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UberExercise — The Upper Abs Trifecta [Abs]

The Upper Abs Trifecta

Want upper abs like this? The Upper Abs Trifecta is your magic 1, 2, 3 punch.

The Upper Abs Trifecta — Quick Hits


Primary Muscle:
Rectus Abdominis, aka the upper abs.


Secondary Muscles:
Lower Abs, Transverse Abdominis (aka the inner abs), Obliques.


What You’ll Need:
Swiss ball.


Why They’re Über:
The Upper Abs Trifecta (UAT) combines three high-velocity abs exercises back-to-back, which grind the upper abs, tear up the muscle fibers, and sculpt a flat, strong, rippled midsection in no time flat.



About The Upper Abs Trifecta


You asked for it, you got it. I’ve built the highly anticipated counterpart to one of my favorite UberExercises of all time, The Lower Abs Trifecta, which specifically blasts the upper abs. If you’re looking to sculpt a washboard midsection defined by rock-hard ripples, undulations, and ab crevices, consider The Upper Abs Trifecta your personal abdominal excavation unit. It’s powerful. It’s fast. It burns like hydrochloric acid. Your abs WILL feel like they got walloped by a jack hammer the day before, but it’s insanely effective and produces results.

Combine it with a few sets of The Lower Abs Trifecta (LAT) and you’ve got one all-encompassing, ab-defining circuit.

Like LAT, the Upper Abs Trifecta (UAT) is a circuited superset of 3 different upper abs exercises in sequence. UAT combines the following three upper ab specific exercises into one set, completed in order without any rest:

  1. Swiss Ball Ab Crunches — Center, Left, Right
  2. Bicycle Crunches
  3. Swiss Ball Ab Planks

The first two exercises — Swiss ball ab crunches and bicycle crunches — pinpoint the upper section of the abdominals and create vigorous contractions from a variety of different angles, while gradually ramping up in intensity. Swiss ball ab crunches provide a controlled, deep hyperextension followed by an accordion-like compression, driven down the center, left, and right side of the upper torso. This provides end-to-end stimulation, and shreds the upper-center portion of the abs and the serratus anterior — the little finger muscles above the rib cage (see below).

Bicycle crunches replicate a similar motion, but turn things up a notch with turbocharged strength, speed, and intensity. This stimulates different types of muscle fibers (bicycle crunches use Type 1/Slow Twitch muscle fibers, SBACs recruit more Type IIa/Fast Twitch muscle fibers), creates an extremely powerful burn, and fatigues the region into maximal muscle breakdown.1

Exercise 3 — Swiss Ball Ab Planks — exploit the fatigue and muscle breakdown left behind from exercises 1 and 2, and leverage the transverse abdominis (inner abs) to compensate for the deadened upper region. Even though the upper abs will be running on E and searing from circulating lactic acid, the transverse is able to effectively dominate and hold up the core for the duration of the plank. Again, Swiss ball planks provide a different source of stimulation — in the form of an isometric contraction, or a contraction where the length of the muscle doesn’t change — to infuse variety, keep the abs off balance, and encourage optimal growth.

Sections Of The Abdominals

Sections Of The Abdominals



  1. Find an open floor space and a Swiss exercise ball.
  2. Complete 15 Swiss Ball Ab Crunches down the middle, 10 to the left, and then 10 to the right. Picture/video demo below. Once this gets too easy, hold a dumbbell behind your head as you crunch.
  3. Without resting, immediately do 45 seconds of Bicycle Crunches. Picture/video demo below.
  4. Without resting, immediately do a Swiss Ball Ab Plank for 60 seconds, or for as long as you can. Picture/video demo below. If you can, slowly tilt your body from left to right.
  5. Rest 1 minute and 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 two more times, for a total of 3 UATs.



1. Swiss Ball Ab Crunches


Swiss Ball Ab Crunch

Swiss Ball Ab Crunch



2. Bicycle Crunches


Bicycle Crunches

Bicycle Crunches



3. Swiss Ball Ab Planks


Swiss Ball Ab Plank

Swiss Ball Ab Plank




Avoid The Upper Abs Trifecta if you have lower back problems.

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References, Notes, Links

  1. Fast and Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers []


Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Instagram (@BRYDISANTO) & Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto
  • Ashley

    #3 should say bicycle crunch, not reverse. Also, is it still 45 seconds or a set number of crunches?

