Just because you’re beginner to working out (and your abdominals are hiding behind a layer of fat) doesn’t mean your abs exercises need to be relegated to a middle school regimen of situps. It’s not only six-pack seekers who should be paying their abs plenty of attention when they visit the gym. Strong abs are an integral part of a rock-solid core, which should be one of the goals of any fitness regime, then how the hell do you get a six-pack?
That’s because a strong core is the foundation upon which so many other things rest – whether that’s good posture that helps to prevent lower back pain developing from sitting at a desk all day, or the mobility and strength required to excel in sports and other activities ranging all the way from athletics to zumba.
Forming a mighty midriff will also help you perform better when doing all manner of other moves in the gym. Powerhouse lifts like barbell squats and deadlifts all demand a strong core, as do agility workouts and plyometric exercises.
What’s more, I’ve included non-traditional moves to show just how many different ways you can work your core. These abs exercises, in particular, are easy to scale down if your core needs a little extra love—and ramp up if you’re ready for more burn.
I chose these moves to target a variety of different abdominal muscles and to work both major core muscles as well as stabilizer muscles. (Stabilizer muscles, just FYI, include your pelvic floor, transverse abdominis, and diaphragm—none of which you can see looking at your stomach, but all of which play a major supporting roll in helping your trunk move as efficiently as possible.)
When you think of core exercises, you probably think of situps, crunches, and six-packs. Though we often get caught up focusing on the parts of our midsection that we can show off, our core (literally!) goes so much deeper than that.
Whether you’re a planking pro or just getting started with easy abs exercises, know this: Your core plays a really (like really!) important role in your ability to be strong and fit. This collection of muscles supports your spine, allows you to move in all sorts of directions, and protects all of your organs.
FYI, five major muscle groups make up your core:
- Rectus abdominis (your six-pack muscles)
- Transversus abdominis (the muscles beneath your rectus abdominis)
- Internal and external obliques (side abs)
- Multifidi (muscles in the back of your core, along your spine)
- Erector spinae (muscles along the sides of your spine)
Beginner Abs Exercises
An all-time core classic. Hold a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles while supporting yourself on your forearms and toes.
“The plank is great for beginners and there is minimal movement so less chance of getting it wrong,” says Chamberlain.
“It’s also easy to scale – start at 20-second holds and work up towards 60 seconds. Make sure you engage your core by tilting your pelvis back slightly to flatten your lower back – a curved lower back is to be avoided.”
Targets: Abs, hamstrings, glutes and shoulders
Stronger abs don’t develop overnight — you’ll have to first learn how to activate your core. For this essential True Beginner abs exercises, start on the floor on all fours, hands placed directly underneath your shoulders, hips in line with your knees. This is your starting position. Lift your right hand and extend your arm straight out in on you, keeping it shoulder height, while simultaneously lifting your left leg and extending it straight back (a). Your whole body should be in a straight line from right fingertips to left toes. Bring your left leg to touch your right elbow under your stomach. Extend your leg and arm out again. Return to starting position (b). Repeat on the other side (c). Do five reps on each side.
Modification: If you’re unable to maintain form, simplify this movement by forgoing the crunch. Instead, extend your arm and opposite leg out and hold for three seconds, then switch sides.
Why it’s effective: The plank is one of the most common abs exercises, ever, but most guys get it wrong. Creating tension in your abs primes your body to maximally contract all of its muscles. “This is a very useful ability when sprinting, jumping, and lifting weights,” Dunham says.
How to do it: Get onto all fours and prop yourself up on your forearms. “Turn your palms up toward the sky, keeping your thumbs on the ground, and form a straight line from your head to your heels,” Dunham says. Squeeze your glutes and quads, which will draw your knees up and prevent sagging. “Brace your core as if you were expecting a kick to the stomach, and press your forearms into the ground,” he adds. Once you feel everything tighten, squeeze even harder and take big, deliberate breaths as you plank. To increase the challenge, squeeze harder and exhale more air with each breath as you hold the position.
When to do it: “Utilize the high-tension plank at the end of your daily warmup, or between sets of compound strength movements like squats, rows, presses, and deadlifts,” Dunham says. Perform 3-4 sets of 10-second holds in your warmup, or one 10-second hold between heavy strength exercises.
