Upper ab exercises work a specific set of the abdominal muscles to build strength and tone. Upper ab exercises also contribute to a solid core workout, which improves general health, balance, back strength, and overall strength and stability. Basic upper ab exercises can be done at home without any special equipment, though some types of gym equipment can enhance the workout. When performing upper ab exercises, remember to go slow, as a sustained exercise is better for the muscles than quick, jerky motions. Start with fewer repetitions and build from there; starting too intensely can lead to injury.
When building a routine of upper ab exercises, start with bicycle kicks. Lying flat on the ground face-up, place the hands palm-down on the ground. Lift the legs up so they are perpendicular to the ground, and lift the hips off the ground slightly by placing weight on the hands. Then, begin a pedaling motion, as though pedaling a bicycle. Remember to go slow, as sustained motion is more beneficial to the abs than quick, jerky motions. Do this for a minute or minute and a half, then rest.
A variation of the bicycle kick involves lying flat, with the hands behind the head. Bring one leg up toward the chest and bring the opposite elbow toward that knee. Relax, then do the same motion with the opposite limbs, then rest. This works the upper abs and obliques. From there, move on to a hip lift, which starts in a lying down position as well. Lift the legs up so they are perpendicular to the ground, and using the hands for support, lift the hips off the ground slowly. Hold, then relax. Repeat several times, making sure to engage the upper ab muscles when conducting the lift.
While crunches are an effective addition to any regiment of upper ab exercises, if not performed correctly, they can do more harm than good. For beginners, instead of doing crunches lying on the ground, try sitting in a sturdy chair with a straight back. Sit up straight with the hands grasping the seat of the chair. Lift the legs straight upward so that the shins remain perpendicular to the ground. This should crunch the abdominal muscles. Hold in this position, making sure to engage the upper ab muscles, then relax. Do several repetitions. A variation on this exercise can be done by twisting the legs to one side when lifted.