should be performed in one or two sets of 10 to 12 reps. Additionally, if you do want to use weights for additional strengthening, you can try to hold a pair of dumbbells or a medicine ball while doing most of these moves.
Wide-leg crossed sit-ups
Begin by lying down on the floor, with your back flat and your legs spread as much as you can. Tighten your ab muscles, lift your upper body off the floor and bring your right hand to the opposite foot. Lower yourself back down to the floor and reach out into the air as high as you can with both arms. Then, instantly crunch to touch the floor area between your feet. Resume the initial position and bring your left hand to the right foot. Continue repeating this three-part move for as long as you can.
Lie down on the floor, with your arms by your sides. Tighten your core and lift your upper body, right arm, and left leg off the ground in one swift, energetic, explosive move borrowed from plyometrics. Bring your right elbow to the same height as your left knee, which should be bent at about 90 degrees in the air. Lower yourself back down and immediately repeat the movement on the other side of your body.
Those of you who’ve ever done Pilates, yoga, or yogilates might already be familiar with this move, which relies on using passive range of motion. In the starting position, you need to lie down with your legs and arms outstretched, both lifted off the floor by a couple of inches. Crunch your upper abs by raising your arms and legs at the same time. The aim of this move is to form a tight V shape with your quads and stomach with the aid of each extremity. At the top of the move, you should bring your toes and feet together. Tighten your core and keep your back as straight as possible. As with all Pilates-inspired moves, flexibility is encouraged and maintaining your posture is very important during this exercise. Slowly lower your back and limbs to the initial position.
The bicycle crunch
Begin with your back flat against the floor and your legs up in the air, knees bent at a 90-degree angle and thighs perpendicular onto the floor. Reach out with your right leg as much as you can and, at the same time, tuck your right elbow into the opposite knee. Tighten your upper ab muscles and hold the position for one second. Switch to the other side of your body, by reaching out with your left leg and crunching your left elbow into the right knee. Continue by alternating sides, moving your legs much like you would on a bike, in an exercise that’s also great for your hamstring muscles.
The best upper ab exercises for women
You probably already know that women have a naturally higher percentage of body fat than men. In tow, it’s usually far more difficult for women to lose fat in some particularly delicate areas, such as the ab, thigh, and glute muscles. And mens bodies definitely have other trouble areas. Luckily, workouts can help you fight and win that battle, but only if you understand that you need to exercise by isolating each muscle group in turn. Since today’s article focuses on the upper abs, we’ll be bringing you several exercises that you can integrate into a tailored workout routine to fight that belly flab.
This routine can be integrated into an upper body lower body split workout. It is important, since your core muscles actually operate according to a 3-level structure. At the inner and deeper level, there are these tiny muscles, which are only as long as one vertebra. In the middle there are muscles that span across your lumbar region, i.e. the lowest part of your spine. These muscles help stabilize you. The outer core muscles are the largest and more powerful, since they’re the ones which make you strong and also help you move. The example workout below will help keep you injury free. It will also work at toning and defining your muscles by making them more firm. All you need, in order to perform it, is some water to make sure you don’t go dehydrated, plus an interval timer. You’ll need that last item because you will be, in effect, doing some interval training.
The workout plan works as follows:
- Two exercises for your lower abs: such as the leg raise and the hip lift.
- Two exercises for your oblique muscles: the side plank left and the side plank right, for instance.
- Two exercises for your upper abs: selected from the examples we’ve named below.
The workout will require you to perform each exercise for 30 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest in between the sets. Do 3 full circuits, with 1 minute rest between each circuit. Perform the entire routine 3 times per week, with at least one day of rest between training days. For the best results, choose a healthy diet (both before and after the workouts), plus at least 30 minutes of cardio per day, for a minimum of 3 days per week.
Begin in forearm planking position, at the farther end of your workout mat. Breathe out, with your hips in the downward dolphin pose and pull your core into your spine. Lift your butt, then start gliding forward, until you reach the forearm plank position. It’s recommended to start out slow, but move on up to doing this move, with your buttocks in the air, as quick as you can. The quicker you’re able to perform this exercise, the more effective it becomes.
Exercise ball crunches
Get a well-inflated exercise ball – remember that it’s important to select the right size of ball, depending on your height and weight. Clasp your fingers at the nape of your neck and roll your lower body away from the ball by walking, to the point where the small of your back and your hips are rested on it. At this point, your knees should be bent into a 90-degree angle. Breathe out and raise your torso by approximately 45 degrees. Contract your deep core into your spine and resume the initial position. Do 25 repetitions and make sure you don’t injure your neck in the process.
The Pilates 100
Begin by lying on your back, with your legs in the air and your hips and knees at 90 degrees to the floor. Contract your deep abdominal muscles, round the lower part of your spine and dig it firmly into the floor. Don’t just work with the lower segment of your ab muscles, since that’s highly discouraged in Pilates. Breathe out as you raise your upper back off the floor, to the point where the lower part of your shoulder blades grazes your workout mat. With your lower back still flat against the floor, straighten your knees and hold your legs up at a 45 degree angle. Extend your arms toward your feet, about 2 to 3 inches off the floor. With your elbows straight, pump your arms up and down in a small range of motion. Breathe in for five pumps and out for five more to complete a rep. A full set includes ten such reps. Make sure you don’t squirm around with your upper body while you’re pumping.