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5 Best Strength Exercises to Sculpt Firm '11 Line' Abs

Elevate your ab game with a strength expert's top-recommended exercises.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Ah, the elusive "11 line" abs—those defined muscle lines that run vertically down the midsection, coveted by many and flaunted by fitness experts and celebrities alike. However, there's more to 11 line abs than their aesthetic appeal; they indicate a strong and well-sculpted core. And while genetics play a role in how your muscles develop, doing the right exercises can make them pop. That's where we come in with the best strength exercises for 11 line abs.

You might think that endless crunches and sit-ups are the golden ticket to sculpted abs, but a robust and well-defined midsection thrives on resistance and variety. Eleven line abs aren't just about working one muscle; they're about targeting various parts of your core, from the rectus abdominis to the deeper transverse abdominis. And it's this combination of muscles that gives the abdomen its tight and toned appearance.

If you're ready to elevate your ab game, we spoke with Tracie Haines-Landram, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and nutrition coach with Barbend, who shares her five best strength exercises for 11 line abs. "There are two main components to achieving 11 line abs," says Haines-Landram. "The first is through strengthening your core muscles, specifically the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles, that create the foundation of this look. The second component to achieving 11 line abs is outside the weight room and in the kitchen through nutrition to achieve a body composition that allows the muscles to be visible."

Keep reading for the exercises. And when you're finished, don't miss The 30-Day Standing Workout to Sculpt Ripped Abs in Record Time.

Overhead Squats

overhead squats

With their added upper-body component, overhead squats bring in core stability and can seriously activate those "11 line" muscles.

"Overhead squats are traditionally performed with a barbell held straight overhead with the arms locked out, hands placed wide outside of shoulder width (snatch-grip)," explains Haines-Landram. "While overhead squats are one of the most technical strength movements that require a proper range of motion throughout the body (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders), the payoff is in core muscle activation. By placing the weight overhead, you are engaging your core more than a traditional back squat." Complete three sets of eight to 12 reps.

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Waiter's Carry

"This exercise involves carrying a weight overhead in one arm while walking a certain distance. Core activation is similar to an overhead squat. However, instead of the feet being stationary, an additional challenge is created by moving the body horizontally," says Haines-Landram.

Set a distance of around 15 to 20 meters. Pick up weight with one arm, stabilize overhead, and walk to the other side in a controlled movement, ensuring the weight isn't pulling you forward. You should be able to start and stop with control. On the other side, switch arms, and walk back. Complete three to five sets of 15 to 20-meter carries.

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Toes-to-Bar Hanging Leg Raises

hanging leg raise

Hanging onto a bar and bringing your toes up to touch it isn't just showing off; it's one of the most effective ways to sculpt your lower abs.

"Toes-to-bar can be performed strictly or kipping (a swinging movement). However, the greatest benefit and muscle activation will be from strict toes-to-bar," says Haines-Landram.

Hanging onto a pull-up bar with your arms slightly wider than shoulder width, pull back on the bar, leaning your body slightly backward, and squeeze your ab muscles to begin raising your legs. Keeping your legs straight, continue raising until you get your toes to the bar (or as close as possible). Then, slowly lower your legs in a controlled descent back to the starting position. Variations include hanging knee raises, where your knees remain bent at 90 degrees, and you lift your knees until the thigh is parallel with the floor, then lower. Perform four to six sets of eight to 12 reps.

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forearm plank

"Planks are both a popular and effective exercise for strengthening the core muscles," states Haines-Landram. "They create a static contraction of the ab muscles, meaning the muscles are engaged but not actively moving through a range of motion. The longer the plank is held, the more effective it is. A plank can be done simply by holding your body static in a pushup position with your arms straight or forearms resting on the ground. Traditional planks engage all core muscles, while side planks help define 11 line abs." Hold a plank in a static position for 30 to 45 seconds. Complete four sets with a one-minute rest between sets.

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woman doing landmine rotation

Using a dumbbell, medicine ball, or even just your body weight, rotations target the obliques, which flank your "11 lines," giving them that standout appearance.

"Rotational movements engage the external obliques, which create the outside definition of the 11 line abs. Rotational exercises can be performed while standing and using an external load, such as a barbell anchored with a landmine attachment. Rotations can also be completed by using a cable machine with the cable height at the midline of your abdomen or attaching a resistance band to a pole," says Haines-Landram. Aim for four to six sets of eight to 12 reps per side.

Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more about Adam