September 19, 2021 1 Comment
When was the last time you used a weight bench for ab exercises? You’d be surprised in how many ways you can use a bench to do a variety of ab exercises that hit the major muscles of the abdomen. You might as well get some ab work in between sets if you’re already using the bench. In this post we’ll cover the abdominal muscles, benefits of ab exercises, then we'll show you 21 of the best bench abs exercises plus a sample ab bench workout that you can incorporate into your training.
The major muscles in the abdomen are the rectus abdominis which runs vertically in the center A.K.A the six-pack muscle, the transverse abdominis that wraps up the trunk of the body and the obliques that run along the side of the abdomen. These abdominal muscles have different functions and purposes that are covered below.
Transverse Abdominis: The transverse abdominis sometimes called the transverse abdominal or abbreviated as TVA are the deepest muscles found in the abdomen region. The transverse abdominis gets its name from the way in which the muscle fibers are situated in a horizontal alignment. You can think of the transverse abdominis as something like a corset that wraps around your abdomen and is responsible for tensing the abdominal wall, stabilizing the pelvis and lumbar spine and to hold the internal organs of the abdomen.
The transverse abdominis is one of the most important muscles in the core. Without the stability produced by the transverse abdominis we wouldn’t be able to move our limbs, women would have trouble giving birth and our stomachs would protrude from our bodies. The TVA is also thought to help with lifting heavy weights as it braces the core.
Obliques: The obliques are comprised of the internal and external oblique muscles. Even though they share a name they have somewhat different functions in the body. These muscles make up 2/3 of the muscle layers that surround the abdominal wall while the transverse abdominis makes up the last third. Now, let’s have a look at both obliques and what their functions are below.
Internal Oblique: The internal obliques are thin sheets of muscle on both sides of the abdomen area beneath and perpendicular to the external obliques. There are three types of muscle fibers in the internal obliques; the posterior, anterior and lateral fibers dictated by the origin.
The internal oblique has multiple functions in the body including supporting the rotation and bending of the trunk, counteract the diaphragm to reduce upper chest volume while exhaling and helps to maintain abdominal wall tension. When contracting both internal obliques pressure is increase in the abdomen which results in bodily functions such as forced breathing, defecation and urination. It’s important to note that weak internal obliques can increase the chances of suffering from abdominal hernias.
Many core muscles work together to move our bodies through various planes of motion and the external oblique is no exception. If contracted on both sides the external obliques assist in bending forward along with other bodily functions like defecation, urinating forced exhalation and child birth. When the external oblique contracts on one side in concert with the internal oblique it leads to rotation of the trunk towards the opposite side. Lastly, the external oblique and the back work together to bend the torso sideways.
Rectus Abdominis: The rectus abdominis is the abdominal muscle that gets the most attention and praise because it is the 6-pack muscle that people desperately try to achieve. When people think of abs this is the muscle that they’re thinking about. Located in the front of the abdominal wall this muscle is only visible at low body fat percentage. It starts at the rib cage and extends down to the pubic bone. The rectus abdominis and the pyramidialis muscle comprise the anterior abdominal muscles. The rectus abdominis is a paired muscle (runs on both sides vertically) that is divided in the middle by a band of connective tissue called the linea alba. The linea semilunaris separates the rectus abdominis on the outside edges from the obliques. The 3 lateral lines that divide the rectus abdominis into the 6-pack are the tendinous intersections.
The primary function of the rectus abdominis is flexion of the trunk but it also assists with stabilization and controlling the tilt of the pelvis. And like the other abdominal muscles, the rectus abdominis helps with the bodily functions of urination, defecation and forced breathing.
Yes, benches are good for abs depending on the type of bench. The flat bench, adjustable bench or ab bench would be the best for performing ab exercises or workouts. Also, some Olympic benches allow for ab exercises but definitely not all of them. Let’s have a look at the different kinds of benches and their functionalities.
This is the most common bench you’d find in a gym. This is simply a flat bench without any attachments or functionalities other than being a flat surface to do multiple exercises on. With the flat bench you can work every muscle group in the body. This can be a great tool to implement some ab exercises, which we will get into later on.
Olympic Weight Bench
These benches usually are a little wider and longer to accommodate larger more muscular people. Olympic weight benches can come with a variety of attachments such as a bench press rack, squat rack, knee pads to lock legs into place for ab exercises or for leg extensions and more. Olympic weight benches can allow for some ab exercises depending on the make and model.
Preacher Curl Bench
This is used for preacher curls or other bicep exercises mainly and doesn’t offer much of a utility for anything else.
This is a bench that is made for ab exercises but can also be used for strength training exercises such as decline bench press. Ab benches of different functionalities with some able to become a flat bench, incline bench or decline bench. Ab benches with have knee rollers to lock your legs into place when doing ab exercises if called for.