Lie on your front, with your arms and legs extended. Raise your head, your right arm and your left leg about 10-15cm off the floor. Hold for a count of three, then lower back down to the start position. Repeat with your left arm and right leg.
Do up to 10 reps on each side.
This is a progression to a regular floor plank, and a fantastic abs stability exercise with a lot of functional carryover. By placing the forearms on a Swiss ball, we’re adding a more unstable environment to the equation, which allows us to constantly change our base of support to train ‘reactive strength’. You can roll the ball forward and back for reps or time, ‘write’ the letters in your name or the alphabet by moving the ball with your elbows, or ‘stir the pot’ both clockwise and anti-clockwise.
Why it rocks: This lying-down move offers your lower back some support as you develop your core strength and fatigues your lower abs quickly as you extend your opposite arm and leg.
How to: Start lying back with arms extended over chest, legs raised and bent at 90 degrees (knees above hips and shins parallel to floor). Keep low back pressed to the floor, brace core, then slowly and simultaneously extend and lower right leg and to hover just above mat. Pause, then return to start and repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.
The dead bug exercise is a popular way to build core strength and stabilization.
It helps build a solid, stable foundation that protects the spine and allows for greater ease in everyday and athletic movements, such as moving heavy objects, walking up hills, and throwing.
This move also helps prevent and relieve low back pain by protecting your lower back.
It’s a supine abs exercises. That means you do it lying on your back. Read on for instructions and tips.
Targets: Rectus abdominus (RA), obliques, transversus abdominus (TA), erector spinae (low back)
How to: Begin on all fours, with palms flat on the floor (fingers facing forward) and wrists and elbows directly beneath shoulders. Knees should be directly below hips and neck should be long and neutral. Engage core, then slowly extend right arm forward and left leg back until both are parallel with the floor. This is your start position. With control, reach right arm out to the right side and left leg out to the left as far as possible while keeping back flat and level. Reverse and return to start position. That’s one rep. Perform 15 reps on each side.
Modifications: Make this move easier on your balance by reaching extended arm out to the side and returning to starting position before reaching extended leg.
Targets rectus abdominis
A. Lie on your back with the soles of your feet together as close to your body as possible, with knees bent out to sides.
B. Place hands behind your head, elbows in line with ears.
C. Keeping back flat on the floor and stomach muscles contracted, exhale and curl your chest up a few inches off the floor toward your legs.
D. Lower to start.
Do 10 reps.
One of the best abs exercises for intermediate to advanced trainees is the butterfly crunch: a manageable yet challenging take on the crunch that will have your rectus abdominis burning whilst keeping your transverse abdominis and internal obliques incredibly tight and your lower back safe.
Side Plank Hip Lifts
Start in a side plank with the palm on the floor and hips lifted. If this position is too challenging, modify it by resting on your forearm instead of the palm. Hold the hip lift briefly and lower, just touching the mat before lifting the hips again. Do 10 to 16 reps on this side, then switch.
For a challenge, lift your knees off the floor when you raise your hips. Your arm can be extended or placed on your hips.
There are some common weak points in the human body that the side plank hip lift can address,” says Cody Braun, fitness specialist for Openfit. “For many people, shoulder and hip stability are weak links in the kinetic chain, and the side plank hip lift forces you to stabilize the scapula (shoulder blade) while also firing up the gluteus medius to control the hip movement.
Target: abdominal muscles
Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your hands on your thighs, across your chest or behind your ears.
Slowly curl up towards your knees until your shoulders are about 3 inches off the floor. Hold the position for a few seconds and lower down slowly. Perform 12 stomach crunches.
Don’t tuck your neck into your chest as you rise.
Don’t yank your head off the floor.
Abs crunches exercises are designed to tone the core muscles of the body. The exercise aids in strengthening the core muscles, improving the posture, and increasing the mobility and flexibility of the muscles. When these exercises are performed, the rectus abdominus and the oblique muscles are tightened. While not 100% effective in burning fat from the body, these exercises will build muscle mass and enhance the body’s ability to effectively burn fat. Furthermore, the density of the muscles will be enhanced.
Start in a straight arm press-up position with one knee up between your elbows and only the back foot on the floor,” says Chamberlain. “Jump the back foot off the floor and swap it with the front foot.
“Focus on pulling your stomach muscles in throughout the movement to protect your spine and add more intensity. This is a great exercise for burning calories as well as developing your abs. Start with 30 seconds of mountain climbers and work towards 60 seconds.
