That question heard so often from your members: “What are the best ab exercises?” can be answered with “bicycle maneuver, captain’s chair and crunches on an exercise ball,” according to a recent study. The American Council on Exercise (ACE), San Diego, Calif., sponsored the study, which was conducted by San Diego State University, to determine the most effective abdominal exercises.

The study compared 13 of the most common abdominal exercises, including body-weight exercises and exercises using home and gym exercise equipment. Thirty healthy men and women, ages 20-45, who ranged from occasional to daily exercisers, participated and had their muscle activity measured with electromyography equipment. The 13 exercises were ranked for muscle stimulation in the rectus abdominus and the obliques. The top three exercises were bicycle maneuver, captain’s chair and crunches on an exercise ball.

The researchers found that although performing crunches on an exercise ball generated less activity in the abdominal muscles than some other exercises, it is the best overall abdominal exercise because it generates significantly less activity in the thighs, meaning the abdominals are more directly targeted.

Comparing infomercial equipment with the traditional crunch, the study found that the Torso Track was marginally more effective than the traditional crunch, but many subjects experienced lower-back discomfort while using it. The Ab Roller was no more effective than the traditional crunch, and the Ab Rocker was up to 80 percent less effective.

If any equipment is to be purchased, ACE recommends a high-quality exercise ball. Other recommendations include choosing a variety of abdominal exercises and performing abdominal exercises for five minutes daily.

The 13 exercises were ranked from most to least effective in the following way:

For strengthening the rectus abdominus:
1. Bicycle maneuver
2. Captain’s chair
3. Crunches on an exercise ball
4. Vertical leg crunch
5. Torso Track
6. Long arm crunch
7. Reverse crunch
8. Crunch with heel push
9. Ab Roller
10. Hover
11. Traditional crunch
12. Exercise tubing pull
13. Ab Rocker

For strengthening the obliques:
1. Captain’s chair
2. Bicycle maneuver
3. Reverse crunch
4. Hover
5. Vertical leg crunch
6. Crunch on exercise ball
7. Torso Track
8. Crunch with heel push
9. Long arm crunch
10. Ab Roller
11. Traditional crunch
12. Exercise tubing pull
13. Ab Rocker

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