The adjustable bench is similar to the flat bench except if has the added capability of adjusting the angle to form a decline or incline bench. These adjustable benches come in all sorts of designs but will usually have a seat portion of the bench then you can pull a pin to adjust the height and angle of the other portion of the bench. Some of these adjustable benches are only able offer flat bench and incline bench while some you can turn into flat, decline and incline. The adjustable bench offers many possibilities when it comes to ab exercises.
The best ab exercises for a 6-pack will directly target the rectus abdominis. In this study American Council on Exercise (ACE) sponsored research to compare 13 of the most common ab exercises to determine which were the most effective through EMG data of the rectus abdominis and the obliques. The results showed that the bicycle crunch exercise, knee raise on a Captain’s Chair, and crunches on the exercise ball ranked the best three in that order for activation of the rectus abdominis.
The top three exercises for the obliques were the Captain’s Chair, bicycle crunch and reverse crunch. Needless to say there are plenty more ab exercises, variations and exercises with equipment that weren’t tested. However, what we do know from this study is that a variety of ab exercises that put constant tension of the ab muscles are the most effective. People’s bodies tend to respond differently to exercises so you should experiment with some of the different bench ab exercises to see what works best for you.
Planks alone won’t necessarily give lead to building a six-pack. However, planks can definitely help in getting you to a building a six pack if you combine with other ab exercises, compound lifts and proper diet. Planks alone can help to boost stability, flatten and tighten the abdominal area. They’re also great because besides just working the core, planks are somewhat of a full body exercise as they engage your glutes, thighs, back and shoulders.
Abs unlike other muscles in the body can be trained at least 3-5 days a week or you can train them daily. The reason why you can train your abs with a higher frequency is because we use these muscles in our every day life so it’s hard to get them fatigued to a point where they need an extra 24 hours to recover. By training the abs you’re also counterbalancing the tightening of the hip flexors and lower back muscles. It’s unlikely you’ll over-train your abs with just bodyweight alone. If you want to try to build thicker abs you’ll need to add some type of resistance then follow the process of progressive overload.
Besides looking great, strong abs offer a number of benefits. Here's a sampling of some of the most common benefits of performing ab exercises.
Strengthen The Core: The ab muscles make a good portion of the core muscles so when you perform ab exercises you will be adding to your core’s overall strength. A strong core is necessary for every day life activities plus it will help to reduce your chances of experiencing lower back pain.
Movements that you perform in daily life such as vacuuming, shoveling, raking, picking things up, putting things away, bending, twisting, standing up/sitting down from a chair are all motions that require the abs to be engaged. Strong abs help to make all these activities easier to do. Functional strength starts in the core so if you want to move through life effortlessly and worry free of injuries while doing normal every day tasks then you should spend some time doing ab exercises.
Reduce Back Pain: Weak ab muscles lead to your lower back muscles having to compensate for them and thus have to work harder to support your trunk. The ab muscles and lower back muscles have a close relationship so it works both ways. Weak abs can lead to lower back fatigue which in turn can exacerbate back pain or increase your chances of straining the lower back. Strong ab muscles can help to control anterior tilt of the pelvis. In the situation where the pelvis is tilted, too much pressure can build up on the discs in the lower back so it’s important to keep a balance here to relieve the pressure. Lastly, strong abs can actually help lessen back pain if you’re already suffering from it.
Improve Athletic Performance: The ab muscles enable us to move our trunk through various planes of motion. Many sports require movements where you’ll be bending, twisting and rotating at the core, this is where your ab muscles come into play.If you have healthy, strong abs you’ll be able to perform better all around. Ab muscles are partly responsible for the capability of creating efficient movement of the limbs as stronger muscles equal more stabilization in the center of the body.
Promote Good Posture: One of the functions of the abs is to keep the core of the body stabilized and upright, working in tandem with the spine. Slouching and poor posture is plaguing present day society due to sedentary lifestyles. This poor posture can lead to back pain, one way to turn this trend around is to strengthen the ab muscles which can help improve posture enabling you to stand up taller. You will feel better and look better with better posture.
Enhance Balance & Coordination: The ab muscles work with other muscles such as the pelvis, hips and lower back muscles to keep you upright and stable. Strong abs mean better stability. The body needs to constantly readjust itself to refrain from leaning or swaying so whether you’re walking on uneven ground or doing some dynamic exercises that require you to move in multiple directions, strong abs make this easier to execute.
Boost Confidence: Let’s be honest here, a flat strong stomach looks good on both men and women. While not everyone has the dedication, desire and genes to get a ripped six-pack, a flat stomach is an attainable endeavor. Ab exercises don’t necessarily make you lose fat in the abdominal area but they can help to tighten up the stomach area. Also as explained above, strong abs will have you standing taller with better posture which leads to more confidence.