Standing Bicycle Crunches
Targets: Obliques, rotational muscles
Do traditional crunches cause discomfort? Rubin suggests this True Beginner variation instead. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands placed behind your head. With a tight core, straight back and relaxed shoulders lift your right leg and simultaneously raise your right knee and lower your left elbow towards each other (a). Return to the starting position (b). Repeat on the opposite side. Do five reps on each side.
Modification: If rotating your upper body downwards is too difficult, simply lift your knee to your chest while keeping your upper body still, alternating legs.
Why it’s effective: “As toddlers, crawling taught us how to have integrity in the shoulders and hips, and how to really use the core when we move,” Dunham says; it can have the same benefit in adulthood, too. “Bear crawls are great for conditioning, finishers, and warmups.”
How to do it: Get down on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under hips. Pick your knees up an inch or two off the ground—you’re not sticking your butt in the air, so stay low. Keep your chest pushed away from the floor, as if to avoid something sharp from poking you in the sternum. Raise your head so you’re just looking in front of you, and start to move forward, using opposite arms and legs. “Try to float with each step, and breathe comfortably,” Dunham says. Ramp up the intensity by moving in multiple directions, and increasing your speed.
When to do it: Add bear crawls into your warmups on upper-body days, Dunham suggests. About two sets of 30 seconds will be enough to create torso and shoulder awareness, while 3-5 sets will work your conditioning. “The bear crawl is great as a finisher because it’s almost impossible to do it without using your core, even when fatigued.
Lie on your back, knees bent and raised, ankles parallel to the ground, feet lifted and arms extended to your sides. Rotate your legs to the left, bringing your knees as close to the floor as possible without touching it. Return to the centre, then move your knees to the right side.
Do 10-12 reps per side.
Slow bicycle crunch
Good for training strength and endurance and a good alternative for those who love to ‘feel the burn’ of a sit-up or crunch type exercise – without wearing away at the discs in your lower back. Set up by lying on your back with feet up, hands on the side of your head (not behind, so you don’t get tempted to yank on your neck), and while your legs do a bicycle peddling movement, you bring your opposite elbow to your opposite knee in a ‘rotational crunch’ type of movement. You’ll feel these predominantly in the rectus abdominis (your six-pack), and the obliques, with some good cross patterning action for our brains to go with it, as we get that opposite shoulder and hip movement working in sync.
Seated Straight-Leg Lift
The straight leg raise offers a low-impact, equipment-free exercise suitable for virtually all experience levels. Straight leg raises won’t melt away fat, and they can’t sculpt your lower body all by their lonesome, but they can help give your hips, thighs and abs that all-important tone and definition. Include the exercise alongside staples like squats and lunges as part of a regular lower-body routine.
Why it rocks: Lying leg lifts can be tough on your lower back if you’re still improving that core strength, but this seated modification ensures you’ll feel sore in all the right places (read: six-pack muscles).
How to: Start seated with the legs extended out in front of you. While sitting tall and engaging core, hinge forward slightly. Keep feet flexed while lifting right heel 3 to 5 inches off the ground. Pause and lower, then repeat with left leg. That’s one rep.
Single Leg Stretch strengthens the abs and the buttocks as well as improves coordination.
How to: Lie on back with left leg extended straight in air, just above mat, and head and shoulders curled up off floor to hug right knee to chest with arms. Keeping left leg straight, hover left foot a few inches off the ground. This is your starting position. Slowly and with control, release and straighten right leg to hover above the floor, while bending left knee in towards chest and wrapping hands around left shin. That’s one rep. Perform 15.
Modifications: To make this one easier, rest foot of extended leg on the floor.
Side to Side
side-to-side hop is a calisthenics, cardiovascular, pilates, and plyometrics exercise that primarily targets the quads and to a lesser degree also targets the calves, glutes, hamstrings and outer thighs.
A. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, with your arms at your sides.
B. Exhale and engage your core as you slide your right hand toward your right foot. (Your head and neck should remain aligned and your lower back pressed to the floor.)
C. Return to start, then switch sides and repeat the beginner ab workout move.
Do 15 reps.
