Proven: The Most Efficient Way To Work Your Abs

by Danny Cullen

Quick: you’ve got ten minutes to work your abs. Which exercise do you do?

  1. Crunches
  2. Planks
  3. Ab wheel rollouts
  4. Sit-ups

Trying to keep your core in shape while balancing a busy work life with home responsibilities is a tall order.  Time is one thing we never have enough of, and when working out, the key is efficiency. How can you get the biggest benefits in the least amount of time? 

The Process of Elimination

Let’s begin by eliminating the exercises that certainly aren’t the most efficient.

Crunches are a waste of time. Simply put, crunches are a thing of the past—a prehistoric relic in an age of exercise enlightenment. Sure, they engage your abs in a very simple way, but they only engage a small amount of core muscles (the rectus abdominus) in a very restricted range of movement. Add stress on the back to the limited abdominal engagement of crunches, and you can scratch it off the list.

Also on Z Living: Yoga Postures to Relieve Stress & Muscle Pain

Along those lines, sit-ups are also not worthwhile. While sit-ups involve slightly more core muscles than crunches, thanks to an increased range of movement, it’s still an inefficient exercise. They put the same stress on your back as crunches do, while still activating only a narrow band of abdominal muscles.

Planks, while a completely valid and effective form of exercise, don’t quite cut the mustard. While they do activate a much wider range of muscles than crunches and sit-ups, planks only involve a contraction movement, lacking an accompanying expansion movement. The most effective, efficient exercises include both concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) movements, which planks do not offer.

And We are Left With...

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is the ab wheel rollout. “But ab wheels are a fad, a gimmick, like those silly vibrating Ab Belts,” you might say. Not necessarily true.

The Science 

The proof is in the pudding. Scientific pudding.

In search of the most efficient abdominal exercise, researchers from California State University-Sacramento conducted a comprehensive abdominal experiment.. It involved subjects performing different abdominal exercises with electrodes attached to their muscles. The more electrical activity they saw, the more effective the exercise was.

The results were clear: crunches, situps and planks all were less effective at activating the abdominal muscles than an ab wheel, across all categories.

Come on. An ab wheel? Really?

Yes, really. Sure, the ab wheel probably seems gimmicky to you. It’s the type of infomercial product that seems like it’s more flash than substance. But not only does science show it works, there’s a ton of other benefits to ab wheel rollouts.

It’s cheap. You can find an ab wheel for less than $10 on the internet. For how effective and efficient it is at strengthening your core, that’s a bargain.

It’s easy. The ab wheel is easy to use. All you have to focus on is keeping your back straight.

It’s convenient. The ab wheel is tiny. You can stuff it in a bag and take it to the gym with you, use it in your home without needing a bunch of space, or store it away in a cupboard.

It’s flexible. There’s a lot of flexibility in how you use the ab wheel -- you can make it as easy or as difficult as you want. You can do small, limited movements or you can start from a standing position and roll out until you’re parallel with the floor. The difficulty levels can change as you progress.

Also on Z Living: I Tried Cardio Barre—Here’s Why You Should Too

Anything Else?

So now you know the best way to strengthen your core in the shortest amount of time, but the most important thing when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a holistic approach. If you think you’re going to get a six-pack just from using your new ab wheel, you’re dead wrong. 

Diet and exercise work in tandem, so make sure you’re maximizing your time here as well. You could have the strongest abs in the world but if you’re not eating right, you’re wasting your time.


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