Though there are plenty of machines and benches that claim to target abdominal muscles, the truth is that ab muscles might be sculpted and impressive - but if a layer of fat lies on the abs, no single machine will reveal those abs in an impressive "six pack." Strengthening your core with machines and benches, however, can help you avoid injury and make you stronger and more stable overall.
Strengthen the Abdominal Muscles
Truthfully, the best machine for ab definition is a refrigerator stocked with nutrient-dense foods. Cardio machines, such as treadmills, spin bikes, or rowers, can help reduce fat surrounding the abs, making them more defined. But if your goal is to strengthen your abdominal muscles, there is some equipment that can help.
Adjustable Ab Bench
An adjustable ab bench can be used for ab work as well as back work, strengthening the core overall. A good choice for someone who wants to get stronger in their core (including abs, back, and hips), this bench should be used with caution by anyone with back problems or people new to exercising. The bench consists of a platform, foot anchors, and an adjustable back. Ab exercises with an adjustable ab bench include, but are not limited to:
- Decline crunch, which forces you to work harder to fight gravity in the concentric portion of the crunch. Do this with weights in hand or without.
- Oblique reaches, which add a reaching/twisting motion to the crunch, targeting the sides of the abs.
- Back extensions, which activate the erector spinae, which are the opposing muscles to the rectus abdominis. Back extensions can be done weighted or not weighted.
Weight Training Bench
Also sometimes referred to as a utility bench, a classic weight training bench offers a variety of exercises that will target ab muscles using body weight. Proper form is important when doing ab work using body weight, so beginners should consult with a fitness professional to ensure proper form and avoid injuries. Here are some (but not all) ab exercises that can be done with a weight training bench:
- Leg lifts from a supine position, which target the lower abs.
- Plank with feet on bench, which intensifies the plank exercise. Planks are among the best core-strengthening exercises.
- Weighted pullovers, which is a compound exercise that targets the abs in addition to many other muscles when done properly.
Best known for leg raises, the captain's chair targets to abs when the leg raises are done properly. This machine is not appropriate for people prone to back injury or who lack the upper body strength to hold themselves in place in this machine. Here are a few examples of ab exercises in the captain's chair:
- Frontal leg raises engage the abs, particularly when the legs are pulled beyond parallel to the floor.
- Alternating leg raises are a modification to the frontal leg raises for exercisers who have trouble raising both legs at the same time.
- Twisting knee lifts target the obliques.
The Pilates reformer features a sliding seat and pulleys of varying resistance - and is one of the very best ab machines available. Note that this machine is not necessarily intuitive and requires instructions and guidance; some gyms and studios offer reformer classes led by a certified Pilates instructor. If no class is available, consult a fitness professional or do ample research before climbing onto this machine. Here are some ab exercises that can be done on a reformer machine:
- The hundred, which is a challenging move that requires the entire core.
- Side sit-ups, which are done on a padded box placed on the reformer's seat.
- Pikes, which look similar to yoga's downward facing dog.
A Note on Ab Crunch Machines
Most gyms offer ab crunch machines designed for weighted crunches, which many people feel drawn to because they are easy to use. Though these machines can provide benefit to experienced exercisers, beginners should use caution with these machines as the added weight can strain the lower back and lead to injury. It's also important to note that when you're locked into a machine like an ab crunch machine, you lose the benefit of stabilization; when your body isn't forced to stabilize its movements, the core does not have to put forth significant effort to complete the movement.
Work the Abs
While ab machines can certainly provide benefits, it's important to remember that activities like boxing, dance fitness, and other fun forms of exercise can also target the abs for strengthening. But if you prefer to use a machine, do it under the guidance of a fitness professional who can help you avoid strain or injury.