Most effective home exercises for strengthening abdomen

I know, there’s a lot of advice out there…

My situation: male, 40’s, probably reasonable fitness for an office worker, and with steady BMI at the upper end of ‘normal’ - so no real ‘belly’ to get rid of, just a matter of being unconditioned. I’m at home in ‘lockdown’ for the next month or so, so don’t have access to gym equipment such as weights, bars to hang from, balls, etc - nor to a Trainer who can keep an eye on my technique. A further limiting factor is a weak shoulder (old sports injury), meaning I don’t think things like planks or the ‘mountain climbing’ exercises would be that suitable for me. No other health issues, and my diet’s healthy (fresh meat, fruit and veg, no takeaways).

I started a short exercise routine 3 weeks ago: basically alternating crunches with reverse crunches. Meaning (1) the ‘raise your shoulder blades off the floor’ crunch, and (2) ‘lift your legs to vertical and then raise your hips slightly off the floor’. I’ve worked 3 sets, with a 2 minute break between each set - now up to 25 crunches and 12 reverse crunches in a set. That’s a workout of approximately quarter of an hour, done consistently four days a week. When I eventually return to the office, I plan to continue the routine during a lunch break and can probably increase it to 20 minutes of exercise. Joining a gym’s not a priority though due to money and travel time.

I’ve noticed a firming of muscle tone, which I’m obviously pleased with. However, my key concern is I expect that I’m not targeting all abdominal muscle groups evenly, nor providing enough variety to ensure good progress in my goal towards a ‘defined’ abdomen.

So, my questions:

  1. Which exercises do you recommend to add to or swap into my routine to benefit my whole ‘core’?

  2. Could this 20 mins, 4 times a week routine realistically be enough on its own to reach a ‘defined’ flat stomach, or should I consider other measures (diet, cardio work)?

Abs are made in the kitchen.
I didn’t have visible abs until I was 50, and lost 30 pounds. I found that the single best abs exercise that I could do at home was “bicycle” crunches - strictly, and lots of them. The slower the better.

Flat abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym. In order for your abs to show you need to reduce your bodyfat to ~10%. It doesn’t matter how strong your abdominal muscles are, unless you bring your body fat down you’ll never see them. You can’t spot reduce, you’ll need proper diet combined with some cardio to achieve that.

Good to know - I’ve read a couple of sites’ recommendations of the bicycle crunch as the best all-round exercise, but had also seen some that pointed out that it’s an easy one to do incorrectly.

That slowing down you mentioned seems to be a big part of it; I just now got on the floor and did three sets of 16 to see how it feels. Will definitely have to check in a mirror to ensure the posture’s ok, but I could feel some work being done by the obliques, which I haven’t experienced before.

So thanks for the simple tip. Out of curiosity, how many did ‘lots’ get up to for you?

Telemark: Understood - that’s a separate issue and I’ll be making some minor changes to replace carbs with protein, as well as upping the cardio (walk/jog to work) in due course.

When I was really going at them, I would do sets of 200, three times a day.
Concentrating on touching knee-to-elbow, and holding that (if possible) really helps.

Just realize that you can have a strong core and solid abdominal muscles and not have a 6-pack. The two aren’t that closely related.

It is not true that exercise does not help since it makes the muscles bigger. Reducing fat levels may help show things off, but not in everyone. Getting a flat belly necesarily involves eating sensibly more often than not.

The only implement worth purchasing is a ten dollar wheel. This handheld device is quite helpful. If at a gym, there are some benefits from the an machine or doing weighted sit-ups while benching - since like any muscle weight helps growth.

There are many body weight exercises. If your back is good, crunches can help. One is probably better off doing a variety of them, and no doubt there are many web tutorials.

Apart from the wheel, also helpful are planks and sit-ups where your feet are elevated on a chair or similar thing.

In the case of abs, almost no one does the resistance training you’d need to do to make them bigger. I don’t think any of the suggestions so far would result in hypertrophy. Few people want bigger abs, just visible one.

Consistent abs exercises will definitely result in hypertrophy. Most people just think that doing 10 crunches per week is enough. Once you get into the thousands/week, your abs will get bigger and more defined, visible even with 15% body fat.

I cannot say what people want. If they want visibility - they still need something to show off. Bigger muscles may require less fat loss for visibility, but results vary greatly due to genetics. Thus, weighted exercises have merit even if few do them. The exercises allowing the most weight are a sit-up on a bench while holding a weight aloft, or more usual gym machines. L-sits during pull-ups or with stands are the best body weight ones. Twisting exercises are used less often now due to McGill’s research on spinal biomechanics.

Russian twists are similar to bicycles and would likely be easier for someone with a shoulder injury. They target the obliques, so not as effective as bicycles, but still good.

Also sounds like your ‘reverse crunches’ are what I would call leg lifts. I’ve found lots of good leg lift variations - rockets (legs straight out, off the floor and then straight up, hips off the floor), circles (on your back, swing your legs in controlled circles like a clock - half one way, half the other), etc.

At any rate, sounds like you know what you’re doing.

The exercises you are using would target most of the muscles. You could swing your legs to the side as you lift them, as well as practice sucking in your belly for long periods of time.

I highly recommend hanging ab exercise. Such as those you can do at home from a pull-up/chin-up bar.

Given the normal height of a door frame, you might have to learn to hang from a curled arm position (elbows at 90deg). But that just adds a hanging resistance workout for your arms and upper body.

For general cores strength, I love candle-sticks and alternating side kick-outs (done in a controlled fashion) from a push-up position.