- There are numerous exercises that target your abs, but certain exercises are more effective than others.
- The most effective ab exercises are a wide range of movements that can be performed at the gym, at home, with machines, free weights, or no equipment at all.
- You can even sculpt your abs through cardio workouts.
When someone wants to tone their abdominals, they often don’t realize that abs are one of the most difficult parts of the body to shape. According to Self magazine, this is because your abs, or rectus abdominus, aren’t easy to target and it’s possible that, with certain popular exercises, you’re only targeting part of the large muscle.
Navigating which exercises are best for targeting your abs doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need to know is that some of the most effective exercises for abdominal definition don’t need to be performed at the gym or require equipment. They will, however, often work a few muscles at a time.
So what are the best exercises to target your abs? INSIDER reached out to trainers for their favorite moves.
Rotational ball slams combine cardio and strength exercises
EverybodyFights instructor Ricardo Rose recommends rotational ball slams for abdominal work because the combination move marries cardio and core work in one swift movement.
“Starting with feet squared and medicine ball at the hips, from here, create a big circle around and above the head while pivoting the feet to the side you’re slamming to,” he told INSIDER. “Aim to slam the ball right outside of the foot.”
Repeat 10 times in each direction.
Kneeling dumbbell chops, with the right form, do wonders for your core
Kneeling dumbbell chops are amazing for your core just as long as you’re mindful of your form, Rose said.
“Start in a half-kneeling position, let’s say right knee down and left foot is out in front,” he said. “Start with a single dumbbell (DB) of medium weight (not too heavy, not too light), and begin with your left hand above your right-hand grip on the DB handle. Weight starts at the side of the hip where the knee is down – in this example, DB will start at the right hip.
“Proceed to chop the DB up and across the body over the left shoulder. Make sure to keep an upright position, not allowing your upper body to collapse forward. A great way to advance this exercise is to chop both in the upward direction and downward direction in a single rep. This is much harder and will require major stability in your core.”
Landmine rotations require gym equipment
If you’re a member at your local gym, take advantage of the equipment available to you. A lot of the accessories and machines can be used for core work, and Rose told INSIDER a landmine rotation for barbells is a great example of this.
“Hold the end of the barbell about hip level [with] one hand under and one hand over,” he said. “From here, give your knees a slight bend. Begin the rotation by pivoting the feet keeping your core engaged, arms straight, bringing your hands overhead and facing the barbell. Essentially rotating 90 degrees, control back to starting position and repeat for 10 reps each side.”
Add heel touches to the classic crunch
The classics are classics for a reason, and Rose told INSIDER he’s a fan of this one.
“Start laying down in a normal crunch position, feet flat on the floor, arms straight to your sides and shoulders raised off the floor,” he said. “Begin reaching sideways to either heel. At the same time you’re reaching to touch your heel, crunch the upper body slightly forward, bringing your shoulders higher off the floor.
“Keeping your shoulders off the floor and adding a crunch with the reach will keep your abs engaged while you work, giving you a greater burn in your core. Repeat 10 heel touches each side.”
The lying dumbbell triceps extension with a hip thrust works more than just your core
You don’t have to have extraordinary coordination skills to perform this highly effective ab exercise.
Fitbit ambassador and celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak told INSIDER that lying dumbbell tricep extensions leading into a hip thrust work your triceps, glutes, and abs, and – make no mistake – you can feel that burn in each area.
“To do this exercise properly, lay on a mat with feet about hip distance and flat on the mat, and hold a pair of lightweight dumbbells with your arms extended up toward the ceiling, palms facing each other,” he said. “Bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells back toward your ears.
“Next, press your hips up toward the ceiling while simultaneously straightening your arms to raise the dumbbells. Be sure not to hyperextend your elbows. Lower the dumbbells and your hips back toward the mat and repeat for two or three sets of eight to 12 reps.”
Twist planks keep your core strong
For a deep twist, start from a traditional plank position on your toes and palms with a flat back. “Keeping your core strong, bring your right knee to the left side of your chest, and then return to plank position. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep,” Pasternak said.
Spider planks are just as fancy as they sound, but don’t let that intimidate you
To start, place your hands on the floor with your elbows directly under your shoulders, extending your legs behind you. “Your body should form a straight line from head to heels” as you “lift your right foot off the floor and bend your right knee toward the outside of your right elbow, then extend it straight behind you, keeping your foot a few inches off the floor,” Pasternak said.
“Pause, then lower your foot to the ground. Switch legs and repeat on the other side. That’s one rep.”
Pike planks have you starting in push-up position
To pike plank, get into the traditional push-up position with your knees and hips off the ground. Arch your back (Pasternak suggested imagining a rope attached to your tailbone is “pulling your butt straight up to the ceiling”) as you look at your shoelaces. “Then contract your abs and lower your hips back down start.”
Sprinting is surprisingly good for your core
Cardio can pass as core work too. Pasternak told INSIDER your core is what stabilizes your body from side to side and helps transfer energy from your upper to lower body.
“When you sprint, you are shifting weight from side to side with your limbs moving – your core needs to work extremely hard,” he explained. “You are also working to stay upright and that works the core muscles as well.”
Cable rotations target your obliques
To fine-tune your obliques, fitness coach and founder of TS Fitness Noam Tamir told INSIDER that cable rotations are ideal. “With your arms extended, rotate only your torso, keeping your head facing forward and your hips straight,” he said. A torso rotation with weighted resistance helps to create muscle growth and strength.
