It is an incredible accomplishment to reach the stage at any level. But to take the top spot in an elite competition—especially in a category as hotly contested as pro-level men's physique—takes an extra something. One look at IFBB pro Ryan Terry, and you know what that something is. This guy has a well-balanced physique, but his abs and obliques are surreal: ripped to shreds and tight as a drum.
Terry has been in the game for a few years, but he took a serious step up this year when he achieved top honors at the 2017 Arnold Classic Men's Physique. If he's willing to share his 10 favorite ab exercises, you'd best listen up.
1. Ab Crunch
Nothing too magical about this movement! Just straight-ahead crunches to strengthen your midsection. But Terry considers it a crucial exercise because it helps improve your posture, increase your overall stability, and stabilize your balance.
Prescription: If you're new to this exercise, start with 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps each. Note that Terry's version of a crunch goes up pretty high, making it almost a sit-up. As you improve, reach for 3-4 sets of 18-20 reps each.
2. Hanging Knee Raise
This move will hit your core and lower abdominals. As with any hanging exercise, the goal is to keep your body from swinging back and forth to cheat the movement. Focus on keeping your torso as still as possible.
Prescription: Do 2-3 sets, each one until failure. If you notice that you've started swinging and losing form, stop, rest, and move on to the next set.
3. Seated Oblique Twist
This movement can look like an invitation to just twist back and forth, but that's not what it's about. Keep your head in a locked position facing forward. Rotate the bar slowly and with complete control, contracting your abs and obliques as you turn. Do this exercise correctly and you'll hit your obliques hard while increasing your overall core strength.
Prescription: Start with 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps.
4. Flat-Bench Leg Raise
This deceptively simple exercise will work your rectus abdominis (abs), internal obliques, and burn all the way down deep into your transverse abdominis.
Prescription: Shoot for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.
5. Hanging Straight-Leg Raise
This advanced exercise will call on every abdominal muscle you've got—and maybe a couple you wish you had. If you start swinging or losing your form, stop and rest, then try another set.
Prescription: Your goal should be to slam down 3-4 sets to failure. It isn't going to be easy, so suck it up and muscle through it. If you're a glutton for punishment, add ankle weights to up the ante.
6. Weighted Cable Crunch
This is one of Terry's favorites, his "capo di tutt'i capi"—his boss of all bosses. This is the movement that gives you that 3D, blocky, dense midsection that stands out whether you're at the Arnold or the beach. Using the cable is going to allow you to train hard without aggravating your lower-back muscles.
Prescription: Go for 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Do this one at the start of your ab workout when you're fresh so you can go heavy and avoid injury.
7. Cable Wood Chop
This is explosive, multijoint exercise is a great way to keep your midsection tight and develop strength and power throughout your core. If your current ab work is all up and down with no rotational work, then you really need this.
Prescription: Do 3-4 sets with 15 reps on each side. Make sure you hit each side the same number of time to retain symmetry.
8. TRX Crunch
Even more core stability comes with this one. It's like the hardest plank you've ever done, and don't be surprised if it makes you seriously sore after the first time you try it. Make sure you squeeze at the top of the movement and that you can feel the contraction throughout your entire midsection. Keep control of your body so you don't swing.
Prescription: Do 3-4 sets to failure, and don't forget to breathe.
9. GHD Sit-up
This CrossFit staple is hardcore. Still, glute-ham machines are pretty rare, so if you have access to one, you really should give this exercise a try. No rocking yourself up; use your core and only your core! Be careful how fast you let yourself back down again as well. Take it slow until you've got the movement down. When you reach the top, stop and contract your abs before going back down.
Prescription: Work your way up to 4-5 sets of 18-20 reps with minimal rest between each set.
10. Hanging Leg Raise with a Twist
Terry says this the hardest ab exercise he does. That's because it hits virtually every part of your midsection: your upper and lower abs, your obliques, and your deep core. Do 4-5 sets to failure, but as with the cable wood chop, make sure you hit each side equally.
Prescription: Perform 4-5 sets of 5 twists per side.
How to Program These Moves
No, this isn't a workout—unless you're truly a glutton for abdominal punishment. If you tried to do all of these exercises in one workout, you might never tie your shoes again! Simply slip 2-3 moves into your current routine to make your abs ripple and pop, and stick with those moves until you can cruise through Terry's set-and-rep recommendations. It won't be easy, but it will be worth it!