So you want rock-hard abs? While some people may be blessed with their genetics, most people have to work hard to get and maintain a tight core. (And while we absolutely hate to admit it: A big part of building up those beautiful washboard abs is diet on top of exercise!) You don’t just wake up one morning with fully formed abs. But, if you want ’em, there is a way.
Whether you’re looking for that defined and lengthy "11" look, a full-blown six-pack, or are simply hoping to strengthen your ab muscles, you’ll need to be consistent in working out your core. The good news is there are tons of ab exercises you can do (plus various moderations of them if you are struggling to get started) to get you to your goals. And some of them only take a few minutes each day. This means that by carving out just a bit of your morning, afternoon, or evening every day, you can do it. So, are you ready to break a sweat and feel good doing it? Check out these awesome workouts that are sure to get your abs loading.
Passé abs will build a strong core
Passé abs are not, in fact, passé. Here’s how this hot workout works: First, sit down with your legs out in front of you. From there, lean back and prop yourself up to rest on your forearms. Slightly crunching up, bring your right leg into a passé position, by bringing your knee in, pointing your toe, and resting your right foot on the inside of your left leg. Next, lift both legs off the back and up toward your chest, bringing your right knee to your right shoulder, before lowering your legs (still in passé position) back down again to about 2 inches off the mat. You will alternate to work both sides.
"This move is one of my all-time favorite abs sculpting exercises," Andrea Rogers, creator and founder of Xtend Barre, told Shape. "It strengthens the abdominal muscles while developing stability of the pelvic lumbar region. You can also amp things up by increasing the tempo."
The knee-to-elbow plank will get your side muscles working
Why fix what’s not broken? There are some tried-and-true ab workouts that everyone knows and loves because, well, they work. These include the good old knee-to-elbow movement to get your side muscles heated up.
"As a trainer, I’ll always stress the importance of core work," Ashley Wilking of Barry’s Bootcamp told Self. "Your core is the basis for stabilization, weight lifting, and practically any movement in and out of the gym. My favorite? Side planks, targeting those fabulous obliques."
For this workout, you will get into a side plank position (you will alternate both sides). Place your feet in such a way that your top foot is in front of the back one, and you will put your hands behind your head. Then, you will lift your bottom foot off the ground and crunch your knee to your elbow. It’s straightforward and effective — but also much harder than it looks!
Weighted squats are underrated
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to stick to traditional ab workouts to get great abs. In fact, many other full-body workouts also target your stomach muscles, including weighted squats. You can definitely feel the burn in your legs and belly with these.
"People generally look to the old faithful crunches or sit-ups as their favorite abdominal or core exercise," Declan Condron, a coach, trainer, and owner of Condron Fitness, told Shape. "I’m more of a fan of something that is way more practical than lying on the ground straining your neck."
Condron explained that one of the main jobs of your core muscles is to stabilize your trunk and support your squats, lifts, and movements in general. "Many studies show that muscle fiber activation rates in the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and internal and external obliques are higher during the squat than during many ‘traditional’ crunch type exercises where the performer is lying on their back," he went on.
Barbell back squats will crush your core
If you still think squats only target your quads and glutes, you are sorely (pun intended) mistaken. Squats really can build those core muscles, which in turn can help you to perfect more squats. So why not throw some barbell back squats into the mix?
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lift a barbell so that it is centered evenly across your shoulders. Sit back like you are sitting into a chair, bending at your knees, and then press back up from your heels for one rep. Repeat this for a set. And don’t forget to engage those abs while you do it.
"Think about maintaining tension in your abs throughout the entire movement," Edwin Wealth, NASM-CPT and trainer at Equinox, told GQ. "Once you have the movement mastered, you can add additional weights to the barbell. By going up in small increments, though, you’ll stay injury-free."
Towel planks and knee tucks will tighten you up
Towel planks and knee tucks take your traditional plank and spice it up a bit with the help of towels (or sliding pads) as workout props. "Fit and healthy abs should be able to resist external forces, flex, extend, and rotate, and this move does all of these," Marta Montenegro, certified strength and conditioning specialist, exercise physiologist, and adjunct professor at Florida International University, told Shape. "You’ll also burn more calories because it uses more muscles than just the abdominals."
All you have to do is use towels or sliding pads under your feet while in a plank position. Simply slide your toes so your knees reach for your elbows. Your left knee should aim for your right elbow, and vice versa. You can alternate sides for a set. You can also bring both knees in together before resuming the plank position.
The rocking plank will rock your world
Planks, planks, and more planks! There is not just one way to plank. You can add all sorts of variations to your typical plank to make your core work that much harder. For example, a rocking plank can really set your ab muscles on fire.
This "simple strong plank [is] great for training the body’s muscular makeup to support the whole body equally, where you rock forward and back on your wrists," Heather Lilleston, cofounder of Yoga For Bad People, told Self.
You will stark in a plank position with your arms extended — your elbows stacked above your wrists and your shoulders stacked above your elbows. From there, you will slowly rock back and forth from your heels back to your wrists. The trick: "The slower, the better," according to Lilleston. But if you need to modify, you can switch to your forearms instead of your hands.
Hardstyle planks are hard but worth it
We’ll be honest with you: "Hardstyle" planks are indeed hard. If they were easy, well, they probably would not be working your abs as much as they do. In fact, no matter how many times you put yourself into a plank position, this exercise gets you shaking in only a matter of time. That said, of course, the stronger you get, the longer you should push yourself to hold it.
You should start by laying down face-down, and then prop yourself up onto your forearms in a plank position. Your elbows should be nearly aligned below your shoulders, and you should make fists with your hands that are parallel to each other. You will then hold the plank for about 10 to 20 seconds for each set you do.