Captain’s-chair leg lifts help you create definition in your core
Do you know that one machine that just sort of sits in the corner of the gym? The one that looks like a high chair with a cushioned back and no bottom? This is called the “captain’s chair,” Tamir told INSIDER, and it’s amazing for core work.
“You rest your elbows on the machine, and your back is against the pad on the back,” he said. “You can either lift your knees up past your hips or with straight legs lift your legs. This works your rectus abdominus, your obliques, and your transverse. You really need to focus when doing this because you can easily let the hip flexors take over. It’s great at helping to create definition for your core.”
Reverse crunches target new muscles
Using your dumbbell for stability, put it on the floor behind your head and lie flat on your back, bending your knees to form a 90-degree angle. Tamir told INSIDER that bringing your heels to your glutes and curling your spine as you pull your knees into your chest until your lower back is off the ground will “work primarily the rectus abdominis and the transverse.” In other words, it’s great for lower abdominal work.
Band rotations can be done at home
If you’re working out at home without machines, resistance bands are an affordable accessory that can be utilized to work every part of the body – especially your core. Tamir told INSIDER that rotations are a great introduction to resistance-bands core training.
To begin, anchor one side of the band to a wall and stand perpendicular to it, Tamir said. From there, clutch the band using both hands and hold it at chest height.
“With your arms extended, rotate only your torso, keeping your head facing forward and your hips straight,” he said. “This works the obliques primarily since you are rotating your torso, and since it’s with a band, it gets harder at the end of the movement because there is more resistance.”
V-ups are a trusted move
Like heel touches, crunches and sit-ups are classic ab exercises for a reason – they work. So it makes sense why athletes would want to play around with these movements to make them even more intensive. Case in point: the V-up.
“Starting with your body flat on the ground and your arms overhead,” Tamir said. “Lift your arms and legs, at the same time lifting your shoulders up off the ground and touching your legs. Return back down without resting your arms our feet on the ground. This is a great exercise for hitting the core.”
Barbell rollouts are not easy
Barbell rollouts are one of the best exercises to work the entire core, and they’re also one of the most demanding exercises.
“Starting in a kneeling position with a barbell in front of you, place each hand on opposite ends of the bar,” said Nate Price, a certified personal trainer and the owner of Grit N Grind Fitness in Dallas. “Begin to roll the barbell out and away from your body as you unhinge at the hips and knees. Your arms should be straight as your body begins to flatten out and hover above the ground. Using your core, retract the motion and repeat for time or repetitions.”
You’ll feel the burn with kettlebell plank pull-throughs
“Start in a high-plank position – push-up position – with a kettlebell behind your left or right hand,” Price told INSIDER. “With the opposite hand, grab the kettlebell and bring it to the opposite side underneath your body. It is important to keep your core engaged and to make sure that your body remains in a straight line from head to ankle throughout the movement. You can repeat this movement for a set time or a certain number of repetitions.”
Mountain climbers target your lower abs
Mountain climbers are another oldie-but-goodie that require you to crunch your knees and blast your lower abs while you run in place. It’s a classic move, but in case you need a few pointers, Nick Rueger, a regional manager of personal training for Retro Fitness, broke it down for INSIDER.
“To start, get into a push-up plank position, on your hands and toes,” he said. “In this position, you’ll pull your right knee into your chest as far as you can, then switch and bring the left knee in. Keep your hips near parallel to the floor and make sure you’re running those knees in as far and as fast as you can. The trick to engage the abdominals is to never let your forward foot touch the ground.”
Crunch-dumbbell presses use extra weight to your core’s advantage
Rueger told INSIDER that the more muscles you work in an exercise, the more calories and fat you’ll burn in the long run. Adding weight and tacking on exercises to make one compound movement, like the crunch-dumbbell press, he said, is key.
“To start, lay down flat on your back with your heels dug into the ground, knees bent,” he said. “The dumbbells will be resting on your chest in this position. As you crunch up toward your knees, you’ll also be chest-pressing the dumbbells. Three sets of 15 crunch presses are ideal for getting a good abdominal and chest burn.”
Incline sit-ups are an effective workout
Another piece of gym equipment that’s optimal for core work: the incline bench. Samantha Morrison, a fitness trainer and health and wellness expert for Glacier Wellness, told INSIDER that incline sit-ups are one of the most effective exercises for sculpting your abdominal muscles.
“The best part is that incline benches are designed to help you maintain your form, which allows for more effective reps every time,” Morrison said. “Plus, the added stability makes it safer to hold weights to take your ab workout to the next level.”
Kettlebell swings work opposing muscles
Desi Bartlett, a certified personal trainer and Manduka ambassador, told INSIDER that kettlebell swings are effective because they work opposing muscle groups (in this case the core and lower back).
“Using a moderately weighted kettlebell, stand with feet hip-distance apart,” Bartlett said. “Hold the kettlebell in both hands and swing the kettlebell overhead, then back in between the legs. Be sure to keep a neutral spine and power from the core. This exercise works the core (while bending over) and the lower back (while standing), which are opposing muscle groups. This is key in building a strong core – as one muscle group stretches, the other flexes, building strength.”
Dumbbell Russian twists will sculpt your obliques
“In a seated position on the floor with the knees bent, hold a dumbbell with both hands,” Anyang said. “Keeping the core engaged and back straight, rotate both shoulders and dumbbell to one hip, switch, and rotate it to the other. Repeat this movement until the desired repetition.”