Best Exercises for a Flat Stomach

Get-Fit Guy looks at the most recent scientific studies to determine the two best (and surprising) exercises for a flat stomach. 

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #145

How to Get a Flat Stomach

I remember when I was 16 years old I saw an amazing contraption advertised on TV. It was a special device designed to hold up against your stomach while you engaged in a maximum abdominal contraction. It promised a fast six-pack and a mid-section that would surely turn heads at the beach. With my hard-earned money, I ordered the device and it arrived at my house a week later. I excitedly unwrapped it to find a cheap, plastic piece of equipment that I managed to break within a month. And unfortunately, my abs didn’t get any tighter.

Despite the unproven efficacy of made-for-TV stomach flattening, ab tightening and six-pack promising exercise devices, health clubs, home gyms, and exercise enthusiasts everywhere continue to amass everything from ab rollers to crunch machines to electrical muscle stimulators – all in the hopes of chasing the elusive flat abs..


Do Ab Machines Work?

So do any of these ab machines actually work? The short answer is: yes – but much less than you think.

Here’s how:

In the episode How to Get a Flat Stomach, I explain that the best way to get a flat stomach is to include a workout made up of exercises that target all the muscles of your midsection, including your rectus abdominis (front of your abs), the external and internal obliques (sides of your abs), the transverses abdominis (bottom of your abs), and also the postural muscles of your low back. If you can somehow work all of these muscle groups into a single workout, then you can quickly, safely, and successfully get a flat stomach. In  A Flat Stomach Exercise Routine I explain how to do a routine just like this.

But the problem is that most popular ab machines only target just one or a few of these muscle groups. And a few ab machines work all of these muscle groups, but elicit a very light contraction that isn’t strong enough to actually burn significant calories or tone stomach muscles.  

Just a few examples of common ab exercises or ab machines that are “flawed” in this manner include:

-Crunches (only work the front of the abs, without a very strong contraction)

-The Ab Crunch Machine that you sit in at the gym (mostly just works your hip flexor “sitting” muscles, not your stomach)

-The Ab Roller machines designed to help you do better sit-ups and crunches without cheating (better than the crunch, but only work the front of your abs, and don’t provide much resistance at all)

-Bosu Balls and Big Exercise Balls (hyperextend your spine, which increases risk of low back injury, and only work the front of your abs)


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.