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The 5 best ab exercises for a stronger core

Build your ab definition and strength with these core exercises.

close-up of a woman's abs midsection
JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images

Shredded abs require much more than exercise alone. Still, the right exercises are a key part of the process of building up your core abdominal muscles, which, when your body fat percentage is low enough, may appear as the coveted washboard abs so many people desire. (And no, sit-ups aren't necessarily the answer.)

You can't out-exercise your diet (or genes)

No matter how many ab exercises you do or how often you do them, you won't achieve a shredded six-pack without making changes to your diet. Even then, some people aren't genetically predisposed to low enough body fat levels on their abdomen, so uber-defined abs aren't in everyone's future. And that's totally OK! A strong core that supports your spine is much more important than visible abs, anyway.

Best ab exercises for a strong core

There's no shortage of ab exercises. In fact, there are so many ab exercises to choose from, it can get confusing and overwhelming trying to decide which ones to add to your routine. The best ab exercises are less about aesthetics and more about functionality -- they should challenge you to maintain stability in your midsection and establish a neutral spine position. These five ab exercises do just that, and you'll be well on your way to a stronger core

V-ups and modifications 

The V-up is an advanced ab exercise that involves bending at the hips and folding yourself into a sort of human taco. The goal is to keep your spine straight and touch your fingers to your toes (or as far as you can reach), all while balancing on your tailbone. If you think that sounds tough, you're right. Luckily, there are plenty of V-up modifications, as shown in the video: single-side v-ups, tuck-ups and legs-only v-ups to name a few.

Try this: If you're unsure whether you can do a V-up, start with one of the other modifications in the video. Try a set of 10 reps. If that feels easy, move up to the next progression. Keep practicing each modification until it feels easy, and then move onto the next until you achieve a standard V-up.

Quadruped hold, crawl or shoulder taps

You'll probably feel silly trying this movement, but the quadruped position is one of the best ways to challenge your ab muscles, even if you're an advanced exerciser. The quadruped position involves getting on all fours and balancing on your hands and toes. The key is keeping your spine flat and hips in line with your shoulders. 

Try this: Hold the quadruped position for 30 seconds. If that feels easy, add shoulder taps. If that still feels too easy, try the quadruped crawl. Keep increasing your time in the quadruped hold -- or distance for the quadruped crawl -- to progress toward a stronger core. 

Hollow body hold and hollow rocks

Another advanced ab exercise, hollow holds and hollow rocks reinforce the importance of core strength for a healthy lower back. This movement is not shy about revealing flaws, and it's a phenomenal -- although frustrating -- way to assess your current core strength. If you can't do hollow holds or hollow rocks yet, try one of the modifications in the video.

Try this: Start by sitting with your legs extended in front of you and your arms above your head. Rock back until your lower back presses into the ground. Look up at the sky, not in front of you, to avoid straining your neck. Tighten your core muscles and hold the position. Squeeze your thighs and glutes together to assist with the movement. Hold for as long as you can until your lower back lifts up from the ground. 

Dead bugs

This beginner-friendly ab exercise challenges your core by offsetting your body weight. To do it, lie on your back with your feet and hands up in the air. Lower your right leg and left arm simultaneously, making sure to keep your back pressed against the ground. Return to center and repeat on the other side. Take care not to strain your neck or upper back.

Try this: Start with a set of 10 total repetitions (five on each side). Lower your arms and legs slowly and focus on your technique. If your back raises up from the ground, that means you lowered your arms and legs too far for your current core strength level. 

Hanging tuck

If you have access to a pull-up bar, you have access to one of the very best ab exercises for beginner to intermediate fitness enthusiasts. Hanging tucks and tuck holds engage your entire core, as well as your hip flexors and back muscles. 

Try this: Do three sets of tuck holds, holding each one until you're unable to keep your knees up. Then, finish up with a set of maximum tuck reps. Each time you practice tuck holds, try to increase your time. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.