High-Performance Vegan Letters

4 Best Exercises To Build a Strong Set of Abs

letters May 21, 2024

I used to dream of being lean.

Growing up I was scrawny.

My ribcage showed nearly throughout my entire teens.

Going into my late teens and early 20’s, I was determined to build muscle.

I did.

But I failed and gained too much fat.

Years later after training for over a decade with weights and putting on considerable size, I was determined to try again.

This time?

I succeeded.

The difference?

I didn’t try to do it by myself.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the smartest minds in the fitness world as mentors (and still do).

There’s a lot of things in exercise that don't work.

Yet, what works isn’t always as sexy as what does not work.

But if you want sustainable results you can keep for life - boring beats sexy any day.

Part of my mission when getting lean was finding the right core exercises.

This rabbit hole can lead you down 10,000 reddit threads or YouTube videos.

Ignore those and use these proven core exercises that have been scientifically verified to give you the best bang for your time.

​According to Nick Tumminello, one of the world’s leading trainers, your core muscles should help:

“‌Create movement:‌ If you're standing upright and bend forward at your waist as fast as you can — like a boxer ducking a punch — you'll feel your abs activate.

‌Counterbalance movement:‌ If you were to start leaning backward from standing, you'll again feel your abs activate, but this time in a different way. Your abs are doing the opposite of what anatomy books tell you. Rather than flexing your spine, those muscles are fighting the extension of your spine to keep you from falling over.

‌Resist movement:‌ Imagine you're standing upright with your arms reaching straight out at shoulder height, hands locked together. If a friend were to push your arms to one side, how would you resist their efforts? Your abs.

‌Rotational movement:‌ Imagine you're facing forward and twisting your torso to the right. Your core helps you rotate your torso while keeping your spine and pelvis safe.”

​According to the American Council on Exercise, there was a study in 2001 on the best and worst ab exercises, ranking them from most to least effective.

Here’s the top 4 core exercise to build a strong set of abs (plus how to perform them):

#1 Bicycle Crunches

  1. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head, elbows out.
  2. Raise your head, neck and shoulders off the floor by engaging your abs.
  3. Twist to your left side, bending your right knee in toward your chest as you bring your left elbow to meet it.
  4. Return to center and repeat with the opposite arm and leg.

#2 Knee Raises

  1. Hold onto a pull-up bar at about shoulder-width distance.
  2. Keeping your body steady and arms straight, bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, pulling them up toward your chest.
  3. Hold here for a moment.
  4. Reverse the motion and straighten your legs back to the starting position.

#3 Stability Ball Crunches

  1. Lie face-up with your lower back supported on top of the stability ball, feet flat on the floor and knees bent to 90 degrees.
  2. Raise your head and shoulders and pull your rib cage toward your pelvis.
  3. Hold briefly, then return to the start.

#4 Swiss Ball Plank

  1. Start in a push-up position with your hands on top of a Swiss ball.
  2. Come down to your elbows, keeping your legs straight, body in a line from head to hips to heels.
  3. Keeping your core tight, hold this position.

If you want to build your core, start with a straightforward protocol like 2-3 sets per exercise between 12-15 reps and plank for 30-60 seconds.

As you adapt to the exercise, you can gradually increase the volume (sets and reps) over time.

As a reminder, having the best core exercises in the world won’t reveal your leanness or definition UNTIL you pair this with your nutrition.

Core exercises build the musculature.

Nutrition reveals your definition and core.

Eating in a moderate caloric deficit by eating less food and increasing your overall activity by lifting weights and staying active is how you’ll showcase your lean, toned, abs.

And the best part?

You don’t need to master this all at once.


If you’ve got 10-20 pounds to drop and reveal your abs, give yourself between 12-18 weeks to get lean enough to see your abs.

(if you have more to drop, give yourself more time - typically you’ll average 1 pound of body fat loss per week after your initial water weight loss).

If you want support or guidance on how to do this for this summer, apply here for one of our June openings. â€‹

We’re currently taking on a small group of students who want to drop 10-30 lbs while toning up and getting healthy and in the best shape.

If that’s you, apply for a spot and I’d be happy to see if we’d be a good match to support you.

So as a recap:

  • The 4 best core exercises are bicycle crunches, knee raises, stability ball crunch, and swiss ball plank
  • Abs are revealed in the kitchen but built in the gym
  • You average 1 pound of body fat loss per week when you want to see sustainable results
  • Accelerate your results and shortcut the time to reach your plant based fitness goals by applying for a coaching roster spot here (spots go to first applications; first come, first serve, then waiting list for summer).

One final thought - core exercises are one of the most powerful ways to improve your quality of life.

While you’ll engage and use your core in many of the major strength training lifts (like squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc), having a simple core training plan can massively improve your body’s resilience especially as you age.

Mayo Clinic has a solid reminder of the importance of having a strong core:

“Weak core muscles can leave you more prone to poor posture, lower back pain and muscle injuries. Strengthening your core muscles may help back pain get better and lower the risk of falls.”

When it comes to health, keep in mind your time horizon.

When I workout now, it’s no longer about showing my abs (although it’s still nice to be lean).

When I workout now, it’s for my 80 year self.

It’s for my future grandkids.

It’s for traveling the world when I’m 90 and living a high quality of life.

What you do matters.

And your future self will thank you for investing into yourself.

- Gabriel

Whenever you're ready, there are three ways I can help you:

#1 Join our free high-performance fitness FB group to get access to dozens of free live trainings recorded, plus a tight-knit group of leaders who want to become healthy role models.

#2 Are you a high achiever who wants to be lean, strong, and lead by example? Apply for private 1:1 coaching and get in the best shape of your life (2-week waiting list).

#3 Want to fuel your fitness curiosity and follow along with the latest findings, insights, and evidence-based practices? Let's be friends on Facebook and Instagram. :)


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