Improved Breathing Control: The ab muscles are directly responsible for forced breathing. Breathe easy with stronger abs muscles. The abs keep your internal organs in the proper position to encourage efficient breathing. The breathing muscles of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles have a symbiotic relationship with the ab muscles so you should work on strengthening both. There have been some amazing results for controlled breath work such reducing resting heart rate and lowering stress.
Enhance Lifts: When bracing for heavy lifts such as deadlifts, squats and overhead press, the ab muscles play an important role to stabilize the body allowing you to complete the lift. You can lift more weight and mitigate the risk of injuring yourself by developing strong abs. Think of your core as the foundation of your temple, if you want to build a strong temple you must reinforce the foundation.
Better Protect Organs & Nervous System: The ab muscles act as somewhat of a shield that brace and protect some of our vital organs and the central nervous system. When you build the ab muscles, you’re essentially making this fortification stronger and thicker. This added protection is good for overall well-being.
Below are 21 ab exercises and variations that can be done with the help of a bench. These exercises will help you build a strong core, let's get into them!
The bench crunch is an easier variation of the crunch because you don’t have to suspend your legs in the air. You’re able to use the bench as a crutch so you can purely focus on the contraction of the abdominal muscles.
Note: Don’t pull up with your hands on the back of your head, use only your ab muscles to crunch your body up towards your legs.
This is the same movement as the bench crunch except for the added resistance. You can hold a weight plate, dumbbell or kettlebell. Follow the same cues from the crunch except you'll have the weight behind your head, try not to strain you neck in this position.
The crunch hold is the same exercise as the bench crunch expect for the fact you will be pausing at the top of the movement to get the benefits of an isometric exercise. This version of the crunch puts constant tension on the abs muscles. Try to watch the clock on this one so that you know if you’re making progress in holding the crunched position for longer times as you progress.
Note: Use only your ab muscles to hold yourself in the crunch position.
The oblique crunch is a variation of a crunch that engages the obliques to help lift and bend your upper body towards one side. Since bending and twisting are a common place in every day life it’s good to mix in some oblique centric exercises into your ab workout.
Note: Focus on squeezing your obliques at the top of the movement.
Like the previous ab exercise you’ll need a bench that can be sat at a decline for the decline crunch. This version of a crunch is more challenging than a regular crunch as you’ll be lifting your upper body up at an angle therefore putting more stress on your rectus abdominis.
Note: Focus on the contraction of your abs to bring your upper body up towards your feet.
You’ll need a bench that can be set up with a decline to perform this exercise. The decline bent leg reverse crunch targets the lower abs and is made more difficult by performing it on a decline bench where you’ll have to expend more power to lift your legs towards your chest compared with doing a bent leg reverse crunch on a flat surface.
Note: Don’t use your momentum to swing your legs up, move with purpose in a slow and controlled manner.
The decline sit up is the next step up in difficulty from a regular sit up because you’re moving through a wider range of motion and going against gravity. The body position of a decline sit up works more muscles than just the core and increases spinal flexion. In this version having your arms up straight add an extra challenge as you’ll be using upper body and lower body muscles at the same time.
Note: Don’t round the back like you would with a crunch, this motion requires you to keep your back straight.
This version of the decline sit up adds and extra layer of complexity as you’ll rotate the trunk. This extra movement within the decline sit up works your transverse abdominis and obliques as you’re moving through the transverse plane of motion. Most people don’t include enough of these rotating movements in their workouts so we highly recommend that you make more of an effort to do transverse exercises to strengthen the core.
Note: Make sure to stress the cross body rotating movement to activate your obliques.
Here is an easier modification of the previous exercise because you're on the floor resulting in a lower range of motion.
The reverse crunch on a bench is a great exercise to work the ab muscles without putting much tension on your spine or neck. All in all a perfect exercise to hit the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and external obliques.
Note: Pay attention to contract your abs at the top of the movement.
Below is the harder variation of the reverse crunch because you're fighting against gravity and adding a larger range of motion...
Blast the rectus abdominis with this exercise. Besides working the core muscles, your hips and leg muscles are also activated. If you really want a challenge, try to lower your legs from the top position to starting position while counting to 10.
Note: Move in a slow and controlled manner as you raise your legs and lower them.
This side bridge with your feet elevated on a bench with get those obliques and spinal stabilizers working extra hard so that your hips don’t drop towards the floor. This exercise will train the quadratus lumborum which is a deep back muscle that provides stability to the spine. Last but not least, the hip abductor also is engaged in this exercise.
Note: To make this exercise easier you and move closer towards the bench so that more of your legs are on the bench which reduces the stress on your muscles.
