9 Best Upper Ab Exercises For A Core Workout

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A slim and fit girl doing upper ab exercises at a gym

From crunches and sit-ups to planks and core workout variations, you can try many upper ab exercises at home without any equipment.

Ripped and chiseled abs are the stuff of many people’s dreams. Men and women alike aspire to have toned and defined abs. However, if you want toned abs, you need to focus on upper as well as lower abs. When you think about upper abs, you have to target the top half muscle group called the rectus abdominis, aka “six-pack” muscles. You can do this by focusing on movements that involve pulling the chest area toward the pelvis or vice-versa. 

If you are a beginner, you can follow this guide for upper ab workouts. From crunches and sit-ups to core workouts with variations, this guide will provide step-by-step instructions for doing the best upper ab exercises at home without equipment. Let’s first understand the anatomy of the upper abdominal region.

What are the upper abs?

The upper abs are a group of muscles that comprise the rectus abdominis, a long muscle that runs down the front of the abdomen.

The upper abs are made up of four muscles: the external oblique, internal oblique, rectus abdominis, and transverse abdominis. These muscles work together to flex the trunk, stabilize the pelvis, and protect the spine. These abs are essential for both posture and strength.

Why should you train your upper abs?

Training your upper abs is essential for building a strong and balanced core. The upper abs are responsible for flexing and stabilizing the torso, which supports proper posture and helps with everyday movements like bending and reaching.

Strengthening the upper abs can also improve athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury during physical activity. Overall, training the upper abs is crucial for overall core strength and stability.

How do you target upper abs?

According to American Council on Exercise [1]American Council on Exercise: American Council on Exercise (ACE)-sponsored Study Reveals Best and Worst Abdominal Exercises, an ab exercise is effective for the core and the top half of your rectus abdominis. Some of the ab workouts include bicycle crunches, captain’s chair, and crunches on an exercise ball.

The trick to targeting your upper ab muscles is to perform upper abs workouts that specifically work the 4 major muscle groups in the region.

  • The rectus abdominis, commonly referred to as the upper abs, is a muscle that runs vertically along the entire abdominal region.
  • The transverse abdominis is a deep layer of muscle that wraps around the sides and front of the torso.
  • The external and internal obliques are the muscles that run diagonally along the sides of the abdomen.

To tone and strengthen the upper abs, it is important to target all these muscles with various abdominal exercises.

To work the upper ab area, perform exercises that involve flexing the trunk, such as crunches,  sit-ups, Russian twists, and side bends. In addition to doing upper ab workout, it is also essential to focus on overall core strength by doing exercises like planks and Pilates. By targeting all of the muscles in the abdominal region, you can achieve toned and strong upper abs.

What should you do to get defined upper abs?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best way to get defined upper abs will vary depending on your individual body type and fitness goals. However, there are some general tips that can help you achieve your desired results.

First, it is important to focus on toning the muscles in your upper abdomen. When most people think of defined upper abs, they are really thinking of the rectus abdominis muscles. This is the “six-pack” muscle that runs vertically along the front of the abdomen.

To tone this muscle, you need to do exercises that target the upper ab muscles while also involving hip and spinal flexion. This can be done through a variety of exercises, such as sit-ups, crunches, and twists.

In addition, it is crucial to ensure that you perform hip and spinal flexion movements correctly. This means keeping your spine in a neutral position and avoiding rounding your shoulders or arching your back. Poor posture while exercising can lead to lower back pain.

A healthy diet is equally essential for achieving defined upper abs. By reducing your overall body fat percentage, you’ll be able to see your hard-earned muscle definition. So if you’re looking to get defined upper abs, focus on eating healthy and doing exercises that target the rectus abdominis muscle.

Following these tips can help target the muscles in your upper abdomen and get defined upper abs.

Best upper ab exercises without equipment

Some of the best ab workouts combine both hip and spinal flexion and target upper and lower abs at the same time. The upper abs [2]PubMed: Muscle activity in upper and lower rectus abdominus during abdominal exercises will be activated during movements that involve bringing your upper body toward the hips (spinal flexion). Given below is a list of exercises for upper abs and core muscles that you can easily do at home, without equipment.

1. Bicycle crunch 

The bicycle crunch is the most effective upper abdominal exercise when it comes to targeting abdominal muscles. The exercise targets your upper torso as well as lower abdominal muscles.

How to do:

  • Lie on your back on the yoga mat. Bend your knees while keeping your feet flat on the ground.
  • Support your upper body by placing your hands behind your head.
  • Bring your left knee towards your chest and lift your shoulder blades to bring your right elbow toward the knee. Keep the right leg straight.
  • Return to the original position with your hands overhead and knees bent.
  • Repeat with the other leg and hand.
Source: YouTube

2. Vertical leg crunch

Vertical Leg Crunch is one of the best upper ab workouts. This core exercise is similar to the basic crunch, except your legs here will be perpendicular to the ground.

How to do:

  • Lie on your back on the yoga mat. Place your hands behind your upper neck.
  • Raise your legs such that they are perpendicular to the ground. Make sure your lower spine is flat.
  • Bend your knees slightly if your flexibility levels make it challenging to keep your legs extended straight above.
  • Contract your core to prepare your body for the crunch.
  • Curl your upper body and lift your shoulders off the ground. Breathe out while you crunch. 
  • Pause for a few seconds.
  • Now inhale and slowly lower your upper body. This is one rep.
  • Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

3. Lying hip raises 

Ab workouts such as hip lifts that can be done without any gym equipment. This exercise for upper abs is like a reverse crunch that works on your glutes and upper abs.

