When we dream about being more physically fit, it’s often visions of flat, toned abs that dance in our heads. The internet is full of ab exercises, ab machines and ab equipment to help you achieve these goals, so clearly we are not alone in this dream. Most of human existence yearns for a more toned tummy.
If you are overweight, sadly no amount of abdominal exercise will melt your belly fat. You have to lose weight for a six pack to be able to emerge. The trifecta for losing weight has always been cardio exercise, reduced calorie intake and healthier food choices. You’ll want to tackle those three in conjunction with doing abdominal exercises.
A cardiovascular workout is any exercise that raises your heart rate using large muscle movements. Examples are aerobics, running, bike riding, brisk walking and swimming. A general rule of thumb is if you aren’t sweating, you aren’t doing cardio.
Abs vs. Core
You’ll hear people talking about ab training and core training. What’s the difference? Your abs are a part of your core. Located in your midsection, your core is a group of muscles that stabilizes your spine and supports all of your body’s movements. In addition to the abdominal muscles, your core includes the pelvic floor muscles and back muscles. A weak core often results in chronic back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction and other musculoskeletal issues. Core strengthening exercises are even more important than just straight abdominal exercises because they train the muscles to be able to work together more effectively, providing the body with the support it needs.
There are four muscles in the abdominal group that you will hear about when researching exercises and exercise equipment:
- Rectus abdominis – these are the muscles that you are seeing in the six pack. These move the body in the area between the ribs and pelvis.
- Transversus abdominis – these are the deeper abdominal muscles underneath the rectus abdominis. They stabilize and support the trunk.
- External and internal oblique muscles – these muscle groups are on the sides of your body and are what makes it possible for you to twist and turn.
The most effective ab machines will work those four muscle groups as well as your other core muscles.
Why Use a Machine
Some may argue you can work your abs just fine without any equipment at all. All you need is a floor and sit-ups and crunches. The problem with these traditional ab exercises is they don’t work your whole core. They are hard on your back and neck. Sit-ups and crunches also don’t always work your abdominal muscles effectively, because your hip flexors can take over, doing most of the work if you aren’t maintaining the proper form.
Those are just a few of the reasons that an ab machine might be a better option for you. Ab machines help reduce the strain on your body that traditional abdominal exercise don’t. Usually they provide added support for your back and neck, making it easier to work your core without hurting those areas.
Most ab machines also target your whole core muscles and not just your abdominal muscles. They also typically allow you to do a wider range of exercises than you would be able to do without them. And most importantly, they help you maintain the proper form and posture for doing the exercises to protect yourself from injury and achieve the maximum results.
Types of Machines
There are several different kinds of machines on the market. We are going to look at some of the most popular types and then give you a recommended product.
An ab roller, also known as an ab wheel, is simply a wheel with two handles sticking out of the sides to hold onto with your palms facing downward. Typically, users start out kneeling or standing. They then engage their abdominal muscles and roll the wheel away from them and then back toward them while keeping their back straight. There are many different variations of ab roller exercises that you can find online. It’s a very inexpensive exercise tool to add to your home gym.
An ab roller works more than just your abdominal muscles. It also tones your back, legs, shoulders, arms and wrists. They came onto the scene in 1968 but really didn’t catch on in popularity until the 80’s.
Ab rollers are a tough egg to crack for people who are out of shape. They require a significant amount of upper body and back strength to be able to do. You might want to start out with other strengthening exercises first before trying an ab roller. Whatever you decide, make sure you go slow and steady to maintain control of your wheel. If you don’t, your dentist might be happy to see you, but you probably won’t be happy to see him.
There are scores of ab rollers on the market. To save you a whole lot of work, we can confidently recommend the Perfect Fitness Ab Carver Pro.
The product was created by former US Navy Seal Aiden Mills. After leaving the military, Mills got his master’s degree in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University. He took the principles he learned about functional exercising to prevent injury in the military and applied to the fitness products his company Perfect Fitness creates today.
The magic of the Perfect Fitness Ab Carver Pro is in the wheel. It’s ultra wide, providing more stability than the average ab roller. This makes it easier to maintain your balance, taking off some of the strain on your lower back. The wheel is also slightly angled, making it easier to work your oblique muscles by rolling out from one side to the other.
