Ready to build a rock-solid core? Here is a look at the best machines at the gym for stronger abs, including muscles worked and benefits.
Put in the hours at the gym, and you really can get that six-pack!
Make no mistake: building a six-pack is one of the hardest things you can do. Not only do you have to build serious muscle, but you’ll also have to drop to a very low body fat percentage.
But it’s well worth the effort, not just for the look, but also for the core strength and resilience against injuries.
If you’re serious about building that six-pack, there are a few gym machines that can help you to do it properly.
Some of the machines are designed specifically for building abs, others can be modified to target your abs, or are versatile enough they accommodate a lot of ab-focused exercises.
In this article, we will look at the most effective gym machines for training abs, why you should use a machine, and more.
Let’s jump in.
Benefits of Using a Machine for Abs
Why should you consider using exercise machines for your abs rather than just sticking with bodyweight and free-moving exercises like planks, crunches, and leg raises?
There are two key reasons to introduce machines into your ab and core workouts:
1) Easier targeting.
Ab machines let you specifically focus on your abs muscles, isolating the muscles so that you only recruit your abs as you work out.
They are constructed to provide support for your upper and/or lower body (depending on the exercise) so that only your abs are working.
This enables you to target the specific part of your abs that you want to focus on, enabling you to build better strength and resiliency overall.
2) Plenty of options.
If you’re trying to engage the lower abdominal muscles that work with your hips to move your legs, there’s a machine for that.
If your goal is to focus on the upper abs that move your torso, there’s a machine for that. If you want to work your abs and obliques at the same time, there’s a machine for that, too!
In fact, there are probably more abs-focused gym machines than you can use in a single workout.
The variety gives you all the training approaches you could want or ask for, and you have plenty of options on how to best build abs muscles.
3) Good stabilization.
One thing that many people struggle with when first working their abs is maintaining a stable upper or lower body.
For example, if you’re doing crunches, you may find your legs are unsteady and frequently moving while you’re crunching your upper body. Or if you’re trying to do leg raises, your leg movements cause instability in your upper body.
But abs machines provide you with a stable, supported place to work from. The machines will ensure that the parts of your body not in use remain immobile and you have a solid object to brace against. This will help you to train far more effectively and with less jerking and shifting which could put your joints at risk.
4) Greater resistance.
Let’s say you’ve been working out a while, and you spend a few hours a week training your abs. Over time, you’ll develop greater strength in your muscles, to the point where you can knock out a set of 30-50 crunches without breaking a sweat, or leg raises just don’t cut it anymore.
You may find it can be tricky to make these basic exercises harder to push your muscles to fatigue. This leads to “plateau-ing”, meaning you no longer continue to make progress in your strength gains.
Enter abs machines!
These machines typically include weight that provide resistance, resistance you can keep increasing as your muscles grow stronger. You’ll always be able to keep pushing harder and lifting heavier thanks to these abs machines.
As you can see, there are a lot of great reasons to include machine-based exercises into your workouts.
You’ll not only have more options, but your training efforts will go farther and result in better growth because of the added weight/resistance.
The Best Gym Machines for Abs and Core
Machine #1: Leg Lift Station
The leg left station is one of the best machines to use to build serious strength in your lower abs and hip muscles.
With this machine, you stabilize your upper body against the back pad, supporting your weight using your arms, and you lift your legs using only the strength in your abs (with some help from the hip muscles).
Because it’s working your lower body (lifting your legs), it’s your lower abs that get all the attention. However, it will train your body specifically for a movement that you perform in your activities of daily life, meaning you’ll develop more functional strength than you would doing crunches or planks.
Fair warning: leg lifts are not easy. Beginners may not have sufficient abs strength to do them, and even as you advance, it’s easy to compromise your form or swing your legs in order to complete your sets.
Focus on maintaining your form and performing each repetition correctly, even if it means you can only knock out a few reps.
The results in the long term will be significantly better if you train this way!
? Honorable Mention: Pull-Up Bar. If you really want to double down on the awesomeness of leg lifts, do them while hanging from a pull-up bar. This will work your grip strength and arms while also forcing your core muscles to work extra hard to maintain stability while you lift your legs. It’s a truly game-changing exercise that’s well worth including in your workout repertoire!
Machine #2: Ab Roller
The ab roller is a super simple piece of exercise equipment that is an absolute beast for developing core strength and stability.
Unlike traditional ab exercises like crunches, the ab roller is used for ab rollouts, an exercise that is anti-extension in nature.
As you roll your arms above your head, the core–including lower back, shoulder stabilizers, and more–all fire like crazy to keep your back bending and collapsing.
Because they are so intense, you don’t need to do a ton of repetitions to get a lot of benefit from this exercise. For most lifters, doing a few sets of 5-12 reps will be more than sufficient for thoroughly engaging and recruiting the core muscles, making it an excellent “machine” for building abs on a time-budget.
The ab roller is also one of the essential ab machines for home gyms–the low price, low space requirements, and flexibility in its use make it the best “no frills” ab machine on the market.
