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Core strength is a key element of health and fitness, not only for looking and feeling your best but also for preventing injuries that can occur throughout everyday life.
While traditional sit-ups and weighted crunch machines have historically been marketed as the fast track to movie star abs, exercise science has evolved substantially over the last decade to prioritize basic, multifunctional training tools.
For those seeking that coveted six-pack, it's easy to lose sight of the importance of a holistic core strengthening approach. "Isolating the six-pack superficial abdominal muscles should never take priority over integrating the entire core along with good breathing mechanics," said Mark Cibrario, NSCA certified personal trainer and strength conditioning coach and owner of The Trainers Club in the Chicago area. "Tools which allow the user to be in functional positions are best, and exercises should resemble life or sporting activities." The good news is, with minimal equipment—and without breaking the bank—there are plenty of ways to achieve a strong core.
Ahead, explore our top picks of the best functional ab machines and core strengthening equipment to add to your home fitness arsenal; no gym membership required!
Best Overall: Perfect Fitness Ab Carver Pro
The Ab Carver Pro's ergonomic design provides a stable, extra wide wheel that allows for multidirectional exercises that target the entire core—delivering 360 degrees of hoop tension—while also recruiting your triceps, lats, and even glutes on the roll-out phase.
Designed with internal kinetic carbon steel springs, this ab roller provides tension and resistance on the roll-out while delivering a smooth, stable glide on the way back. The farther you roll, the more ab tension, so start with a shorter range of motion and work up gradually.
The ultra-wide tread allows for targeted oblique work with angled, rubberized, non-slip handles for comfortable positioning in every direction. The Ab Carver Pro includes a high-density foam knee pad to protect the joints and keep you comfortable while rolling.
To reap the full benefits of this quick and easy ab exercise, it’s critical to maintain the proper posture and breathing mechanics. Sagging or arching of the back can lead to lower back pain.
Best Budget: OrganiGoLife Dual Sided Exercise Sliders
These small but mighty disks challenge the entire body for an intense ab workout. Incorporating sliders into your training program can not only help strengthen and tone major muscle groups throughout the body but also promote stability and muscular control.
This pair of chic, black sliders is almost weightless and provides endless variations of exercises that target the core, upper and lower body and can be used anywhere. OrganiGoLife Dual Sided Exercise Sliders are portable, versatile sliders that take up as much space as a small notebook and feature a dual-sided design that glides smoothly on either hard, slick surfaces or soft, rough surfaces like carpet.
"Most ab exercises require using a stable, hard surface and working with gravity," Clay said. "What I like about sliders is that they create instability, which forces your muscles, in this instance your core, to work that much harder to create stabilization. The abdominals are engaged quicker, and the sliders force my clients to take things slower and focus on the mind-body connection."
Regardless of your fitness level, anyone can benefit from slider training.
Best for Beginners: ABDolly Core Training System
The Ab Dolly features a wide, steady platform on four wheels that lights up the core with ab rolling exercises. It has three curved handles for a comfortable grip and various hold positions. The ergonomic design helps users maintain the proper form and avoid undue stress on the neck and back. It’s even a stellar choice for those rehabbing an injury as it can be incorporated into various exercises for a modified variation like a knee-scooter crawl for a lower-body injury.
The Ab Dolly can be used in a variety of ways to target abs and obliques. Alternatively, switch the position and initiate movement from the lower body by placing your feet on the platform to target the posterior chain. For added resistance, the Ab Dolly even works on carpet.
This versatile ab scooter is made from an ultra-durable molded plastic that can handle years of wear and tear indoor and out, and any young ones in the family will enjoy taking it out for a spin. The Ab Dolly is easy to carry and store. Its low-profile design fits well under a bed, in a closet, or packed in a car. The Ab Dolly comes with an instructional DVD and a branded knee mat.
Best for Athletes: TRX Rip Trainer Rip Trainer
The TRX RIP TRAINER® promotes functional stability and strength that's essential to performing everyday activities, along with improving athletic performance, and most importantly, mitigating the risk of injury. Whether you're a competitive athlete, a mom lifting and carrying a child, or anyone simply looking to improve core strength and stability throughout everyday activities, this portable resistance trainer targets your entire core while also providing a full-body workout.
Focusing on control, rotation, stability, and speed, the TRX RIP TRAINER® is a multiplanar exercise tool, meaning it challenges the body in all three planes of motion. For athletes, TRX RIP TRAINER® exercises can simulate sport-specific movements that build strength, power, stability, and improve performance, such as the Rip Kayak Row and the Rip Hockey Slap Shot.
The TRX RIP TRAINER® features a weighted two-piece bar—creating a core-igniting asymmetric load—with commercial-grade rubberized grips and an elastic resistance sport cord offering 20 pounds of resistance. This training system can be hooked up anywhere, from a park bench to a tree, using the industrial-strength carabiner clip rated at 1,500 pounds for secure anchoring. The TRX RIP TRAINER® kit includes a door anchor, carrying bag, a workout guide, and a DVD.