You might prefer the reverse crunch if you have difficulty with neck discomfort in the traditional crunch or situp. This exercise will activate your major abdominal muscles, including the external obliques on the sides of the abdomen.2 It is good for developing an appealing stomach musculature as well as strong and functional abs. A strong core is a basis for improving your sports performance and maintaining balance, stability, and good posture in daily life. Strengthening the abdominal muscles will prepare you not only for vigorous sporting activity but also for those active tasks around the home, like gardening, where bending and twisting and reaching are paramount. It is good to include a variety of abs exercises in your routine so your core muscles are challenged in slightly different ways.
Lie on the floor and place hands at your sides or behind the head. Bring the knees in towards the chest until they’re bent to 90 degrees. Contract the abs to curl the hips off the floor, reaching the legs up towards the ceiling. It’s a very small movement, so try to use your abs to lift your hips rather than swinging your legs and creating momentum.
Stomach crunch with legs raised
The rectus abdominis is the chief target of the basic crunch. The vertical leg crunch not only increases the rectus abdominis workout, it is effective for recruiting the lower back extensors, the transverse abdominals, and even the external obliques and internal obliques.
Building your core muscles will increase your metabolism, which is key to burning fat throughout the day, even when you’re not exercising. The vertical leg crunch helps improve your balance and posture by recruiting muscles along your spine. Changing up your ab routine is part of getting a full core workout, and there are variations and options to help you expand your abs exercises repertoire.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your hands across your chest.
Slowly pull your knees into your chest, keeping them bent at 90 degrees, until your buttocks and tailbone come off the floor. Hold the position for a moment and lower down slowly. Perform 12 crunches.
Don’t tuck your neck into your chest as you rise.
Don’t use your hands to pull your neck up.
Hollow body rock
We often neglect the muscles we can’t see, especially with midsection training,” says Martin. “This exercise works the inner core muscles.
“Start lying on your back – the goal is to flatten your back or push it into the floor. Maintain this position throughout the whole movement. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Begin by lifting your shoulders off the floor, and at the same time lift your knees and feet off the floor to a 90° angle. While maintaining this position with your back pressed into the ground, start to rock back and forth. Start with 20 seconds to begin with. To make the exercise more challenging, you can extend the time, and also try increasing the lever length by straightening your legs and extending your arms overhead.
Spider Plank Crunch
It not only engages your ab muscles, but strengthens your entire core, both the front and the back. It also targets your obliques, triceps, and shoulders, glutes.
You’re also improving hip mobility with this move, which can help to loosen tight muscles, reduce lower-back pain, and improve knee health.
Targets: Lower abs, glutes
Still have fuel left in the tank? Rubin challenges True Beginners to tap into their Spidey sense. Start in a push-up position, hands on the ground directly underneath your shoulders, legs extended backwards with your toes on the ground, so your body is in a straight line. Lift your right leg and bring your knee towards the outside of your right elbow (a). Return to plank position (b). Repeat the movement with the other leg. Do five reps with each leg.
Modification: If this is too challenging, simply hold a plank on your elbows or hands for 30 seconds at a time, for three rounds. (If you have a wrist issue, Rubin recommends doing this movement on your elbows.)
Touching the toes does not seem a problem when you are a baby but as you begin to count the years, it becomes a tall order. Try to perform this with your legs placed straight and you will discover that you are not all that flexible or your core and thighs are not that flexible. You may perform toe touching with a variety of positions, and this is what determines which part of body benefits from the workout. During your Coquitlam group personal training, try to discover more of the toe touching exercises and their variations from the personal trainer
Why it rocks: Sick of situps? Toe touches up the ante for your lower abs, so you’ll feel the burn a lot quicker.
How to: Start lying on back with arms extended straight up over chest and legs raised straight up towards ceiling with toes pointed. Keeping lower body still, engage core and lift upper body off mat to tap ankles or feet with fingers. Return to start. That’s one rep.
The rectus abdominis muscle flexes to bring your shoulders towards your hips. As one of the major core muscles, it provides stability for the body.1 A strong back and abs are the foundation of all your daily movements as well as performance in sports.
How to: Start lying on back with legs in air (knees over hips) bent at 90 degrees, arms rounded and hands gently resting on backs of thighs, just below knees. Use core to curl forward so that head, shoulders, and upper back lift up off the ground and towards knees as elbows bend outwards. Lower back a few inches and then forward (i.e. pulsing). That’s one rep. Perform 30.
Modifications: To make the move more challenging, bring hands behind head, cross arms over chest, or extend them straight out on either side of knees.