2 Effective Stomach Exercises
Bicycle Crunches & Hanging Knee Raises

There will always be debate about the most effective stomach exercises.

However, a well done study by respected biomechanist Dr. Peter Francis sheds some light on the effectiveness of certain stomach exercises.

In the research study, 13 stomach exercises were compared to crunches to determine which ones would create the highest level of muscle activation in the rectus abdominus (6 pack) and also the internal obliques and external obliques.

You can read about the entire list at Muscle Activation Study.

Bicycle Crunches

bicycle crunches Of the 13 exercises, bicycle crunches (maneuver) yielded the highest activation level in the rectus abdominus compared with traditional floor crunches.

And in regards to the abdominal oblique muscles, bicycle crunches yielded the second highest activation level.

Bicycle Crunches have always been one of my favorite exercises, and this study suggests that they are great for working the abdominal muscles.

Hanging Knee Raises on a Captain's Chair

captain's chair knee raises The Captain's Chair is sometimes referred to as a Roman Chair.

It's basically an ab exercise machine that allows you to hang with your body weight supported by your elbows.

In regards to the study, knee raises on the Captain's Chair yielded the 2nd highest activation level in the rectus abdominus-- only behind the bicycle crunches.

And in regards to the oblique muscles, hanging knee raises yielded the highest level of activation in the oblique muscles.

From the results of this study, Hanging Knee Raises were 1 of the most effective stomach exercises.

Summary of Results

Both bicycle crunches and hanging knee raises had a distinct advantage in this study because they were the only stomach exercises in the study in which the legs were moving.

Our legs are heavy, and when our legs move during stomach exercises more tension is placed on the stomach muscles because they must work harder to stabilize the pelvis.

Even though these 2 stomach exercises scored the best in this study, I believe many of the other exercises are also good and have value. But if you're pushed for time and want to be efficient, stick with those 2 in your workout.

Final Thought on Finding Effective Stomach Exercises

As a physical therapist and anatomist, I have a really good grasp on how the body works. And in my studies, I have found that in fitness and exercise there is always more than one way to look at things.

Dr. Peter Francis actually performed another study comparing 9 stomach exercises, and the title was "Finding the Safest Abdominal Challenge". In this study, he compared muscle work in the abdominals to compression in the lower back, and each exercise was scored based on its muscle work to lower back compression ratio.

The exercise that yielded the highest activation was double straight leg raises-- an exercise similar to knee raises on the Captain's Chair, except with the legs straight and the arms hanging from a bar overhead. However, this exercise also yielded the highest amount of pressure on the lower back.

On my page called finding the best abdominal exercise for you, I talk about this study more in depth. But the main point is that you have to clearly define what you mean when you say "Effective". For some people the most effective is the easiest. For other the most effective is the one that doesn't aggravate the lower back.

Every exercise has pros and cons, benefits and risks, advantages and disadvantages. As a personal trainer, it is my job to figure out which exercises are the best for my clients based on tons of factors.

As a quick guide for you, I will say that you should feel muscle work in the targeted muscles and be able to complete the repetitions with control, good form and no pain. If that's the case then the exercise is likely a good choice for you.

Visit the Directory of Abdominal Exercises to learn all the ab exercises on this site or try one of our free ab workout routines.

I hope this improves your perspective of finding effective stomach exercises.

Yours in Health,
Dr. Charles PT/PT

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