Beyond Crunches: The Best Ab Exercises You Should Be Doing
We all like to work our abs, right? But it's easy to get in a rut with your routine. Here are 30 of the best ab exercises to get a tight, toned, and strong middle. We've included both bodyweight moves, which you can do anywhere, along with weighted exercises for when you want to take it up a notch. We've even included some of our favorites using the cable-pulley machine. Add a few of these moves to your next workout! Be sure to rotate different exercises into your routine because you don't want your abs to get bored.
The name may make you laugh, but this stability exercise fires up the core, working both the front and back of the body.
- Lie on your back with a neutral spine and your hips and knees at right angles with your palms pressed into your thighs just above your knees.
- Pull your abs to your spine, keeping your ribs and pelvis still as you lengthen your right arm and leg out until they are almost parallel to the floor. Do keep your torso and spine completely stable as the arm and leg move.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat on the left side to complete one rep.
This classic Pilates exercise fires up the entire abdominal wall.
- Start lying on your back with your legs in tabletop position (hips and knees at right angles). Engage your deep abs to round your lower spine into the floor. Make sure you are not "pooching" your abs, which means you are just working the top layer of abs, which is a Pilates no-no.
- Exhale and lift your upper back off the floor, until the bottom tips of your shoulder blades skim the floor. Straighten your legs to a 45-degree angle (but make sure your low back is staying connected to the floor). Reach your arms toward your feet. Your arms will be about two inches off the floor.
- Pump your arms up and down with a small range of motion, keeping your elbows straight. Inhale for five arm pumps, and exhale for five pumps. That completes one set or cycle. Repeat the cycle nine more times for a total of 100 pumps.
- Keep your upper body stable while your arms pump.
Sometimes the simplest moves are the hardest.
- Start on the floor resting on your forearms and knees.
- Step your feet out one at a time, coming into a plank position.
- Contract your abs to prevent your booty from sticking up or sinking. Your spine should be parallel to the floor with your abs pulling toward the ceiling.
- Hold 30 seconds, and work your way up to one minute as you get stronger.
Considered one of the most effective ab exercises, this move really works the obliques.
- Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground (pull your abs down to also target your deep abs). Interlace your fingers, and put your hands behind your head.
- Bring your knees in toward your chest, and lift your shoulder blades off the ground.
- Straighten your right leg out to about a 45-degree angle to the ground while turning your upper body to the left, bringing your right elbow toward the left knee. Make sure your rib cage is moving and not just your elbows.
- Now switch sides and do the same motion on the other side to complete one rep (and to create the pedaling motion). Do this exercise with slow and controlled motion.
- Do 10 to 20 reps.
This move is all about moving with control and works both the upper and lower portion of the abs.
- Start lying on your back with your arms reaching toward the ceiling.
- Exhale and roll up toward sitting while lifting your left leg up. Pause at the top and reach for your toes before rolling slowly back down to the mat. Then perform on the other side. This completes one rep.
- Complete as many as you can with good form for one minute.
With the knees opened out to the sides, the powerful hip flexors are at a disadvantage and can't assist the movement as much as if the legs are in the center; this forces the abs to work more — and that's a good thing.
- Lie on your back with your knees open and the soles of your feet together (in a butterfly position). Lengthen your arms overhead so they are resting on the floor.
- Exhale and bring your hands and knees toward each other, performing a full-body crunch. Your shoulder blades should be off the mat as you perform a small reverse crunch, lifting your pelvis a bit off the mat. Hold this position for a moment and really feel your abs squeezing.
- Slowly lower your arms and feet back to starting position to complete one rep.
- Do as many crunches as you can in one minute.
Seated Russian Twist
You can make this exercise a bit harder by lifting your heels off the floor, and even harder by holding a dumbbell or a medicine ball.
- Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your heels about a foot from your bum.
- Lean slightly back without rounding your spine at all. It is really important and difficult to keep your back straight, but don't let it curve. If you can do this, try lifting your heels to increase the difficulty of the move.
- Place your arms straight out in front of you with your palms touching. Your hands should be level with the bottom of your rib cage.
- Pull your navel to your spine, and twist slowly to the left. The movement is not large and comes from the ribs rotating, not from your arms swinging. Inhale through center, and rotate to the right. This completes one rep.
- Aim for 16 to 20 full rotations.
