15 Best Upper Abs Exercises

Updated on  February 26, 2023
Aditya Sahu

Aditya Sahu ‧ CPT & Head Coach


Aditya is an ACSM certified personal trainer with more than 7 years training various people and transforming people's lives. He has written various publications for various sports and fitness magazines. 

Most trainees are more focused on developing upper abs when it comes to fitness exercises. An effective exercise involves core strengthening and building workouts apart from cardio.

 In this article, you will find all that you need to know about upper abs and the best exercises to build them. Read on to learn it all! 


The Upper Abs

The abdominal muscle known as Rectus Abdominis extends from the diaphragm to the pelvis. The upper part of this muscle is what people refer to as ‘six-packs’ or ‘six-pack abs.’ This muscle works with other abdominal muscles such as transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, etc. Hence, when talking about upper abs workouts, there are no such exercises that solely target just the upper abs. However, below mentioned upper abs workouts mainly target muscles of the upper abs compared to other core muscles.


15 Best Upper Abs Exercises

Below, we have described some of the best upper ab exercises that you can adopt for your upper ab exercise routine.


1. Sit-Up

Sit ups

This bodyweight upper ab exercise mainly aims for the rectus abdominis muscle. Trainees experience extreme muscular tension in their upper abs while doing sit-ups. This practical exercise promotes muscle growth resulting in defined abs and hypertrophied muscles. Sit-up is a suitable upper ab exercise for beginners as well as others. It does not involve any exercise equipment.

Steps:

  • Starting position: Lie down on the floor.
  • Bend your knees, making 90 degrees with legs flat on the floor.
  • Cross your arms over the top of your shoulders.
  • Now lift your chest to the top of your knees by flexing your abs. Exhale while you come up.
  • Do not lift the pelvis or arch lower back to lift upwards.
  • Slowly contracting your core, move downwards.


2. McGill Curl Up

This endurance exercise for upper core muscles is best for people with lower back pain. It involves flexion and extension of the upper ab while keeping the lumbar spine neutral. Beginners can achieve the core stability with McGill Curl Up exercise with minimal stress on the lower back compared to other upper ab workouts.

Steps:

  • Starting position: Lie flat on the back on the floor.
  • Bend one leg, placing its foot flat on the floor.
  • Keep the other leg straight.
  • Insert both palms beneath the lower back curve to maintain the arch.
  • Take a deep breath and lift your upper torso slightly above the ground, contracting the abdominals.
  • Hold this position for 10-15 seconds, then lie down back and relax.
  • Switch the side and repeat.


3. Sprinter Sit-Up

This fantastic upper abs exercise facilitates the strength of core muscles by utilizing body weight. It targets your core and back muscles. Hence, the sprinter sit-up exercise results in belly shaping and lower back strengthening.

Steps:

  • Lie upon the back on the floor with legs extended.
  • Now keep one hand on the table of the hip and the other on the floor.
  • Crunch up, bringing the right knee to your shoulder and swinging forward the left elbow. Go straight up and do not go across.
  • Lie back in the original position, extending the right leg.
  • Switch and repeat the upper ab exercise, sprinting with alternating arms and legs.


4. Hollow Hold

Hollow Hold

This effective upper ab workout involves no exercise equipment. It builds great tension in your upper abs to keep you upright and balanced, sculpting your upper abs. Hence, hollow hold exercise is best for upper ab muscle toning. It is mainly adopted for posture and core training.

Steps:

  • Starting position: Lie upon the back on the floor with arms extended over the head and legs placed close together.
  • Make sure your lower back is firmly against the floor.
  • Raise the legs 1-3 inches above the ground.
  • Raise your arms and flex your upper abs by holding in the rib cage.
  • Hold this position for 45-60 seconds.
  • You can perform 3-4 reps per day of hollow hold.

One simplification of hollow hold involves bringing in arms and legs a little.

You can also rock back and forth while holding the hollow hold position. This is called hollow rock. It allows minimum movement of the shoulder and hip joints. Other variations include weighted hollow hold, uneven hollow hold, and gator roll.