Inside the wheel is a carbon steel spring to provide added resistance as you roll the wheel forward. It also has a special safety feature that will lock to prevent the wheel from rolling out too far and losing control of it. The spring also assists you to roll the wheel back.
- Internal spring provides resistance.
- Ergonomic handles angle downward, engaging your tricep muscles rather than your shoulders.
- High density foam knee pad comes with it.
- Includes 21 day work-out plan.
- Good for all skill levels.
- Very stable and durable.
- 1 year manufacturer’s warranty.
- Handles are removable for easy stowing.
- More expensive than other ab rollers on the market.
- Easy to get hurt if you don’t maintain proper form.
Next on our list of ab machines is the ab glider. There are a couple different renditions of an ab glider on the market. This is a machine that simulates a crunch while controlling your movement, ensuring you stay in proper form and taking the stress off your back and neck. Basically it consists of a seat that you kneel on that glides along a curved track. There are handles to grasp onto or a deck to anchor your upper body in. You move the seat along the track while drawing your knees up to your chest.
The product functions similarly to doing a hanging leg raise but makes it possible for the average person to do it. A traditional hanging leg raise involves hanging suspended from a pull-up bar by your hands and then drawing your knees to your chest. This exercise sculpts the lower abs upward which traditional crunches are unable to do.
Now you too can do a hanging leg raise with the beauty of the ab glider. We’ve researched the products available out there and recommend the Ab Coaster.
The Ab Coaster first came onto the market in 2007 and was created by the Abs Company out of New Jersey. Today their professional line Ab Coasters are in around 10,000 fitness clubs and gyms across the country. They also have a home line for your own personal gym, which is what we are talking about today. The Ab Coaster comes in three different home models.
This is the base model for the Ab Coaster.
Size: L 51” x W 25” x H 50”
Weight: 70 pounds
Resistance: Add up to 20 pounds
User Limit: 300 pounds
Warranty: 1 year on frame and 90 day warranty on the roller bearings and knee pads.
This model features adjustable hand grips and new stronger, thicker handles, a free-style motion seat and upgraded front and rear legs.
Size: L 53” x W 27” x H 53”
Weight: 90 pounds
Resistance: Add up to 30 pounds
User Limit: 400 pounds
Warranty: 1 year on frame and 90 day warranty on the roller bearings and knee pads.
This model is the same as the PS500 in size and weight but sturdier. Free motion seat like the CS1500, as well as a bonus exercise mat and 5 pound weight set. Lifetime limited warranty.
- Exercises your abs from bottom up, which sit-ups and crunches don’t do.
- Eliminates hip flexor movement to ensure abs are getting the full work-out.
- Easier on the back and neck because it stabilizes your upper body.
- Digital counter to keep track of your reps.
- Quality construction of durable, heavy-duty steel.
- Assembly required.
- Easy to cheat on exercises by using momentum instead of slow, controlled movements that work your abs.
- Risk of injury if you go too fast, do too many reps or add weights too soon.
- Hard on knees – if you have knee trouble, you might have difficulty kneeling to perform the exercise.
There are several ab benches on the market that help you to tone your abs by doing enhanced sit-ups, as well as leg raises and crunches. An ab bench looks similar to a weight bench, except it is angled and has a leg roller on one end to drape your knees over and a second lower roller to hook your feet under to anchor yourself in. The angled bench gives you the added benefit of additional resistance from your own body weight as you perform sit-ups and crunches. Most benches are adjustable allowing you to make the angle steeper or shallower. The steeper the angle, the more resistance, the more challenging the work-out on your abs.
To use an ab bench, you get your legs anchored in place, then engage your abdominal muscles, cross your arms over your chest and slowly lower yourself down on the bench, keeping your back rounded as you go. Then you will reverse the process to come back up. You can find lots of videos on YouTube showing you the proper way to use an ab bench and the various exercises you can do.
One great ab bench we can recommend is the XMark 12 Position. It offers 12 different adjustment angles to control the steepness of the bench. It is a larger piece of equipment at 61” L x 20” W x 47” H and weighs 40 pounds with a 400 pound user weight capacity. The XMark bench features a sturdy steel frame and an extra thick cushion, made of tear-resistant vinyl.