The abdominal burn sneaks up on you while doing this move. You'll likely feel it in your shoulders, too.
- Begin in an elbow plank position with the abs engaged.
- Draw the left knee into the chest. Then step the foot back to the elbow plank position. Now draw the right knee into the chest and then step it back to the elbow plank position.
- This counts as one rep.
- Continue alternating sides and complete as many reps as you can in a minute.
Elbow Plank With Alternating Knee Tap
Up the ante on your basic elbow plank by adding some knee taps to really challenge your abs.
- Start resting on all fours.
- With your palms flat, raise up off your knees onto your toes. Keep your hands directly below your shoulders.
- Contract your abs to keep yourself up and prevent your bottom from sticking up. Remember to keep your belly button pulled in.
- With your head and spine in line, keep your back flat — don't let it curve. Picture your body as a long, straight board.
- With control, slowly tap your left knee to the ground without moving your hips. Lift your left knee back up, returning to the starting position. Repeat the same movement with the right leg. This completes one rep.
- Do 15 to 20 reps, or 30 to 40 knees taps total.
Go fast to make this core exercise more about cardio, or move slowly to focus more on the abs.
- Start in a traditional push-up starting position — shoulders over hands and weight on just your toes.
- Bring your right foot forward, bending the knee and putting weight on the ball of your foot.
- Swiftly switch legs, bringing the left knee forward while moving the right leg back. It feels a little like running in place in a plank position. This counts as two reps.
- Complete 30 reps.
Modified Single-Arm Glider Push-Up
Once you mastered this exercise on your knees, try the more advanced version in a full plank.
- Start in a modified push-up position with your knees on the ground and a glider underneath your right hand.
- Engage your core as you lower down into a push-up with control. As you lower your body, simultaneously extend your right arm out in front of you. Lower down as far as you can go without losing your form. Be sure to keep your back flat.
- With control, push your body up as you simultaneously pull your right arm back in so that it's directly underneath your shoulder.
- This counts as one rep.
- Do 10 reps on each arm.
Twisting Side Plank
Adding the twist takes the basic side plank to an entirely new level; be prepared to feel your obliques on this one.
- Come into a side plank on your right side, with your feet stacked one on top of the other and your weight on your right elbow with your fingers reaching away from your body, palm down.
- Place your left arm behind your head, and inhale to prepare.
- Exhale and pull your navel to your spine to engage your deep abs and rotate your left rib cage toward the floor. Stay there for a second, and deepen your abdominal connection by pulling your navel in toward your spine even more.
- Return to starting position, and repeat seven more times for a total of eight reps, then switch sides.
This advanced move will fire up the entire abdominal wall and works your shoulders, too.
- Begin in a side elbow plank with your left elbow down and your right hand behind your head.
- Keeping your torso stable and your waist lifted, bring your right leg up toward your shoulder to lightly tap your right elbow.
- Lengthen your right leg back to the starting position to complete one rep.
- Do as many reps as you can in 30 seconds and then switch sides for another 30 seconds.
TRX Knee Tucks
If you have access to a TRX, try this exercise — it's intense.
- With the straps at mid-calf length, place your feet into each of the foot cradles.
- Lift your knees off the ground, coming into a plank position with your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Your back should be flat and your core should be engaged (there should be no arch or dip of the torso visible).
- Bring both knees in toward your elbows at the same time. Extend your legs, returning to your starting position. This completes one rep.
Standing Weighted Twist
Some call this move the flashlight, and we love it for the intense focus on the abs. Straighten your arms to increase the difficulty. Once you master the move, try speeding up.
- Stand with your knees slightly soft, holding a dumbbell at chest level.
- Keep your pelvis stable as you rotate your rib cage right and left to complete one rep. Be sure to keep your abs pulled toward your spine as you twist from side to side.
- Do three sets of 30 reps each.
This exercise teaches core stabilization; it's harder than it looks.
- Lower the carriage of a cable machine so that it's about chest height, and attach a D-handle to the pulley (or keep the ropes on for efficiency sake). Adjust the weight so that it's at 10 pounds. If this is too heavy or too light, feel free to change the weight.
- Standing with the left side of your body closest to the machine, grab the handle with both hands and take two or three steps out so that there's tension on the cable. Hold your hands at your sternum, and make sure that your body is square. If you feel like you're getting pulled to the left, this is an indicator that you should lighten the weight.