5. Bicycle Crunch

Bicycle Crunch

This variation of crunch exercise targets muscles of the core, transverse abdominis, and obliques. It tests your coordination and balancing skills. It is easy to perform and is therefore suitable for beginners. The only requirement for bicycle crunch exercise is an exercise mat.

Steps:

  • Starting position: Lie flat on your back on the floor.
  • Make a 90-degree angle with your hip and knee.
  • Breathe in, expand your belly, then exhale to draw your abdominal muscles inwards. This engages the transverse abdominis.
  • Then to engage rectus abdominis, i.e., your six-pack, draw your belly inwards and flex the spine.
  • Next, put your hands relaxed behind your head, opening the elbows.
  • Now move your legs as if riding a bicycle, moving one leg in while the other out. Extend your legs as much as you can.
  • Now add rotation by moving the opposite elbow towards the knee. Keep your shoulder blades above the ground to engage the rectus abdominis muscle.
  • Repeat on the other side alternatively. Keep your heart and chest open without sticking your chin towards your chest.


6. 90-Degree Hold Sit-Ups

This easy-to-do upper ab bodyweight exercise engages the abdominal muscles. These 90-degree hold sit-ups enhance core and upper ab muscle activation. Trainees can achieve better core stability with this exercise which is necessary for various bodyweight exercises. Other than that, it also helps with posture improvement. The weighted sit-up is another form of sit-up which involves using a medicine ball, kettlebell, or dumbbells.

Steps:

  • Starting position: Lie flat face-up on the floor. Bend knees at 90 degrees with the hip and keep your feet above the ground stationary.
  • Keep your arms extended along with the shin bones.
  • Lift your upper body towards the knees, engaging your core while crunching your abs.
  • Move your arms up to your toes and hold for a while.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

Based on your ability, complete 10-15 reps and 2-3 sets of 90-degree hold sit-ups.


7. Abdominal Rollout

Ab Rollout

This intensive exercise effectively improves muscle growth, as it involves both rising and lowering actions. The upper abs are eccentrically strengthened with the help of this exercise due to the lengthening action. The core stability and upper ab muscle recruitment are attained in the extended position. For abdominal rollout, you need exercising equipment like a ball, an ab wheel, a barbell, etc.

Steps:

  • Starting position: Sit down on your knees and hold your equipment with palms stretched along the wrist.
  • Stretch your hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Lean forward facing the ground, extending hips, chest going downwards without arching your lower back too much. Keep your chin tucked in.
  • Lean backward to the starting position while squeezing your latissimus dorsi muscles.
  • Start with a shorter range of motion and move to a longer range as you adapt to this exercise.
  • Repeat the exercise while keeping the right posture.


8. 90-Degree Toe Touches

This upper ab exercise targets the core muscle group, enhancing the core stability. Apart from this, 90-degree toe touches help tone and sculpt the upper ab muscles, trim the waist, and enhance flexibility, posture, and balance.

Steps:

  • Start with lying flat on the surface, either on a mat or a bench.
  • Extend your arms above the head.
  • Raise feet hip-width apart above the ground, bending knees at a 90-degree angle.
  • Raise your torso forward, crunching the abs, and move the arms from above the head towards the shins until you touch your toe.
  • Return to the starting position slowly.
  • Complete 20 reps of toe touches.


9. Strict Toes To Bar

This upper ab core strengthening exercise also offers hip flexibility. It also offers improved shoulder and upper back stability with enhanced grip. It is quite a tricky exercise and is usually done by athletes. Strict toes to the bar vigorously stimulate muscle activation and muscle growth and tone of the abs.

Steps:

  • Jump and hold the bar with palms placed more than shoulder-width apart.
  • Look forward with your head in the neutral position.
  • Shoulders, hips, and hands must be aligned.
  • Squeeze your ankles and thighs together and keep the knees, elbows, and arms extended.
  • Slowly lift your feet towards the torso using the ab muscles and hip flexors.
  • Touch the bar with your feet between the hands and lower them as you push the upper body forward, staying underneath the bar.
  • Move your feet downwards. Do not swing your legs. Keep them under control.
  • Return to the relaxed state while hanging and repeat the exercise.