- 12 different angles to work in.
- Comfortable cushion.
- Quick assembly.
- Sturdy, quality construction.
- Vertical grip handle to help you get on and off the machine.
- Good customer service.
- Some users complain of the caps popping off that hold the leg rollers in place.
- Takes up quite a bit of space.
Another type of ab machine with a dual purpose to strengthen the lower back and the abs is a Roman chair. It’s also known as a hyperextension machine. The term “Roman Chair” is rather misleading because you are definitely not sitting in a chair. It kind of looks like a torture device.
You lie face down with your hips supported by a pad and your legs hooked under a roller. Your upper body has nothing under it so you are just supporting it with your back and abs. Your arms are folded across your chest. You inhale and bend forward at the hips toward the floor, and exhale and straighten the body back up. Obviously this exercise will be very difficult for someone with back issues and care must be taken not to injure yourself.
We found a great combo of a Roman chair and an ab bench that we recommend trying – the Stamina Pro Ab/Hyper Bench. This gives you two types of ab machines in one! It is made of a heavy duty steel construction with a thickly padded bench and foam rollers. The footrest, backrest and thigh support are all adjustable to accommodate your height and the type of workout you want to do. It’s a pretty cool little machine and takes up less space than the XMark ab bench but weighs about the same.
- Work -out back and abs on one machine.
- Easy assembly.
- Stable and solid.
- Good for homes where you don’t have much gym space.
- Not ideal for taller people.
- Locking pins can slide out. Several users report replacing them with something more secure.
There are also ab machines called ab chairs that boast you can work out your abs while sitting in front of the television. They look like a mix between a lawn chair and amusement park ride. Users work their abs through some kind of folding mechanism on the chair. This type of equipment is really good for beginners who don’t have a lot of core strength yet. It provides back support while you are doing crunches. Some chairs offer added resistance to crank up as your muscles get stronger.
A great ab chair on the market is the Ab Lounge XL. It’s so comfy you might find yourself just sitting in it, even when you aren’t exercising. It has a great range of motion, letting you safely lean back over 180 degrees. The cool thing about the Ab Lounge is you can work your core without lying on the floor or straining your back and neck.
- Breathable mesh seat that will keep you cool.
- Padded handles on each side to grip.
- Adjustable foot pedals for any height.
- Quick release folding system for easy stowing and opening.
- Comes with an Ab Blasting DVD with multiple work-outs.
- Assembly takes awhile.
- Not as durable as other ab machines.
Another popular ab chair is the Ab Rocket Twister Abdominal Trainer. This one looks more like an amusement park ride than a chair. The back and head rest is made of padded massage rollers. Instead of just the backward and forward motion the Ab Lounge XL has, this chair also lets you work your obliques by being able to twist the seat from side to side. The chair back also has resistance springs that you can set at three different levels. The trainer comes with a low calorie meal plan and four DVD workouts. The chair is 24” L x 7 “ W x 14” H and weighs about 10 pounds. It folds flat for storage, making it a nice addition if you live in an apartment or small home.
Other Ab Machines
There are also several home gyms out there that work your abs in addition to many other muscles in your body, which might be a great option for people with limited space in their home gym. The problem with these is they are typically very expensive and unless you plan on using religiously might not be worth your investment.
Another ab machine is a power tower, also known as a captain’s chair. Ironically this chair is missing its seat. It’s really just a frame with forearm pads and a pull-up bar that you use to build upper body strength and abdominal muscles. Remember those hanging leg raises we talked about earlier? This is where you do them. However if you are anything like me, this is a piece of equipment you will never get on. I just don’t have the upper body or abdominal strength.
Another gym accessory that can help you work your abs without technically being a machine is an exercise ball. There are many different exercises out there for people who want to try out this fun form of exercise.
Wrapping It Up
There really are a ton of options out there when it comes to ab machines for building up your core muscles. Consider your physical limitations and the kind of exercises you like to do to help you zone in on one that’s right for you. We recommended several great machines in this article that can help you get results.