Machine #3: Smith Machine
The Smith machine isn’t the machine most people immediately think of when picturing abs workouts, but you’ll be amazed by how many options there are for training your abs! A few of my favorite include:
- Smith machine crunches
- Smith machine sit-ups
- Smith machine reverse crunches
All of these will work your abs similar to the way free weights do, but because the barbell is locked to the sliding rail, there is greater stability and lower injury risk.
Definitely worth giving these exercises a try!
Machine #4: Core Slider
The core slider machine is built specifically to encourage a crunching motion (bringing your knees to your chest) while offering maximum support for your upper and lower body.
You rest your elbows on the arm pads and grip the bars, while your knees rest on the knee pads and your feet hang off the end.
With each repetition, you crunch your abs to bring your knees up toward your elbows, then keep the abs engaged to lower your legs slowly back down under control to your starting point.
The focus is on the lower abs, but like with the leg lift station, it recruits your hip muscles, too, helping to develop greater strength in the muscles that lift your legs out in front of you.
You’ll find that focusing on this particular ab exercise will do wonders to help you run faster and farther with less strain on your hips, and it’ll also help to burn the fat around your waistline and lower belly specifically.
Machine #5: Cable Machine
I love how many cable machine core exercise options there are!
Because of how versatile and adaptable the cable machine is, you can use it for a wide range of abs-focused exercises, including:
- Cable ab crunches
- Cable machine twists
- Wood choppers
- Cable reverse crunches
- Pallof press
Best of all, cable machines allow you to raise or lower the weights in small increments (often as low as 5 or 10 pounds) so you can raise the resistance slowly as you develop strength.
You can find exercises that target your upper abs, lower abs, your obliques, or all three. Few machines are as versatile for training—not just abs training, but training all muscles—like the cable machine!
Machine #6: Ab Bench
The ab bench is a simple but incredibly practical piece of gym equipment, one that will help you take the effectiveness of your core training sessions to the next level.
It’s pretty similar in design to a standard weight bench, but with one useful addition: leg rollers, which allow you to lock your legs in place so you can brace against the bench while crunching or raising your torso.
The bench will also raise and lower on the leg-side (rather than the upper body side, like the benches you use for bench presses). You can do a wide range of exercises—from decline crunches to leg lifts to bicycles to torso raises.
And because it can be adjusted flat, it doubles as a great weight bench to pair with a bench press, squat rack, or Smith machine.
Machine #7: Ab Crunch Machine
The ab crunch machine is a bigger, more intricate machine that uses a system of pulleys to add resistance to your ab crunches.
Essentially, you sit on a bench, grip the handles, and lock your legs into the leg pads.
Engaging your core allows you to either pull your upper body forward and down (for more upper abs focus), raise your knees toward your elbows (for more lower body focus), or move both upper and lower body (for better overall abs training).
The machine also features adjustable resistance so you can raise or lower the difficulty according to your conditioning.
While it’s not the best machine in the gym—it isolates your abs muscles, so it won’t improve stability in your core—it’s a great way to target your abs for a more effective, isolated workout. Use it as a “finisher” once you’ve done all those planks, crunches, and leg lifts.
Machine #8: Rowing Machine
Using the rowing machine for a rowing workout is already a great way to target your abs muscles.
Every time you lean back and pull the bar to your stomach at the end of your rowing stroke, your abs muscles have to engage to maintain stability and finish the pulling effort.
This can do wonders to build ab strength and resilience.
However, for specifically targeting your abs muscles, you can adapt the rowing machine in a very unique and effective way.
Get into a push-up/plank position with your hands on the floor and your feet on the rowing machine seat. Engage your core to slide your legs forward to bring your knees toward your chest, then keep it engaged as you slide your legs backward.
This type of “plank crunches” can be an amazing solution for building a stronger core and hips.
Machine #9: GHD Machine
The Glute-Hamstring Developer is a machine popular in most gyms due to how effective it is for training your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.
But with one simple modification, you can turn it into a game-changing abs machine.
All you have to do is turn around so you face upward instead of down. Your legs can still be braced the same way they are when you do glute-ham raises, and your butt/legs will be resting on the thigh pad.
Now you can knock out as many crunches as you want, and the focus will be on your upper abs (because your legs are braced/immobilized).
It’s a great way to pay attention to your crunch form and give your abs some extra love on a highly effective, efficient machine!
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there are a lot of options to help you hit your abs at the gym!
Some of these machines I listed above are purpose-built for targeting your abs, while others are more general-focused options that can be adapted specifically for the muscle you want to train.
Some—like the pull-up bar and rowing machine—are intended to target other muscles completely but are easily used for shredding your abs.
However you work out, either using just your bodyweight or these machines, know that no time spent training your abs is ever wasted.
Not only will ever abs training session bring you one step closer to finally seeing that six-pack, but you’ll increase resilience in your core muscles and drastically reduce your risk of lower back injuries.
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