10. Hanging Knee Raises

Hanging Raise

This helpful exercise engages both upper and lower abs. Apart from ab muscle growth, it enhances body control, grip power, and coordination of the torso. Beginners can start with little and scale up according to their strengths. Hanging knee raises and leg raises require a standard pull-up bar or captain’s chair for beginners.

Steps:

  • Grip the pull-up bar by extending your arms overhead slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep feet in front, squeezed together. Make sure all other muscles are nice and tight.
  • Slowly bring your knees up at a 90-degree angle and keep moving towards your torso.
  • Bring your feet down slowly, keeping control and not swinging your body.
  • Repeat the exercise and strictly maintain proper form.

Increase the number of reps as you train for better core stability and building upper abs. Adding a dumbbell between your knees can also increase the difficulty level.


11. Weighted Cable Crunch

Weighted Cable Crunch

Weighted crunch involves holding a weight plate above your head or over your chest. This upper ab muscle-strengthening exercise is made easier with a slight variation, i.e., using a cable machine to do weighted kneeling cable crunches. This exercise forces your upper abs to work harder due to intense tension. The extended range of motion increases muscle growth.

Steps:

  • Grip the rope attachment and kneel below the high pulley. Lower the rope until your hands are placed next to your face. Slightly flex your hips, allowing the weight to hyperextend your lower back.
  • Keeping the hips stationary, flex the waist while contracting your abs. Your elbows should move towards the middle of the thighs. Then exhale and hold this contraction for a second.
  • Slowly get back to the relaxed position and repeat the exercise.

You must keep the tension focused on the abs rather than the lower back. Else, reduce the weight. This exercise can also be performed with a handle to focus on each side of the abs independently.


12. Dead Bug Pullover

This intense exercise involves using a kettlebell. The excess tension in the Dead Bug Pullover exercise is put on the shoulders, upper core, and latissimus dorsi muscle groups. This exercise strengthens pullover practice, accurate breathing patterns, lumbopelvic mobility, and posture.

Steps:

  • Lie flat over the ground with knees bent at 90 degrees and feet above the ground.
  • Tighten up your stomach as stiff as possible and inhale deeply.
  • Hold a kettlebell in each of your palms and extend your arms upwards.
  • Now slowly move your arms overhead while slightly bending your elbows. Exhale simultaneously as you move the kettlebell as far as possible until your back starts getting off the ground.
  • At this point, bring back the kettlebell upwards.
  • Repeat the same motion and complete the reps and sets for this exercise.


13. Jackknife Pullover

Suspended Jack Knife

This abdominal exercise is a modification of the jackknife workout, which is also called ‘V-Up.’ It involves using exercise equipment like a kettlebell, dumbbell, or medicine ball. It targets the upper and lower abdominal muscles, mainly rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis. It enables core stability and strength.

Steps:

  • Lie flat over the ground with arms overhead and legs straight.
  • Grab an exercising tool like a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand. In the case of a medicine ball, using both hands.
  • Move your legs up and reach your arms straight up to the legs, folding your body like a taco. You can also go beyond to touch the ankles.
  • Slowly lower back to the starting position.
  • Repeat the exercise and complete half reps holding the tool in one arm and complete the rest of the reps with the tool in the other arm.
  • The key is to remain calm and controlled throughout to avoid hurting your back.


14. TRX Unilateral Rollout

Suspension Rollout

This upper ab workout is analogous to barbell abdominal rollout and stability ball rollout. It offers stability to upper abs as well as shoulders. This exercise involves unilateral training of core muscles eliminating any disparities. Hip mobility can also be achieved with a tall kneeling position during TRX Unilateral Rollout. It is the perfect exercise for strong and well-defined abs.

Steps:

  • Stand with toes hip-width apart on the ground and lean forward such that your shoulder, back, and legs are inline and fully extended.
  • Hold and balance the TRX straps with both hands. Arms must be stretched and shoulder-width apart.
  • Move arms back and forth alternatively.
  • Complete the reps according to your strength.


