Floor Exercises for Upper, Lower, and Side Oblique Abdominal Muscles

Updated on September 13, 2016

The best part about floor exercises for abs is that they can be done anywhere, and you certainly don’t need access to a gym. Keep in mind, however, that your abs have multiple components—upper, lower, and side muscles—so you will want to incorporate a variety of abdominal exercises into your floor routine in order to hit them all.

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Crunches for Upper and Lower Abs

The most basic of all abdominal exercises is the crunch.

  • Lying on your back, raise your knees as shown in the photo above so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor.
  • Then, using your hands to support your head, roll your shoulders and torso toward your knees in a smooth crunch motion. Avoid “hopping”, and DO NOT pull on your head and neck with your hands! Make sure that you are using your hands only to support your head if your neck gets tired. If your neck does not get tired, go ahead and fold your hands over your chest in a “mummy” position (this will also make the crunch more challenging).
  • As you crunch, only return to the point where your shoulders are about an inch or two off of the ground so that tension is kept on your abs. If this is too difficult, slowly work up to it (but again, don’t pull on your head and neck to try to force it). One alternative is to simply rest your feet on the ground with your knees in the air while crunching your upper abs—this will make the exercise a little bit easier.
  • If you want to make the exercise more challenging, each time you crunch your upper torso, simultaneously raise and lower your knees up to the position in the photo (thus crunching both your upper and lower abs at the same time). For extra resistance, move very slowly as you crunch and hold your shoulders and feet off of the ground for several seconds between crunches (keeping tension on the abs).

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Leg Lifts and Hip Raises (or Reverse Crunches) for Lower Abs

To put more focus on your lower abs, try leg raises. If leg raises are too difficult, you can simply raise your knees (as if you were doing a crunch) and work up to exercising with straighter and straighter legs. Here is the standard method.

  • Put your hands flat under your butt with palms facing down. If this is too hard on your back, simply put them next to your butt with your arms alongside your body or rest your arms over your head (but not under your head). The latter is handy when trying to keep headphones from sliding off.
  • Slowly raise your legs to vertical and then lower back down. Only lower your legs to within a couple of inches of the floor so that tension is kept on the lower abs. If this is too difficult, then slowly work up to it or start with bent knees. You can also put some books or other object under your feet to shorten the range of motion and make the exercise easier, but only do this if you absolutely need it.
  • If you want to make the exercise more challenging, keep you head raised off of the ground as you do the exercise, as shown in the photo.

Hip raises are another way to work the lower abs.

  • Simply extend your legs straight into the air above your hips with your feet together and lift them straight up by lifting your hips. Also known as a reverse crunch, this technique is illustrated several ways in the video below (from eHowFitness).

Hip Raise Exercises for the Abs

Side Crunches for Obliques (Side Abs)

No abdominal workout is complete without working your obliques—these are the abdominal muscles on your sides.

  • To work your left obliques, roll onto your right side with your legs bent. Leave your left knee pointed upward while your right knee and leg is flat to the right.
  • Touch your left hand to your left ear with your elbow pointed toward your left knee, and then use this position to move your left elbow toward your left knee in a crunch motion. You should feel the work in your left side.
  • As with all crunches, try not to return your head all the way to the floor between crunches so that you are keeping tension on the oblique muscles the entire time.
  • To work your right obliques, simply roll to the other side, reposition with your right knee up and right hand to your ear, and then crunch with your right elbow moving toward your right knee. An alternative method is illustrated in the video below (by Scott Herman Fitness):

Side Crunches

Twist and Bicycle Crunches

To add more movement and challenge to your floor ab routine, try twist crunches.

  • As you crunch, position your hands on the sides of your head and rotate your left elbow toward your right knee for the first crunch, then alternate and rotate your right elbow toward your right knee.
  • Continue alternating with each crunch for a twist motion. Alternatively, you can move your elbows and knees toward each other in a bicycle motion, which is illustrated in this video (by LIVESTRONG.com).

How to Do the Bicycle

What About Sit-ups?

From Rocky to your high school gym class, sit-ups seem to be a staple of fitness. Yet, how well do they actually work the abs compared to other exercises? While they represent the stereotypical abdominal workout, they really incorporate more of the hip muscles, particularly at the end when you are, well, sitting up. If we eliminate that part, then you are simply left with the basic crunch, which remains the ideal exercise for isolating the abdominal muscles. Plus, you never need someone to stand on your feet to hold them in place while doing a crunch.

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