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Serious crunch time

In the beginning, there was the sit-up. It begat the tubular ab rocker, which reduced neck stress and ensured proper back posture. That, in turn, begat a slew of high-performance ab devices including punching bags, weight plates and a roller-coaster seat replicating the movement of an inchworm. The result: six-packs of epic proportions.

-- Roy M. Wallack

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Bring the heat -- and the weights

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Power Block Ab Bench: Pulley-equipped slant board, with lumbar-support pad and fabric hand straps, that lets you perform ab crunches and other exercises with your own weight plates.

Likes: Safe, comfy, compact, versatile and effective. The rounded pad supports a natural, concave lower-back position. Reaching overhead, you grab the straps and hinge your torso into a classic crunch, which works the abs without relying on the hip flexors. You can add more weights as you get fitter. The manufacturer says the device adds safety and performance by pre-stretching the targeted muscle before contraction. A nice bonus: You can use the bench to do passable rows, tricep presses and bench presses.

Dislikes: You must supply your own weight plates.

Price: $149. (800) 447-0008; www.home-gym.com.

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Give abs the old one-two

Ab-Jab: Sit-up slant board with an inflatable boxing speed bag affixed above the knee area.

Likes: Unique, challenging, skill-building workout that blasts your abs in a short period of time. Simply sit up and punch the speed bag 10 times, lie back down, and do it again. Punching works abs and obliques at once. Twenty-five reps left me wasted. Change the workout by simply touching forehead to bag.

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Dislikes: The back pad -- and the entire device -- is too short by 2 feet. On the downswing, it’s difficult not to clunk your head on the bare floor. We had to put a pillow down to prevent a concussion. Also, tools are not included; you’ll need two wrenches for assembly.

Price: $149.95. (800) JUMP-USA; www.jumpusa.com/ab_jab.html.

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Up, up and away

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Ab Coaster: Innovative machine with stationary handles and movable seat that slides on smooth, curved rails; feels like a hybrid of an ab crunch and a hanging leg raise.

Likes: Sleek-looking and deceptively fun, it tricks you into a tough, effective ab workout. In a kneeling position, you swoop forward and upward with carnival-like excitement, contracting your abs and pulling up your hips and knees. It feels like an easy version of a hanging leg raise for about 10 seconds, then reality sets in: This is no ride in the park. Doing 60 seconds straight should earn you a medal. If it’s not hard enough, sit with your butt back on your heels to get a deeper burn, or add your own weight plates on the pegs under the seat. Just 10 extra pounds adds significant difficulty. Seat angles sideways to hit the obliques. Safe for neck and back, which are not involved in the movement. Easy assembly, with tools included.

Dislikes: It’s big and heavy at 5 feet long and 4 1/2 feet tall. A lot of money for exercise you’ll do for at most five minutes a day.

Price: $399 home model; $1,495 commercial. (866) 219-5335; www.abcoaster.com.

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Get rolling

Keys Fitness Pro Trainer: Popular, economical roll-cage design made of lightweight aluminum tubes with built-in headrest.

Likes: Simple, compact and effective, it has a smooth rocking motion that isolates abs and does not actuate the hip flexors, as conventional sit-ups do. Allows a variety of midsection exercises, including reverse crunches, pelvic lifts, and oblique twists. Safe, too, as the headrest protects your neck from hyperextension and your back does not curl forward. And it’s dirt cheap.

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Dislikes: None.

Price: $69.99. (800) 683-1236; www.keysfitness .com.


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