15. TRX Pike

A tremendously strong core is every trainer’s dream. It adds to good looks and helps with maintaining posture, balance, belly toning, abs muscle toning, and eliminating the risk of injuries and lower back aches and pains. TRX Pike involves the whole abdominal muscle group.

Steps:

  • Take full plank position and insert your feet in each of the TRX foot cradles held 3-4 inches above the ground.
  • Align your chest and legs inline such that your heel and ears appear in a straight line.
  • The shoulder blades must be positioned backward and downwards to engage the core muscles fully.
  • Exhale while you contract the abdominals, keeping your torso and legs straight as you bend the hips upward and forward towards the roof. Keep an eye on your feet rather than on the ground. Your head should be in a neutral position.
  • Slowly lower down back to the plank position while inhaling.
  • Repeat the exercise to complete around 15 reps.
  • Do not bend the knees.


Benefits Of Upper Ab Workouts

The best upper ab exercises described above also help with the training of the pelvic, hip, and entire core simultaneously. These best upper ab exercises assist with acquiring stability, strength, stamina, correct posture, and balance that enable us to easily put up with working physically. These upper ab exercises guarantee core stability which retains the spine in a neutral position under the circumstances of shear and compression. 

A stable and robust core is essential to transmit the energy from the lower body to the upper body with increased endurance. Hence, upper ab workouts are not only essential for sculpting your six-packs and belly but also to increase total endurance, stability, strength, and performance. These upper ab workouts target abdominal muscle groups, keeping them safe from straining and risk of injury.

Tips For Upper Ab Workouts

  • When you train for the upper ab workout, you also train the anterior and posterior core muscles. This is because upper abs cannot be completely isolated from those muscles. So, you need to consider this fact when planning your core workout.
  • Moving from a beginner to an advanced level requires you to increase the weight as they progress. But trainees need to consider enough weight from which they can quickly recover. Training and recovery must be balanced.
  • Training regularly might be challenging. Aim for 3-4 days a week to build strong, toned, well-defined abs.
  • Plan your workout regime with a mix and match of weighted core workouts and strength training exercises. This will prevent you from getting fatigued.


Diet Is The Key Player!

No workout is successful without an effective dietary routine. It is rightly said that you get abs from the kitchen. Only an adequate diet can expose your hidden muscles along with exercise.

Fat usually covers the abs. It requires a lesser fat proportion to reveal your abs, even if they are nicely toned with exercise. Including protein-rich foods, dietary carbohydrates, healthy fats, adequate water intake, and eliminating excess calories, sugary and fatty foods from the diet helps tone the ab muscles better and eliminate the excess fat easier.


Sets For Upper Abs Workout

An individual's strength level determines the number of sets they can complete in a week. Depending on one’s fitness level, sets can range anywhere between 2 to 20. Hence, you can judge your set capability considering your strength and progress.

One must consider training different core muscle groups during a regular ab workout. Overtraining the same muscle group regularly can cost you. Hence, it is a must to find a balance between exercising and the recovery of muscles to prevent soreness, fatigue, and muscle injury.

Alternatively, if your abs are not wearing out even after several sets, you must progress to increase the overload and reps.


Reps For Upper Abs Workout

Abdominal muscles consist of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. Thus, you should pair high load with fewer reps and low load with more reps. 5-20 reps are usually recommended for training upper abs. However, you must increase the overload if you do not exhaust after 20 reps with low weight. Alternatively, if you do not exhaust after 8 reps with heavy weight, you must add the overload.


Conclusion

Abs training regime and nutrition routine go hand in hand. There is no other way round to develop and sculpt your six-pack. You can achieve fat reduction with cardiovascular exercises and defined abs with the abdominal workout. There is no denying that the abs cannot get trained in isolation since the abdominal muscle groups work collectively. 

All above mentioned best upper ab exercises focus mainly on achieving the core stability, without which individuals cannot attain desired results in the long run. By smartly incorporating these exercises in your workout regime, you can achieve toned ab muscles, stability, endurance, stamina, balance, and correct posture that will help with everyday physical work.


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