Speed - Unless you're training for explosive movements common in athletics, your speed of movement required to get the best ab workout is a slow and controlled one, for both the lifting and lowering parts of an exercise. General speed guideline: Take one second to lift, pause for one second, then take one second to lower back to the starting position. Tip to remember-- Anytime you want to make an exercise harder: Go Slower. Try it, you'll see.
Constant Tension - Maintain constant tension in your ab muscles throughout the entire rep. Control the movement and focus in on the muscles being worked. Don't rest at the bottom of the movement. I have my clients stop just short of the bottom which helps them maintain a tight contraction in their ab muscles. Pausing at the top of the movement also assists in feeling each and every contraction, assuring the best ab workout.
Reps - How many reps should you do to get the best ab workout possible?? With each routine I give a rep range, but they are only suggestions. It is difficult to give an exact number. Everybody is different- different fitness levels, abilities, talents, and goals. Here is a principle to remember that will help you get the most out of every set: Do as many reps as you can and still maintain perfect form. When you break form, STOP, you're done with that set. As you fatigue, you're going to want to: speed up, shorten your range of motion, pull on your head, etc.. All examples of bad technique. Don't do it. Perfect form is your #1 priority. Doing as many perfect reps as possible will always result in you getting the best ab workout possible. So don't get obsessed with numbers-- quality of reps beats quantity every time!!
Progression - As you get stronger you will need to increase your work load to keep making progress and get the best ab workout. You can do it by increasing the reps, the sets, adding some external resistance (dumbbell, weight plate, or medicine ball), or taking on more challenging exercises. You can make certain exercises more difficult simply by changing the leverage. With crunches, for example, you could have your hands: extended forward towards your knees, across your chest, held lightly behind your ears, or extended straight over your head (clasped together along the floor). Each level is progressively more difficult because of the change of leverage.
Exercise Order - While it's not always possible to isolate the abs into specific parts, whenever possible work the lower abs first, the obliques second, and the upper abs last. The upper abs are generally the strongest and have to assist when working the lowers and obliques. Therefore they should be trained last.
Variety - Doing a variety of ab exercises is important. It allows you to hit the muscles from different angles. It also helps prevent boredom and keep you motivated. I rarely have my clients do more than one set of an exercise. I certainly have them work an area with more than one set, but it will be with different exercises. Fortunately, there are a lot of ab exercises to choose from. Variety is a key part of getting the best ab workout.
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