The Top 10 Abdominal Exercises

Even if a six-pack is not one of your fitness goals, you still need to spend some time strengthening your abdominal muscles. A strong stomach is key to preventing back injuries, and a strong torso benefits the entire body.

Here are the Top 10 Abdominal Exercises, courtesy of the American Council on Exercise and Club Industry. You'll notice the more basic exercises appear in the beginning of the list, with the more advanced exercises following. Aim to complete at least 12 to 15 repetitions of the first four exercises, two or more days per week.

A final note: Abdominal exercises typically use a very small range of motion. Training the abdominals is important to increase core strength, but back exercises should not be forgotten.

TOP 10 ABDOMINAL EXERCISES
1. Isometric Crunch: This one's easy and can (and should) be done anytime, anywhere. Simply pretend you're having your picture taken and hold in those stomach muscles. This will also help improve posture.

2. Basic Crunch: A classic abdominal exercise, the basic crunch primarily targets the upper abdominal muscles. In a lying position, keep your thighs perpendicular to the floor and bend your knees so that your lower legs are parallel, ankles crossed. Rest your hands on the back of your head for support (don't pull with your hands!) and bend slightly at the waist, drawing your upper body toward your knees. Lower your body back to the floor to complete a rep.

3. Oblique Crunch: Using the same starting position as a basic crunch, angle the shoulders to either side to isolate that stubborn love-handle area.

4. Reverse Crunch: To target the lower abs, lift feet toward the ceiling (place hands beneath lower back for support). Lift the feet toward the ceiling in a slow and controlled movement using the pelvic tilt.

5. Combination Crunch: Combine the basic crunch with the reverse crunch to recruit the entire abdominal sheath.

6. Crunch on a Machine: There are many machines available, most of which will have a placard describing the exercise. One such machine has you sitting with a pad across your chest; you crunch forward pushing the pad. The more weight you have selected, the harder the movement.

7. Bicycle: Lie on back and lift knees to a 90 degree angle from the floor. Bring the right knee in to the left elbow as the left leg extends. Repeat on other side. Continue to alternate while keeping abdominals contracted.

8. Knees to Chest: This exercise can be done on the floor or a bench. Position weight on buttocks and hands, which are placed about 18 inches behind you for balance. Bring knees to chest, contract the abdominals and slowly extend them away from the body.

9. Rope Pull Down: Using the rope handle (commonly used for triceps pushdowns) on a cable machine, grab the end of the rope and hold it by your ears. Your body should face the weight stack. Slowly lower yourself to your knees. Contract the abdominals as if to push the chest to the ground. Be sure to keep your pelvis tucked under to keep the spine in a more neutral position and do not use your arms to pull the weight. This is a very small movement.

10. Hanging Crunch: Hanging Crunch: Position arms and shoulders comfortably in a sling and flex hips to bring the thighs parallel with the floor. You can also use a Roman chair if your club owns one. Keep the hips stabilized, then contract the abdominals as if to bring the pelvic bone to the lower rib cage. Slowly lower to the beginning posture. The movement is very small.