Abs: 5 top exercises (En)

Abs: 5 top exercises

I don’t stop seeing people in the gym doing the typical crunches, or trunk twists with over head weight while sitting on a bench (and btw, you must stop doing this exercise right away if you don’t want to suffer a hernia). I’m going to show you the 3 most useful exercises based on the total EMG (electromyography) or, what is the same, the activation produced in the muscles when we do a contraction or, what is the same, higher EMG will mean higher muscular work.

Abs´s anatomy

Our abdominal muscles are 4 layers:

  • Transverse abdominis: this is the deepest muscle and also the most important one since it protects the organs and helps to stabilize the vertebral column.
  • Internal oblique: 2nd deepest muscle, just above the transverse.
  • External oblique: layer above the internal one. It compresses the content of the abdomen.
  • Rectus abdominis: placed in the anterior part of the trunk.

The main function of the abs is to stabilize the body and help to maintain a correct position. Also, they are one of the most aesthetic muscles. Everybody wants to have a well developed and defined core. So, whatever is your reason, make sure you give them the proper train. And when I say so, I don’t mean to do crunches till your body blows up. Let’s see the 5 exercises that science says they provoke the highest muscular abs activation:

Top 5 Exercises

ABS Exercises
Exercise Lower Rectus Abdominis Internal s External Oblique Lumbar Erector
Hanging leg raise 115 99.5 104 5.4
Abs wheel from feet *1 191.0 220.0 130.0 9.8
Abs wheel from knees *1 145.0 184.0 97.2 10.6
Weighted pull up (0.4 of body weight) *2 192.0 42.1 51.1 29.8
RKC plank *3 115.0 99.5 104.0 5.4
Kneeling Cable Lift 8.8 144.0 36.7 248.0


*1. I’ve showed you 6 exercises although I consider the Abs Wheel the same one. It’s due to the one from the feet is just the progression to the knees one (the EMG total is much higher when it is perform from the feet though).

It is also important to maintain a good position when we perform the Abs wheel. This exercise is amazing but we must make sure that our lower back keeps a healthy position. In the next pictures you can see how to perform it correctly and with no risks of injuries.

Make sure your hip is in retroversion (butt inside, abs like a block). Never do a back extension since it will firstly provoke pain in the lower back (and possibility of injury in your spine) and you will lose strength when performing the muscular contraction.

Pic 2: Wrong Wheel Abs
Pic 2: Wrong Wheel Abs
Pic 1: Correct Wheel Abs
Pic 1: Correct Wheel Abs

*2. Perhaps the most impressive one is the Weighted Pull ups since it is not an abs exercise and it produces a very high muscular activation in the rectus abdominalis. That’s why to have a strong core is so important if we want to progress with our pull ups.

*3. RKC plank slightly differs from the normal Front Plank in a couple of point:

  1. Pelvis in RKC Plank is posteriorly rotated as opposed to neutral (which is usually not able to be maintained) in the traditional plank
  2. Hands are interlocked in the RKC Plank as opposed to arms straight out in parallel with the shoulders, creating more tension through the upper extremities into the shoulder girdle. Forearms are also positioned at 45º angle to position shoulders in open packed position (greater ability to generate force and tension)
rkc plank
RKC Plank

A very common thing that I don’t like to see is when people perform a plank loading their lower back with the idea that it will produce a higher muscle activation. Well, I disagree with this approach for a few reasons:

  1. Higher risk of injury: because of the weights, we perform a back hyper-extension, which produces a higher risk of lower back injury (it is similar to the picture 2)
  2. We don’t maintain the correct position and it is translated to a smaller muscle activation.

If you need to have a higher stimulus, there are other safer methods like changing the forearms inclination. Instead of having a 90º angle, you can increase it to 120º or 145º.

Also, you don’t need to keep the position for 10 mins. It’s being demonstrated that 25 secs are enough to produce the higher muscular activation. If you believe that you can keep going, then change the angle or use elastic bands. They will give you this extra stimulus.

Now you just have to make sure that you include them in your routine and enjoy! 🙂


  1. Contreras, B., & Schoenfeld, B. (2011). To crunch or not to crunch: An evidence-based examination of spinal flexion exercises, their potential risks, and their applicability to program design. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(4), 8-18.
  2. Powerexplosive, David Marchante
  3. Inside the Muscles: Best Ab Exercises, Contreras B, 2010.

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