How to do:

  • Begin this upper abs exercise by laying on your back on the yoga mat.
  • Keep your arms straight on the sides with palms facing down, knees bent, and feet hip-width apart.
  • Now exhale and lift your pelvis toward the ceiling while squeezing your glutes tightly.
  • Hold momentarily and then slowly lower your hips down as you inhale. This is one rep.
  • Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps each.
Source: YouTube

4. Hollow body hold

Hollow body hold is an isometric compound exercise that involves a lot of muscle activation from the rectus abdominis. This is one of the best upper core exercises that also work on the lower abs.

How to do:

  • Begin by laying on your back with your arms extended overhead and legs extended straight.
  • Make sure your lower back does not curve, and your back is flat on the floor.
  • Lift your arms off the ground.
  • Now engaging your core, draw your ribs toward the pelvis and flex your abs. Inhale while doing so.
  • Hold this position using your abs for a few seconds.
  • Now slowly lower your feet and go back to the starting position. This is one rep.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 reps each.
Source: YouTube

5. Plank walkout

This move works on the entire body, including upper abs, internal and external obliques, chest, back, and legs.

How to do:

  • Get into the plank position with your palms on the floor, spine straight, and toes touching the ground.
  • Keeping your toes planted on the ground, slowly start walking your hands away from your feet.
  • While doing so, you will move past the pushup position with your hands. You can move as far as you can. Just make sure to keep your abs engaged, glutes squeezed, and spine neutral.
  • Hold for a few seconds before coming back to the original plank position with your hands. This is one rep.
  • Do 3 sets of 5-7 reps each.
Source: YouTube

6. Sprinter situp

Sprinter sit-ups can’t be missed when it comes to upper core workouts or ab workouts at home. The movement involved in this exercise targets the rectus abdominis and obliques.

How to do:

  • Lie on your back with your legs extended straight.
  • Explosively sit up, bringing the right knee towards your chest and left arm forward at 90-degree. At this point, you should look as if you are running.
  • Quickly repeat the motion on the other side to complete a rep.
Source: YouTube

7. Plank toe touch

Plank toe touch is one of the most effective upper ab workouts. It targets your rectus abdominis and your transverse abdominis or inner core. 

How to do: 

  • Begin by getting into a plank position with your hands under your shoulders and feet a bit wider than hip-width.
  • While keeping lower abs engaged, lift your hips up and pull your body into an upside-down “V” shape 
  • As you do so, reach your left toe with your right hand.
  • Slowly return to the original position and repeat on the opposite side to complete a rep. That’s one rep.
  • Do 3 sets of 15-20 reps each.
Source: YouTube

8. Toe touch crunch

Toe reach or crunches is one of the easiest no-equipment upper body and ab workouts for beginners to try at home. 

How to do:

  • Lie on your back with your legs perpendicular to the ground.
  • Keeping your lower back pressed into the mat, lift your shoulders and arms to reach your toes.
  • Then slowly lower back down to the starting position. That’s one rep.
  • Do as many reps as you can in 5-10 minutes.
Source: YouTube

9. Alternating leg lowers

If you are new to upper abdomen workout, try alternating leg lowers as it effectively targets your rectus abdominis, inner core, and obliques.

How to do:

  • Start by lying on your back with both legs perpendicular to the ground. Keep your arms straight on your sides with palms facing down.
  • Without bending the knees or arching your back, lower one leg as far as you can. Try not to touch the ground.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. This is one rep.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps. 
  • Do a total of 3 sets.
Source: YouTube

30-minute upper abs workout sample plan

S.No. Upper Ab ExercisesSets Reps
1Bicycle crunch 312
2Vertical leg crunch310-12
3Lying hip raises310-12
4Hollow body hold 310
5Plank walkout 35-7
6Sprinter situp310-12
7Plank toe touch315-20
8Toe touch crunch310-12
9Alternating leg lowers310-12

Tips to follow while doing upper ab workout

Follow these tips to make the most of your upper abs workout: 

  1. Maintain a strong core while doing a bicycle crunch, and make sure to keep your lower back on the floor. The movement should come from the ribs as you touch your elbow to your knee.
  2. Again, use your core while doing crunches, and make sure your lower back is in constant contact with the ground. 
  3. When performing a plank, maintain a tight core. Squeeze your glutes and keep your hips raised.
  4. While doing vertical crunches, always use your core muscles. If you cannot stabilize your legs, cross them. Also, don’t tilt your head forward to prevent strain on your neck. 
  5. Do not lift your head or neck while doing lying hip raises. Engage your abs while drawing the pelvis into the rib cage.
  6. Do not arch your back while doing hollow body holds.
  7. When performing sit-ups, recruit more ab muscles and fewer hip muscles to execute the movement rightly.


It’s important to keep your entire core strong by performing a variety of upper and lower ab exercises. However, if you want to target your upper abs, there are specific ab workouts that activate the top portion of the rectus abdominis. Perform no-equipment ab exercise at home, such as crunches, sit-ups, planks, lying hip raises, and hollow body hold. You can also do weighted ab workouts for increased resistance and effectiveness. Heavy weights may hinder your exercise. You should only use those weights which do not put strain on your body and does not stop you from exercising.

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