This plank variation is a killer oblique exercise. Besides just working the obliques, you’ll also be hitting the shoulders and hips to keep your body in a straight line. The side plank is a great core exercise that doesn’t put any pressure on your lower back plus it activates the quadratus lumborum a spinal stabilizer muscle. Overall, the side plank requires core strength, coordination and balance making it an awesome ab exercise.
Note: Don’t let your hip sag towards the floor the higher the bench is the more difficult this exercise is so make sure you can do a regular side plank for at least 20 seconds before you attempt this version.
The elevated leg plank will strengthen the abdominals, shoulders and back muscles. The erector spinae, transverse abdominis and rectus abdominis all get worked to execute this isometric hold.
Note: Don't let your hips sag towards the floor, maintain a straight line with your body without tilting your head.
The hollow body hold is one of the tried-and-true isometric core exercises that challenges everyone who attempts it, gymnasts swear by this exercise to build abs and core strength. This half body hold is a modification where you won’t have your arms above your head therefore reducing the amount strain on the core muscles.
Note: Keep your body in a stationary position while looking up towards the ceiling. Don’t cheat by using your hands to support the position.
This exercise will work muscles from your arms and chest to your back and core down to your legs. This is a perfect movement to engage multiple muscle groups while hitting the abs.
Note: Squeeze the upper body muscles to help create a stable movement.
This ab exercise is good to work the core muscles and burn some calories at the same time. If you want a little more of a challenge then try this one without holding onto the bench.
Note: Keep your core enegaged and focus on contracting your abs to take some of the tension off your hip flexors.
This ab exercise takes body control and strength to properly perform. If done properly you will be strengthening the ab muscles while improving hip flexor control. The bench reverse crunch leg circles aren’t an easy exercise to pull off. This version is harder than the traditional leg circles that you’d do while lying on the ground, due to the body positioning of using the bench. Your core muscles have to work harder to execute this motion. Your upper body is at a greater angle in relation to your lower body so by the time you get halfway through the movement you will be in a V position.
Note: Keep your legs straight and together throughout the movement. If you want to do an easier modification you can move through the same motion with your knees bent at 90 degrees.
Flutter kicks on the bench is an effective exercise to build the core muscles including the lower abs. Other muscles engaged in this exercise are the glutes, hip flexors and quads as you'll be raising your legs one at a a time. This version of flutter kicks is a little more difficult then performing them on the ground because your upper body is at more of an angle which puts constant tension on the ab muscles.
Note: Keep your abs and core muscles engaged throughout the exercise. Don't swing your legs with momentum and keep your upper body stationary.
This exercise is similar to the previous exercise except in this one you will be moving your upper body in unison with your legs. This dynamic ab exercise will keep constant tension on the core while working the hip flexors and thighs. It will take some coordination to get the cadence down but once you do, you're golden.
Note: You can keep a slight bend at the knees throughout the movement.
The lying leg raise works the abs, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors and lower back muscles. This movement places the majority of the emphasis on the hip flexors but it does hit the lower abs. Make sure you keep your legs straight throughout the movement and avoid using momentum to swing your legs up, slow and controlled is the way to go here.
Note: The extra contraction at the top of this exercise is where you'll get the most work in for your abs so make sure to focus on the contraction here.
This exercise will test your core, glutes, hip flexors and thighs. The added resistance can hep to build more strength in these muscles, especially the hip flexors and thighs.
Note: Start with a light weight that you can execute 10 perfect form reps with before you trying increasing the weight.
In this ab bench workout you'll hit all major muscles in the abdomen area plus your lower back, glutes, hip flexors and even some leg muscles.
The key to getting the most from ab exercises with or without a bench is to perform them in a slow controlled manner while you really focus on contracting the ab muscles to do most of the work.
To complete this ab workout on a bench, you will run through this circuit 3 times with as little rest as needed between exercises. Take a 1-2 minute break between sets.
No, unfortunately ab exercises alone won’t result in fat loss in the stomach area. Sometimes people have the misconception that by working out their abs that their stomach fat will be reduced but this study showed no significant results in fat loss from ab exercises alone. You will need to eat healthy and exercise to reduce stomach fat. Whether you’re skinny fat or overweight and have just begun a cutting program, ab exercises should be a component of your workout program but this won’t solve the issue of reducing stomach fat.
Although it might feel like you’re working your upper or lower ab muscles independent of one another, it’s not technically feasible to do so. You can target the upper or lower abs more or less in different exercises. For example, if you stabilize the hips then lift only the trunk, this will engage the upper ab area more than the lower abs while the internal obliques are also heavily involved in this lifting motion. On the flip side, if you perform reverse crunches where your pelvis is coming off of the floor, the lower abs and external obliques are targeted more.
Working on your abs can help to make you a stronger, healthier person. We’re all about efficiency and efficacy so next time you’re at the gym or working out at home give a few of the ab exercises with a bench a try.
Check out some more resources on building a strong core:
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