    • Wow, good catch, that should definitely say Bicycle Crunches. Thanks!

      The duration is correct it was just a naming issue – it’s meant to be 45 seconds per set.

  • lily

    out of curiosity… are there any upper ab exercises you can recommend for people who *do* have lower back problems? i have scoliosis impacted by osteo arthritis, so i have an all-around spinal deformity, but most of the pain i struggle with is in my lower back. i’ve been able to remedy a good deal of that with some body weight back strengthening work a couple of times a week, but don’t want to risk exacerbating my pain struggles. any suggestions? i’d appreciate your input.

    • You definitely want to avoid 1. twisting motions or torso rotation (e.g. bicycle crunches) and 2. lifting your legs from a lying position.

      Unfortunately lower back pain limits the range of exercises available to directly target the upper abs, but there are a bunch of options for overall core development (which feeds into the upper abs).

      These are a few of my favorites for people with low back pain — give each a try and see which you like best. When done correctly there shouldn’t be any pain, and they can help strengthen the region.

      -Straight Swiss ball or BOSU ball crunches (above)
      -Partial sit-ups (raise your upper back slightly up off the floor, don’t complete the movement,
      -Bird Dogs (
      -Planks (done from your knees, if necessary) and side planks
      -Bridges (
      -Swiss Ball Back Extensions (
      – Ball Wall Crunches (place 1 or 2 legs on the wall, it’ll help engage your entire core.
      – Lying supermans (

      Hope that helps.

      • lily

        wow, thanks so much for the super informative comment. i actually do ‘bird dogs’ and supermans already a couple of days a week for back strength, knowing it’s helping my abs out is just a bonus!

        not to talk your ear off or make your eyes bleed or whatever the equivalent colloquialism would be… but i’m finding that while i’m developing a good deal of ab definition on my right side (the stronger side of my back even though i am left-dominant), i’m developing absolutely ZERO ab definition on my left side (my ribcage is lower and more prominent on that side). do you have any idea what i can do to make things more even? i do extra exercises for my left side to try to compensate for its weakness, but it doesn’t seem to be improving things definition-wise. might be impossible to change this just b/c of the way my body is shaped differently on both sides, but i’d like to try.

        i realize you’re not a doctor nor do you have scoliosis… so if you can’t answer this.. any idea where i can find a fitness geek with scoliosis who might be able to answer this for me? 🙂

        thanks again for the recommendations for upper ab exercises. i’m stoked to try them all out!

        • I can’t completely answer that (and sorry, I don’t have any friends with scoliosis that fit that bill, HAHA!), but it sounds like a common genetic aesthetic imbalance.

          Everyone’s core develops differently, in part due to do muscular alignment, but also from rib size and placement (your issue, one of mine as well, in fact). That’s why some people have symmetric six-packs that stack 3×3 in rows and columns, others have asymmetric cores that stagnate.

          My advice would be to keep doing what you’re doing and don’t think about the aesthetic imbalance. When you start TRYING to fix it and emphasize one side over another, that’s when you create a real functional imbalance.

          Aesthetic imbalance = you can’t do much about it; it’s just how your body is, looks, and grows naturally. Embrace it and love it!

          Functional imbalance = user created and can result in injury; that’s a very bad thing.

          • lily

            all right. got it. thanks so much for the helpful advice. 🙂 not sure i’ll ever be able to embrace or love my deformity, but i’m certainly doing my best to keep it from running my life. i’m due to work on my abs today, so i’m looking forward to trying out a bunch of the exercises you recommended. i see you posted an article today that discusses this in more depth, so i’ll be reading that as well. thanks so much! 🙂

  • J

    Any elaboration on the “10 to left, 10 to the right” portion of the stability ball crunches? Form/demonstration ?

    • Hey J, check out this video —

      Effectively you’re contracting your oblique and crunching your right elbow across, through your core, directly towards your left knee. It doesn’t need to touch, but crunch across until you feel a strong contraction.

      For the opposite side it’d obviously be the same movement, but left elbow to right knee.

  • Ted

    so is it enough to do LAT and UAT for a complete abs workout?

    • Hey Ted — totally, I use it/prescribe that combo often. Do 3 sets a pop and your abs will be absolutely searing.

  • bhvna

    Should I be doing LAT and UAT on the same day or on different days?