- On an exhale, press the cable straight out in front of your body. Be sure not to rotate toward the machine. Hold for two seconds before returning to the starting position. This counts as one rep.
- Do 10 reps each side.
This move is incredibly effective and works your entire core.
- Attach a triceps rope handle to the pulley on the carriage of a cable station. Adjust the carriage so that it's near the top third of the machine. The exact position will vary based on your height.
- Next, select the amount of resistance you want — 22.5 pounds is a great starting point. As you begin to become more comfortable with the movement, feel free to increase the weight.
- Facing the pulley, come into a kneeling position approximately one and a half feet away from the machine.
- Grab the triceps rope handles and brace your core. You should feel a light stretch in your abs; if not, increase the weight. Make sure your weight is in your shins.
- Simultaneously pull both handles with bent arms and perform a crunch. Your elbows should be parallel to your thighs.
- With control, return to the starting position as you maintain tension on the pulley. That completes one repetition.
- Start with 10 reps.
Medicine Ball Slam
This move is just plain fun! You will almost forget you are working your abs.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, with a 10-pound medicine ball on the floor in front of you.
- Squat down and pick up the medicine ball, keeping your head up and trying not to round the spine.
- Stand up, lifting the medicine ball above your head, fully extending the arms straight above you.
- Forcefully slam the ball down on the floor as hard as you can. If the ball is light enough, catch the ball as it bounces slightly off the floor.
- Complete 15 reps.
Plank and Rotate
Twisting in a plank position fires up the core and works your obliques.
- Begin in a plank position holding a five-pound dumbbell in each hand, keeping your wrists stiff to protect the joints. Open your feet a little wider than hip distance.
- Lift your left hand to the ceiling, twisting through your entire torso — keep the motion smooth and controlled. Your pelvis will rotate, but keep it level without letting it raise or drop.
- Bring your left hand back to the floor, and repeat this action on the other side to complete one rep.
- Do 10 to 15 reps to complete a set.
As you stabilize your core while circling the medicine ball above your head, your abs will feel the burn. Your arms will feel it, too!
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a slight bend in your knees. Keeping your spine in neutral, lift a five- to eight-pound medicine ball overhead.
- Begin to circle the ball to the left, in the largest circles you can make, while maintaining a still and stable torso.
- Circle eight times, then reverse directions for another eight reps to complete one set. Do three sets.
Low to High Woodchop
This dynamic exercise works the obliques and upper abs while keeping your heart rate up. Although this is a full-body move, it doesn't require a lot of space, so you can do it almost anywhere. Use a five- to 10-pound dumbbell or a medicine ball.
- Squat, and twist left to hold the dumbbell on the outside of your left leg.
- Exhale, and lift the weight diagonally across your body, ending twisted to the right with the dumbbell above your head. Pivot on your left foot as needed.
- The move is a bit percussive, so focus on the rotation initiating in your torso.
- Control the weight back up to the starting position to complete one rep.
- Remember you are moving with force but also control. Don't give into the momentum of swinging the weight around. Do three sets of 15 reps on each side.
Dumbbell Crossover Punch
Adding weights to the classic sit-up brings a whole new level of toning to your workout.
- Begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, about two feet from your butt. Hold weights, five- to eight-pound dumbbells, in both hands at your chest with your elbows on the floor.
- Keeping your hands at your chest, roll up to a sitting position. Twist your ribs to the left as you "punch" your right hand to the outside of the left knee.
- Bring the right hand back to your chest as you untwist, bringing your torso back to the center, and roll down to the ground.
- Repeat the sit-up, twisting to the right side to complete one rep.
- Fifteen reps complete a set.
Overhead Reach With Leg Lower
This move challenges both the lower and upper abs to maintain torso stability while your arms and legs move away from your center. It's great for runners.
- Lie on your back with your arms reaching toward the ceiling, holding one weight with both hands. With the sole of your left foot on the mat, bring your right toes toward the ceiling.
- Exhale and lower your arms and leg toward the floor, keeping your lower back touching the mat.
- Inhale and return to starting position to complete one rep. Repeat on the other side, and continue alternating for 20 reps total.
