ab workouts

Unknown Yet Effective Ab Workouts & Exercises

Can’t Get Your Abs to Pop (or Show Up at All)? Here Are Some Tricks for Building a Great Six-Pack.

By Ron Harris

I’ve written more than a few abdominal training articles over the years, and I typically start with a friendly reminder about how you won’t be able to see a clear six-pack unless your body fat is very low. I then explain the importance of diet and cardio in achieving said low body fat levels, as the common misconception for many decades has been that abdominal training is the sole key to displaying those coveted washboard abs.

With that out of the way, I must circle back and clarify matters. It’s true that you can’t see muscle definition unless you’re lean. It’s also true that unless that muscle is developed in the first place, there’s nothing to see! An impressive midsection absolutely requires that the rectus abdominis has been developed and thickened through direct training.

Let’s be real. Training the abs isn’t as fun as muscle groups such as the chest or biceps. Many bodybuilders find it so boring that they never do it at all. I’m with all of you who feel this way. What do we do when our workouts for other muscle groups become stale or tedious? Usually, we introduce new exercises or new techniques. You already know about standard abdominal movements such as crunches, hanging leg raises, and sit-ups. I’d like to share some exercises for abs that aren’t quite as common and can have yours popping after only a few weeks of dedicated work.


“Jackknife” is an older term for folding knives, and it’s also used in the world of competitive diving to describe a dive in which the body is first bent at the waist and then straightened before plunging into the water. The exercise essentially involves folding your body into itself by simultaneously bringing the torso and bent legs toward each other, then apart. They’re one of the hardest ab exercises you can do. You need good flexibility and ab strength to be able to get both your arms and legs up in the air at the same time. These can be done on the floor or a mat, so there’s no need for any equipment. I find them even more challenging to do sitting sideways on a bench with just your butt on the bench. This will force you to slow the movement down to maintain balance and really squeeze those abs!

Barbell Roll-Outs

These are a great old-school exercise. They stretch the abs all the way and even work the serratus! Usually, gyms have little ab roller wheels with little handles you can use. If not, use a barbell with 10- or 25-pound plates loaded on each side. Don’t try these with a fixed barbell as it won’t roll! It’s also another perfect movement for core strength, but I love them mainly for the crazy stretch you feel in the abs when you’re fully extended. Abs need to be stretched and contracted just like any other muscle we train.

Also Read: Isometric vs Isotonic Exercises


These are so named because when you do them, it looks somewhat like you’re on your back riding an invisible bicycle. That’s not entirely accurate unless your form is sloppy. Sometimes these are called “bicycle crunches,” which is closer to reality. On your back with hands on either side of your head, you alternate bringing your right elbow to your left knee with touching your left elbow to your right knee.

I like bicycles because you can time yourself and work abs in more of an endurance fashion. You can just do them for a certain number of reps too, but I get a better workout out of them if I set a stopwatch and do as many as I can for 60 seconds. It’s also a good way to work the obliques without making them bigger!

Rope Cable Crunches

This is one of my favorites, and it was also the ab exercise of choice for the eight-time Mr. Olympia. In my opinion, rope cable crunches are the best movement for developing ab thickness. The reason why it builds thickness is because you can add weight and get a hard 12 reps instead of busting out 50 crunches (who has the time or the attention span for that? Not me!). What will make your abs thicker is doing hypertrophy work on them, which is sets where you reach failure at around 10 to 12 reps. Thick abs are a good thing, because the cuts between them will be deeper than more shallow, less developed abs. Thick obliques are another story. Those make your waist wider, and you don't want that!

Frog Kicks

For those of you who simply don’t have the strength to do hanging leg raises yet or maybe you just want to take a break from them, the frog kick off a bench is a reasonable alternative. To perform them, position yourself on a flat bench so that you’re on the edge of the seat with your legs off in space. Begin with both legs fully bent, then slowly straighten them out in front of you. Many trainers feel these in the lower ab region, which is notoriously hard to target for some.

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