Need some more challenging exercises for your abs?
These 10 exercises use the balance ball, a piece of equipment that can be found in all gym’s and also in many households.
Many of the following exercises are very advanced but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try them out!
To achieve a lean midsection you need to watch your nutrition but also strengthen your core. Your core consists of muscles and if you lose all the fat on top of it but have nothing below to show… you will not get the “toned look” you are looking for.
I have already written a post on activating your entire core, make sure to read that as well:
I do not recommend training the abdominal muscles with heavy weights, especially if you are female. We don’t want muscle hypertrophy, otherwise your waist will get thick and blocky. Repetitions for these exercises are between 10-20, which is perfect to build endurance and strength without overly adding size.
Enjoy the article and let me know if you try these exercises!
The best exercises for lean Abs
This is the ultimate abdominal exercise to test your core strength. However, I see many people performing this exercise the wrong way and trying to crunch up with their head, using their neck muscles and hip flexors. The key to this exercise is to use only your abs. Thus, this could be the hardest abdominal exercise in existence.
I find the version on the exercise ball increases abdominal activation and builds a better mind-muscle connection.
You will position your upper back on the Balance Ball, your hips should lightly touch the ball.
You can put your arms behind your head to protect your neck and it also makes the exercise harder. Lay down and wrap your upper body on the ball.
Now, before starting the movement, tilt your pelvis posteriorly (aka squeeze your glutes). This will not only activate your glutes but also the transverse abdominis (the deepest of all abdominal muscles – also mistakenly called “lower abs”). Activating the transverse abdominis is crucial to prevent back injuries. Especially women have weak transverse abdominis after giving birth (diastasis recti).
Initiate the movement by breathing out and trying to push your rips to your belly bottom. Tense your entire core and hips and raise your upper body until you feel your abdominal muscles fully contract. You can also keep one hand on your core to test if it contracts properly.
Breathing in, slowly lower your body again but keep a slight contraction, don’t let the abdominal muscles stretch. This is one repetition. Repeat for 10-15 times.
Apparently, no one but me does this exercise! I could not find a proper picture to demonstrate. I am currently taking picture of myself doing the exercises, I will ad those in once I am finished!
This is a variation of the ball crunch. This time, your lower back will be centered on the balance ball. However, you need to secure your feet somewhere, otherwise you will lose balance. Maybe you can put up some weights or have a bench nearby, or the edge of a bed. You will lean back over the ball as far as you can and get a great stretch in your abdominal muscles.
Then, you will crunch up just like the you did with the Balance Ball Crunch. This exercise increases the range of motion and tears more muscle fibers, thus it builds more strength. Only do this exercise once you have practiced the easier version (see above).
Picture by Popsugar
This exercise is really hard for beginners. Only attempt this when you have built a strong base of core, glute and shoulder strength. Otherwise, you can easily injure yourself (as with any exercise).
You will start in a push up position, shoulder blades pushed back and latissimus dorsi (the muscle in your armpits and lower back) contracted. Position your feet on the ball and squeeze your glutes by tilting your pelvis posteriorly.
Now, using your abdominal muscles, push up from your feet to raise your body into a pike push up on the ball. Make sure not to round your lower back and keep a straight V line in your body. If this exercise is too advanced, you can do the ball jackknife crunch (see below).
This is a basic plank but with your feet on the ball. This causes instability and increases core activation. You can also go down on your elbows to make it even harder. Make sure to tuck in your pelvis to squeeze your glutes the entire time. Activating your glutes will activate your entire core automatically!
Plank roll out
One of my favorite exercises. Crunches are great to achieve contraction but this exercise builds stability like no other and you will feel its benefits in real life (“functional training”).
If we always train our abdominal muscles with crunches, our shoulders will slump forwards and our posture will be out of alignment. The real function of our core is to keep our body stable, not to crunch it forwards.
By rolling your elbows away from your body, you are forcing your core to contract and stabilize, otherwise your body would have to follow the ball.
Above you see the easier version on your knees. Start with that version first and access how you feel. Typically, your abs will be very sore the next day. That is good! We need to tear muscle fibers to make them grow. Don’t panic, your abs will not get bulky by doing these exercises. In fact, they will stay contracted automatically and create a smaller waist!
This is the harder version on your toes. The same rules apply as for the easy version.
It is crucial to posteriorly tilt your pelvis during all of these exercises. Contracting the glutes will prevent injuries to your spine. Otherwise, you could easily injure your lower back.
Plank Leg Lift and/ or Oblique leg touch
This is a plank but this time we increase the challenge by adding in a bit of movement.
You can either raise one of your legs to work your core, glutes and lower back. Squeeze those glutes when you lift your leg!
The next version adds a challenge for the side of your abdominal muscles, the obliques.
You will slowly raise one leg and bring it forwards to the opposite forearm, contract your obliques for a second and then move your leg back to the ball. This exercise has to be done slowly and in a controlled manner. Breathe out when you raise your leg and breathe in when you bring it back towards your body.
This exercise works your entire core, as well as shoulders, glutes and lower back.
Elevated Push ups
Why not hit the upper body a bit too? Push ups are a full body exercise but if you perform them with your feet on the ball, they become incredibly difficult. This is definitely a very advanced exercise. Make sure to contract your glutes and abs the whole time. Keep your elbows close to your sides, don’t let them flare out to the sides. That will put pressure on your shoulder joints. Contract your upper back the entire time by squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Balance Ball Pass
This is one of my favorites as well.
It activates the transverse abdominis but hits the rectus abdominis (“upper abs”) quite a bit as well.
You will pass the balance ball from your hands to your feet by crunching up. Squeeze the ball with your inner thighs and don’t let it fall down. Press your lower back against the floor and lower your legs as far as you can hold the contraction. This might not be much, don’t get discouraged! You will still benefit from performing this exercise.
Now, breathing out raise your legs again, crunch up and take the ball into your hands. Lower your legs again (this time without the ball) and stretch your arms over your head (with the ball) in a star position.
All this time, your lower back should always stay pressed against the floor. Raise your arms and legs again. This is one repetition. I recommend doing 5-10 repetitions.
Balance Ball Jackknife
This exercise can be performed to work up to a pike up on the ball. Again, your feet are positioned on the ball. This time you will pull the ball towards your upper body by contracting your abdominal muscles. Really squeeze your abs and feel the muscles work. Slowly roll your feet back into the starting position. I like to posteriorly tilt my pelvis and squeeze the glutes before initiating the movement to ensure proper form.
Balance Ball Side Plank
Again, no one seems to be doing this exercise! Actually, it is very hard but I like that it challenges stability in a different way than the normal side plank.
This is an advanced variation of the side plank to hit the side of your core. You can either position your elbows on the ball or your feet. If you put your feet on the ball, this will turn into an incredibly hard exercises for your obliques. Make sure to contract your core and glutes and keep your body in a straight line at all times.
If you liked these exercises, comment below and share!