In yoga, Camel Pose increases the flexibility in your spine, but this challenging variation using a weight strengthens your abs while helping to create a lovely, lean torso. Besides working the entire abdominal wall, this move gives the quads an active stretch to boot!
- Start on your knees. If this hurts your knees, fold up a mat or towel and kneel on that for a little cushioning. Your thighs should be parallel.
- Hold a five- to eight-pound dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest.
- Take a breath in, and as you exhale, lean back, squeezing your glutes, and use your abs to keep your spine straight. As you inhale, return your torso back to the starting position.
- Repeat for a total of 15 times. Complete a total of three sets.
The secret sauce in this exercise: use your abs to control your movement on the way down. Uncurl slowly instead of just letting gravity pull you down.
- Lie on your back with a three- to five-pound dumbbell in each hand. Raise your arms straight up above your chest, with a slight bend at each elbow. Raise your legs up to tabletop, with knees and hips bent to 90-degree angles.
- Inhale and open your arms to your side, with a slight bend at each elbow. Exhale as you bring your arms back up to starting position.
- Once your arms are back straight, lift your upper back and curl up toward your legs, pushing your weights toward your shins. As you curl up, stretch your legs out in front of you.
- Uncurl your spine slowly as you lower your upper body to the floor while bending your knees back to 90-degree angles. Once your head is back on the floor, release your arms to back out by your side, making sure not to let your upper arms touch the floor.
- Do 15 to 20 reps for a set. Do at least two sets.
High to Low Wood Chop
We love the wood chop, and this variation is one of celeb trainer Gunnar Peterson's favorites.
- Holding an eight- to 10-pound dumbbell overhead, twist to the left, pivoting your right foot as needed.
- Exhale, and slice the dumbbell across your body to the right as you raise your right knee, bringing the weight to the outside of your right hip.
- Raise the weight back to starting position, and lightly tap your right toes to the floor. This completes one rep. Do three sets of 15 reps on each side.
Reverse Lunge With Twist
This lunge variation works the entire body, and adding the twist ensures that your abs get a little extra attention.
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Hold a five- to 10-pound medicine ball with both hands with your arms outstretched in front of you.
- Keep your core stable, and take a large step back with your right foot, planting your foot and then lowering your body until both legs are bent in right angles.
- As you sink into the lunge, twist your torso to the left.
- Bring your torso back to center, and exhale as you straighten your legs. Bring your feet back together, and then step back on your left leg, twisting to the right.
- This completes one rep. Do 10 reps for a set, and do at least two sets.
V-Sit With Single-Arm Chest Fly
In this variation, the abs work extra to maintain stability as you pull the dumbbell away from your center.
- Begin sitting with your heels planted about two feet from your butt, holding the weights at chest level with a slight bend in your elbows. Lean back a few inches, pulling your abs toward your spine to keep your spine long and straight.
- The left arm remains still, as you open your right arm to the side, making sure the weight doesn't go beyond your shoulder.
- Bring your right arm back to center to complete one rep.
- Complete 10 reps with the right arm, then switch sides for another 10 reps to complete a set. Do three sets total.
Standing Side Bend
The standing side bend works your obliques, and celeb trainer Harley Pasternak recommends this move to keep your waist tight. We like that it simultaneously stretches one side of your torso while working the other — it feels good.
- Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-distance apart holding a five- to 10-pound dumbbell over your head. Squeeze your head with your upper arms to fire up your core and protect your neck.
- Bend sideways to the right, squeezing your waist on the right side. Keep your neck as neutral as possible, looking forward, not down.
- Pull the left ribs down to return to standing upright. This focuses the work on the left obliques. Switch sides, and bend to the left to complete one rep.
- Repeat for a total of 12 reps.
Lying Overhead Reach
This move works your abs in a lengthened position as the muscles stabilize your pelvis and rib cage against the weight as it lowers to the floor. You may be lying on the ground, but this move is quite challenging.
- Lie on your back with your hips and knees both at 90-degree angles, using your low abs to press your lower back into the mat. Holding five- to eight-pound dumbbells, raise your arms toward the ceiling, keeping the elbow joint slightly bent.
- Reach your arms overhead, tapping the dumbbells on the floor above your head. Do not let your back arch away from the floor as you lower the weights.
- Raise your arms back to the starting position to complete one rep.
- Do 15 reps to complete a set.