Best Battle Ropes: Profect Sports Pro Battle Ropes with Anchor Strap Kit
While many people may associate battle ropes with a killer arm workout, the benefits go far beyond. In addition to strengthening the upper body, weighted battle ropes are a powerful, low-impact tool for building aerobic capacity, lean muscle, and core stability. For those in search of an upper body-only modification, battle ropes can also be used from a seated position.
Pro Battle Ropes are made from PolyDac—polyester over a polypropylene core—with a DuraMax protective sleeve. This construction is highly resistant to stretching, fraying, and wear, which is especially important for athletes who drag their ropes around outside and on concrete; so these ropes can take a beating. This set comes with two reinforced nylon anchor straps, a stainless steel carabiner to easily set up shop anywhere, and a foldable poster with 30 exercises.
The Pro Battle Ropes set delivers a core-burning workout equipped with long-coated handles to protect your hands and provide a comfortable, secure grip. These battle ropes are offered in a range of sizes and lengths. Choose from a 1.5-, 2-, or 2.5-inch diameter rope; and for length, choose 30-, 40-, or a 50-foot long rope.
Best Ab Bench: Bowflex SelectTech 4.1 Bench
Certified personal trainer Ingrid S. Clay suggests adding an ab bench to your home gym as it provides versatility and helps in maintaining the proper form. "An incline-decline bench is really good to have for abs, especially if you are working on strengthening your abdominals but need the support on the back," said Clay. "You can get the assist for full sit-ups using the flat bench while the lower back is supported and have the decline part of the bench that you can use to do a deeper range of motion sit-ups, sit-up twists, punches, and more."
Bowflex® boasts their durable, commercial-grade steel build and design, similar to what you’d find at a health club. The Bowflex® SelectTech 4.1 Bench offers full flexibility to perform an endless variety of core stabilizing exercises. Choose from five different angles: -20 degrees, 0 degrees, 30 degrees, 45 degrees, and 90 degrees. Transition smoothly between positions with a simple turn of a knob, and securely lock the bench in place for safety and stability.
This space-saving workout bench is easy to store, folding into half of its size; simply click the button, lift the bench, flatten, and wheel it away. Complete with a detachable leg brace, the Bowflex® SelectTech 4.1 Bench delivers stability and support while in a declined position. This ab bench has a 550-pound weight capacity and measures 62 x 27.1 x 41.2 inches.
Best Stability Ball: URBNFit Exercise Ball
Incorporating a stability ball into a workout encourages you to be more connected and aware of your deep core muscles, said Alexa Idama, NASM certified personal trainer, certified Pilates teacher, and creator of @lowimpactfit.
Stability balls deliver a quick and effective core workout in no time and have a place in any exercise program; from professional athletes and personal trainers to beginners and those rehabbing an injury.
Made from professional-grade PVC material equipped with anti-burst technology—meaning if the ball is unexpectedly pierced by a sharp object, it will slowly deflate instead of suddenly bursting—the URBNFit Exercise Ball can hold 600 pounds and withstand up to 2,000 pounds of pressure. It also features a textured, grippy surface to prevent one from slipping. For easy setup, this stability ball includes an air pump and two stoppers. When you’re ready to roll, enjoy URBNFit’s free workout guide for loads of core-firing workouts. The URBNFit Exercise Ball is offered in a range of size options to cater to different heights, including 45-, 55-, 65-, 75-, and 85- centimeter stability balls, available in black, blue, green, orange, pink, purple, red, silver, teal, white, and yellow.
Best Medicine Ball: Amazon Basics Medicine Ball
You'd be amazed by the versatility—and fun—of a medicine ball. Resembling a basketball with its grippy rubber surface, the Amazon Basics Medicine Ball comes in various weights, including 6-, 8-, 10-, and 12-pound balls, each in a different color. The sturdy construction bounces off indoor and outdoor surfaces without ruining the rubber exterior.
Exercises like medicine ball slams, lateral throws against a wall, and chest passes are aerobic and anaerobic, helping build core strength, endurance, and power. It's important to be careful when performing medicine ball slams with a ball that bounces back. Medicine balls are a great option for building core stability and explosive power, especially if you have a partner or wall available.
Best Advanced: Iron Age Pull Up Bar
Pull-up bars are not just for upper body workouts. They're one of the most versatile and effective pieces of fitness equipment. When performing a hanging ab exercise, you're creating instability and working against gravity. "It's important to focus on isolating the core here and not swinging the legs, as that uses momentum to get the knees up instead of the abdominals," Clay said.
No matter how little space you may have at home, you can still build a home gym with this super stable, durable, non-marking pull-up bar from Iron Age. This portable, over-the-door pull-up bar easily hooks onto a door frame with no assembly required. The unique design dissipates downward force, with protective padding that prevents damage to the door frame. For easy storage, the Iron Age Pull Up Bar folds flat for space-efficient storage under a bed or in a closet.