"The key is to squeeze your entire body — quads, glutes, core, back, and fists — as tight as possible while taking diaphoretic breathes throughout the hold," Edwin Wealth, certified personal trainer at Equinox, told GQ.
A hollow hold is one for the books
One of the best ways to build abs is by holding different positions that work those muscles. And the hollow hold is one way to do just that. "My go-to ab move is the hollow hold because it works your entire core," Dennys Lozada, a trainer at The Fhitting Room, told Self. "A hollow hold can easily be scaled so anyone can effectively perform the movement regardless of fitness level."
A hollow hold is simple but challenging. You will lay back facing up with your arms on the floor above your head. From there, you will list your legs in the air about 30 degrees, as well as raise your head, shoulders, and upper back off the floor. Your arms will come with your upper body. And you will hold that position for, well, as long as you possibly can! Make sure to squeeze your core while you do it to really activate those abs. You can bend a leg here and there to ease any lower back aching, lower your arms to your sides to make it easier, or even add some rocking back and forth to make it more challenging.
Dead bugs will leave you feeling dead
We’re not talking about dead bugs when we say dead bugs, though you might feel like a dead bug by the end of this exercise. Rather, we are talking about an ab workout that requires you to lay down sort of like a dead bug would: with your arms straight up above your shoulders and your legs up and bent at a 90-degree angle. Your knees should be just over your hips. Once in position, you will lower your left arm straight behind your head while straightening your right leg and lowering it toward the floor. You will repeat that same movement from your right arm and left leg and keep repeating alternating reps.
"Make sure your lower back stays in contact with the floor, and try to keep your breathing as regular as possible," Denzel Allen, a StrongFirst trainer in San Francisco, told GQ. "I like this movement because it helps to train left-right coordination between the upper and lower extremities, which can help improve cognitive function, too."
Dumbbell side bends will really leave you feeling it
When in doubt, grab the dumbbells. While many abs exercises do not require any equipment or workout props, dumbbells can certainly add some power to your workout. You do not need to use super heavy dumbbells either.
"Be smart when you pick the weight," Edwin Wealth, certified personal trainer at Equinox, told GQ. "It shouldn’t feel impossible. Using reasonable weights will help you focus on keeping your abs tight during the exercise for maximum results. And keep that tempo nice and slow."
All you have to do is stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in one hand at a time. Let’s start with your right side. Keep your palm facing toward you and your back straight, and bend to the right side as far as you can. Make sure that you are bending at your waist and holding for a moment when you get to your furthest point. Then come back to your standing position. You can do about 12 to 20 reps on each side for one set.
The ball balance is harder than it looks
When you think of ball exercises when it comes to abs, you probably think of crunches on a giant medicine ball. But there is also the ball balance workout that is a lot more difficult than it looks. "There’s no cheating," Nicole De Anda, founder of Trilogy Barre at Equinox, told Self. "This sequence is incredibly effective at promoting deep [core] muscle engagement."
You will need a small playground ball for this exercise — but make sure it is unweighted. You will lay on your back with your legs up and your knees bent in a 90-degree angle so your shins are facing the sky. You will then place the ball on top of your shins, where you will balance it. Once you have that set, you’ll interlace your hands behind your head and lift your shoulders off the ground to crunch up. As you do, you will slowly yet fully extend your legs, while keeping the ball on them without letting it fall to the ground. And then, of course, you will bring them back to a "tabletop" position.
Reverse curls and lifts can keep your core tight
Doing reverse curls and lifts is a surefire way to build a strong core. This is another one of those tried-and-true workouts that’s been around forever because it just plain works. And it works well. "You’ll feel a burn like no other when you do this move," certified personal trainer Jari Love told Shape. "It’s a great way to challenge your abs in a whole new way."
You will lay down flat on your back and place both of your hands behind your head. You will extend your legs out, keeping your heels lifted about six inches off the ground and keeping your toes pointed forward. From there, you will slowly bring your knees in toward your chest, lifting your hips slighting off the floor, while contracting your ab muscles. You will repeat this motion for several reps per set, aiming for as many as you can do.
The Pilates twist will really burn
If you have ever been to a Pilates class, you know that it is no joke. That is why the Pilates twist is a top favorite core workout of Lisa Corsello, creator of Burn Pilates. "In addition to getting a major oblique burn, I feel it in my shoulders and glutes," she told Self. "I love movements that incorporate many different areas of the body. Much more bang for your buck."
You can start with either side. For example, you will sit down on your right hip, keeping your knees bent and crossing your ankles so your right heel touches your left toe. From there, you will straighten your legs and push yourself up onto your right arm (fully extended) and into a side plank position. Then you will extend your top arm up toward the sky while you inhale, and send it down and under your hip as you exhale. Reach your arm behind you before returning to your starting pose and doing it all over again.
Boat pose will build some abs
Yoga: It’s great for the mind and the body. And, particularly, those ab muscles of yours. The boat pose is a total killer. But if you can hold it, you are sure to build some seriously strong stomach muscles. The more often you do this pose, the easier it will get. So it is important to keep striving for longer and longer hold times. "This pose will strengthen the core and tone the abdominal muscles," Tamal Dodge, founder of Yoga Salt, told Shape.
You will start by sitting with your legs together, raised just above the ground, and your knees can be bent. Leaning slightly back, you will extend your arms forward, shifting your weight to draw your abs in tightly. From there, you will extend your legs out and up, so your body forms a V shape, which you will hold for as long as you can. Just remember to lift your chest, even when it starts to burn. And, oh boy, it will certainly burn.