The 5 Best Abs-Sculpting Machines At The Gym

Ever heard of GHB situps?

Mallory Creveling |

Crunches, situps, and planks might consistently make an appearance in your core workout. But sometimes you need a fresh twist to your routine (or a starting point if you’re new to the sweat scene) to keep your muscles challenged and your midsection working hard. Enter: abs machines.

“If you’re new to exercise, it can be tough to know when you’re actually engaging your core, which can sometimes lead to lower back pain,” says Angela Gargano, a personal trainer at Performix House in NYC. “Doing basic exercises with a machine can help beginners become strong enough to do bodyweight exercises correctly on their own.”

As for those already working on sculpting a six-pack, machine assistance can make your core-focused workout a little more challenging and a lot more fun. “A machine is helpful in amplifying the workout, so you can continue to strengthen that core effectively,” Gargano says.

To start building every muscle of your midsection, try the five exercises below the next time you’re at the gym. Keep in mind, you should never feel these exercises in your back. “If you do, make sure you re-adjust your weight and check your form,” says Gargano. “Always make sure to inhale and do a big exhale while you are engaging your core to get the most out of each exercise.”

1. Cable Machine Pallof Press


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How to: With the side of your body facing the cable machine, grab one of the handles with both hands. Take a few steps away from the machine, so you feel resistance on the cable handle. Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees soft, and arms straight out in front of you, in line with your chest. Keeping your hips and shoulders steady, pull the handle back toward your belly button. Then press it back out and repeat. The goal of this anti-rotation exercise is to resist the pull of the machine on your side, keeping your body in one strong line.

Targets: transverse abdominis and multifidus

What to know: “There are so many exercises you can do [with a cable machine] that help work those core stabilizer muscles,” says Gargano. For this move, it’s not necessarily better to increase the weight of the machine a ton—you want it to be challenging, but not so difficult that you can’t maintain control, she says.

2. Rowing Machine Knee Tuck


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How to: Begin at the back of the machine, facing away from the console. Place your hands on the ground, and carefully place both feet on top of the seat. Maintaining a strong plank with shoulders right over the wrists and forming a straight line from shoulders to heels, use your core to drive your knees toward your chest, stopping in line with the hips. Then, send them straight back out and repeat. When you feel confident in this move, perform a pike by keeping your legs straight and using your core to lift your hips toward the ceiling. (See below.)


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Targets: rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques

What to know: The rower doesn’t only work well for a kicked up cardio workout—it strengthens your core, too, Gargano says. To feel the abs burn, use the seat for your feet rather than a place to park it.

3. Captain’s Chair Leg Raise


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How to: With your back against the machine’s padding, place your forearms on the arm rest and grab the handles. Press up and out of the armrests so you maintain a tall posture and keep your spine neutral. Begin with your legs hanging straight down, then lift them up to hip height, forming a 90-degree angle. If that’s too difficult, bend your knees and pull them up to reach hip height. Slowly lower back down and repeat.

Targets: rectus abdominis and external obliques

What to know: When using this machine, make sure you’re not arching your back to lift your legs, and avoid using momentum to raise your feet—instead, move nice and slow. “Keep control and feel the burn,” Gargano says.

4. Incline Bench Situp


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How to: Place your feet between the round foot holders on the top of the bench, and then lie down on your back. Take a big inhale and on the exhale use your abs to lift your chest up. Slowly lower back down and repeat.

Targets: rectus abdominis

What to know: Start with a 30- to 45- degree angle on the bench until you’re strong and comfortable enough to take it up another level, Gargano suggests. “Remember the higher the angle, the harder the situps will be,” she says. “The biggest thing to know with this machine is that form is everything, so don’t try and make the incline too challenging unless you have confidently conquered a lower incline first.”

5. Glute Hamstring Developer Situp


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How to: Place your feet between the rounded foot pads and begin sitting tall on the top of the bigger rounded cushion. With your hands across your chest, slowly lower your back to a neutral spine position, then sit back up to the starting position.

Targets: rectus abdominis

What to know: Gym-goers typically use this machine for building their lower back strength, butt, and hamstrings, but you can also get a great abs workout when you do situps on it, says Noam Tamir, founder of TS Fitness. This one differs from the incline bench in that you need to engage your core to stop yourself at the bottom, rather than resting in the incline. “You need to be careful not to go into too much extension in the lower back, though, and be controlled when you do it,” Tamir says. “Keep a neutral spine as much as possible.”

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