Providing a comfortable grip, the Iron Age Pull Up Bar features soft foam handles. It fits doorway widths of approximately 27-36 inches and accommodates up to 440 pounds. The Iron Age Pull Up Bar is offered in black with striking blue details.
If you’re still working up to full bodyweight hanging exercises, arm straps are a great starting point. We suggest DMoose Ab Straps as a durable and affordable option, offered in a variety of colors.
Best Ab Roller: Lifeline Power Wheel
The Lifeline Power Wheel is a more sophisticated version of a basic ab wheel. Its design allows users to initiate exercises from the upper or lower body by holding the foam handle grips or placing feet inside the adjustable, secure foot stirrups with a pedal rest for stability. The extra-large 13-inch wheel provides an increased range of motion in all directions with durable tire treads for superior grip during holding patterns.
From beginner to advanced users, the Lifeline Power Wheel is an ideal supplement to any training program. It can be used in conjunction with any of your existing exercises, like ab roll-outs, crawling, and push-ups. It’s also a great portable option for any fitness level and can be part of an on-the-go bodyweight program.
Best Balance Trainer: Airex Balance Pads
Many ab or core exercises are performed on the knees, toes, lying down, or standing without any equipment. Some would even argue that the best ab equipment is no equipment.
Bodyweight exercises also incorporate more functional patterns, preparing the body for everyday life, activating several muscle groups at once, unlike certain machines that isolate a single group at a time. A cushioned balance pad can make all the difference when it comes to comfort and form. The AIREX® Balance Pad is a must-have tool for your home gym that delivers comfort while helping improve strength, balance, coordination, and stability. Made from ultra-durable, soft, and lightweight closed-cell foam, the popular AIREX® Balance Pad delivers a non-slip, tear-resistant surface that molds to the body for a comfortable grip. The slightly malleable surface challenges you to engage muscles in your core, legs, and throughout the entire body.
AIREX® is the brand chosen by most gyms, athletic trainers, and physical therapists for its outstanding performance and durability. AIREX® foam is weather-resistant and can be used indoors and out; it repels moisture and odor and is easy to clean. The standard size pad measures 19.7 x 16.1 x 2.4 inches and weighs approximately 1.5 pounds.
If you’re looking to target your abs without a heavy, expensive machine, the Ab Carver Pro is a functional tool that focuses primarily on trunk stability, control, and strength. The large, stable wheel allows for multidirectional movements that recruit the triceps, lats, and glutes. This ab roller is also designed to deliver resistance on the roll-out phase for added control and intensity.
Pro Battle Ropes are a game-changer for building strength, endurance, burning calories, and improving stability and coordination. Incorporating quick bursts of battle rope training delivers an intense core workout with an endless variety of grips and movement patterns for a well-balanced workout.
Meet the Expert
- Ingrid S. Clay is a PROPTA certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, creator of ISC Wellness, and plant-based chef.
- Alexa Idama is a NASM certified personal trainer, certified Pilates teacher, and creator of @lowimpactfit.
- Mark Cibrario, NSCA certified personal trainer and strength conditioning coach and owner of The Trainers Club.
What To Look For in an Ab Machine
When it comes to exercise equipment, the cheapest option is typically not built to last. This is a case when it’s advisable to opt for trusted brands and durable materials, especially if you plan to use the equipment outdoors.
Most of the equipment we’ve shared allows users to not only strengthen their abdominals but also delivers a full-body workout. Look for ab machines and tools that offer a wide range of exercise options since variability is key to making fitness gains.
Size & Fit
Certain products come in varying sizes, depending on one’s height and weight. Check the product’s size requirements and weight capacity to ensure the right fit. After all, the wrong size tool could result in improper form and possibly injury.
Are ab machines safe?
Selecting exercise equipment should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Alexa Idama cautions that many traditional strength training machines are not made to accommodate different body types. Along the same lines, Mark Cibrario warns that most old-school twist and crunch ab machines are potentially harmful to the lumbar spine (low back), cervical spine (neck), and intervertebral discs. "These types of machines can easily negatively affect posture or position of the neck, upper back, low back, and pelvis."
Are ab machines effective?
Cibrario is critical of traditional ab machines and suggests opting for functional alternatives that mimic everyday movement patterns to prevent injury. "There are no beneficial so-called ab machines for improving abdominal function," he said. "All the devices or tools recommended will help to create a strong, stable, functional core to prevent injury to the spine and help improve functional movement patterns that incorporate the abs."
What types of safe and effective ab machines are there?
There are various ways you can get a solid core workout, with and without equipment. "Stability balls, siders, and an Ab Carver could augment a good stability program," Cibrario said. "If progressing to standing stability exercises, one can use tools like battling ropes, medicine balls, or the TRX RIP TRAINER®." Regardless of your goals—whether it's strength, conditioning, power, or stability—use this as a guide to help you find the right fit.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Emily Stone is a health and fitness writer with experience working for lifestyle and fitness publications and activewear brands. As a fitness enthusiast and fellow shopper, she's passionate about finding reliable fitness equipment that prioritizes comfort and function for people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities.