13 Moves That Trainers Swear Will Strengthen Even the Deepest Part of Your Core
There are so many ways to work your abs — standing, on the floor, with or without weights — that there are probably dozens of possibilities you haven't tried. And it's not just for aesthetics; having a strong core supports your back and virtually every movement you do on a day-to-day basis. We could name plenty of exercises we love, but we wanted to hand it off to 11 trainers for their go-to ab moves. This isn't a workout: rather, a collection of some challenging and effective moves you can incorporate into your next home or gym workout. Now, let's get to shredding that core.
Rachael Finch, Australian personal trainer and creator of Body by Finch, told us that scissor kicks are one of her favorite moves because "this Pilates-based exercise primarily works the hip flexors and the transverse abdominis, the deepest muscle in the stomach, which can be often overlooked. The hip flexors work to lift and hold your legs slightly off the floor."
- Lie flat on your back. Extend your arms so they're against the sides of your body with your palms pressing into the floor, or bend your elbows, place your palms under the back of your head, and bend your knees and draw them into your ribs. (This will make it easier to pull your navel in toward your spine and actively press your lower back flat on the ground.)
- Lift both legs straight up toward the ceiling, continuing to engage your abs and pressing your lower back into the ground.
- Keeping your core strong, slowly lower your right leg down toward the ground until it is a few inches above it. Then slowly scissor your legs, lifting your right leg back up as you lower your left leg down toward the ground.
- Rachael says to repeat this for 30 to 45 seconds.
"Toe touches get into those deep lower abs that make your stomach look flat," Lyuda Bouzinova, ACE-certified personal trainer and co-founder of Mission Lean, said.
- Lie on your back on the floor. Raise your arms to your ears or directly above your chest.
- Without lifting your hips from the ground, raise your legs, holding them there throughout the set.
- Use your abs to slowly curl your shoulders off the ground, bringing your fingertips to your toes. Now slowly lower your shoulders to the ground, pausing at the starting position to complete one rep. Don't use your neck as momentum to make the motion.
- Do three sets of 15, Lyuda says.
"Russian Twists are amazing for obliques, which help carve out a beautiful proportional waistline," Lyuda said.
- Sit on the ground and 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.
- Pull your navel to your spine and twist to the left. Inhale through center and rotate to the right.
- Lyuda says to keep twisting for 15 reps on each side for a total of three sets.
"This is a great, beginner-friendly ab exercise and also it hits all of the ab muscles," Jaleel Roberts, ACSM-certified lead trainer at Planet Fitness in Charlotte, North Carolina, said. "Most of the members who perform this exercise love it due to the fact that it is easy to learn."
- Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground.
- With your hands behind your head, bring your knees toward your chest and lift your upper back until your shoulder blades are off the mat. Be sure not to pull on your neck.
- 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.
- Switch sides, and do the same motion on the other side to complete one rep.
- Jaleel says to do three to four sets of 30 seconds or 10 to 12 reps.
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and PUMATRAC Global fitness curator Anthony McClain said, "I am a huge fan of doing this exercise with an ab wheel specifically because it allows you to target all portions of your abdominals instead of just an isolated segment. Form is tremendously important. Extend with control and practice building upon that controlled range of motion."
- Kneel with the wheel in front of you. Keeping your arms straight and core tight, push them out, rolling the ab wheel as far away as you can without breaking your form.
- Hold this plank-like position for two to three seconds.
- Slowly return to the starting position by contracting your abs and rolling the wheel back toward your knees. That completes one rep.
- Anthony recommends performing these until failure (once form is compromised), or for three sets of 10 down the middle. He also suggests experimenting with "doing reps in multiple directions to emphasize the recruitment of the obliques," so five to the right, five down the middle, and five to the left.
"This move is great because it forces the TVA [your transverse abdominis] to stabilize while you add movement that works the obliques," Allison Tibbs, NASM-certified personal trainer, said. "It's definitely a one-two punch for creating strong and defined abs."
- In a plank, open your knee to the side and bring your left knee to your left elbow and right knee to right elbow, alternate sides.
- Allison says to repeat this for 30 to 60 seconds.
James Shapiro, NASM-certified personal trainer in NYC and owner of Primal Power Fitness, told us that V-ups "require a lot of muscle activation and coordination for both the up and downward motion."
- Lie on your back, and lift your legs and arms up so they are extended toward the ceiling. Lift your upper back off the floor, reaching your hands toward your feet.
- Lower your arms and legs toward the floor at the same time, keeping your arms at your ears, shoulders off the mat, and lower back pressed into the mat. This is one rep.
- James suggests completing anywhere from 14 to 20 reps.
- For more variation, James says to alternate with opposing limbs or add light dumbbells.
Ali Greenman, NASM- and ACE-certified personal trainer and founder of Final Straw Fitness, said, "The Pallof Press is sure to light up your whole core and build some unbelievable strength all throughout!"
- Lower the carriage of a cable machine so that it's about chest height, and attach a D-handle to the pulley. 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.
- Ali says to do eight to 12 reps on each side.
- To make the move more challenging, Ali suggests holding for 10 seconds when your hands are all the way out.
Caley Crawford, NASM-certified personal trainer and director of education at Row House, said, "As a traditional gymnastic core exercise, hollow holds strengthen and stabilize the entire core. They will make your abs look great and are a functional core movement that will make all of your other workout movements and daily life movements safer and more stable."
- Begin on your back with your legs straight and your arms extended overhead.
- Actively press your lower back into the floor and draw your belly button into your spine.
- Inhale to slowly lift your shoulders, arms, and legs off the floor. Keep your hands and heels as low to the ground as possible, while still pressing your lower back into the floor. Maintain tight abs and glutes.
- Hold for five to 30 seconds to complete one rep.
- For a modification, Caley says to bend the knees when your lower back comes off the ground. She also recommends alternating or integrating this exercise into a circuit with other ab moves, holding each move for 10 seconds and increasing the duration for every round until you get up to one minute of each move.
Side Plank Crunch
"Side planks are great for shoulder stability and core strengthening," Caley said. "The obliques are the heavy hitter for this movement. Not only are you firing up your lower obliques, but adding the knee drives also provides an additional oblique crunch on the other side."
- Begin in a side elbow plank with your left forearm on the floor and your right hand behind your head.
- Keeping your torso stable and your waist lifted, bring your right knee up toward your shoulder to lightly tap your right elbow.
- Lengthen your right leg back to the starting position to complete one rep.
- Do 10 to 12 reps on each side to complete a set.
- Caley also recommends alternating or integrating this exercise into a circuit with other ab moves, holding each move for 10 seconds (for these, 10 seconds on each side) and increasing the duration until you get up to one minute of each move.
"Visible abs are made in the kitchen," Latoya Julce, NCSF- and ACE-certified personal trainer and instructor at 305 Fitness, told us. "But, when you add single-leg V-ups, the workout will successfully harden and transform your abdominals. With single-leg V-ups, you have no choice but to engage all aspects of your core to achieve perfect form."
- Start lying on your back with your arms reaching toward the ceiling.
- Exhale and roll up 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 two reps.
- Latoya says to complete 60 reps (30 reps per side). We suggest breaking them up into two or three sets.
- For more intensity, Latoya says to add a twist.
"When a client comes in looking for a great ab exercise, they expect me to give them something they've never seen before," Stan Dutton, an NASM-certified trainer and head coach for Ladder, said. "But the basics are go-to moves for a reason! Planks are prime for abdominal training. Another great benefit is that exercises like the plank have been proven to help keep the lower back healthy and pain-free."
- 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 for 20 to 30 seconds, Stan says. You can work your way up to one minute as you get stronger.
Alternating Mountain Climbers
"There are so many things I love about this power-packed exercise," Sydney Eaton, NASM-certified personal trainer and head of fitness at PK Coin App, said. "First, it is a plank-based exercise, meaning it's going to get the entire core fired up. What I love about this particular variation is that as you crunch your knee in toward your chest, it mimics that crunching motion you would do in a regular crunch. The variation of bringing your knee to the opposite elbow, then outward toward the closest elbow, really targets the obliques from a variety of angles."
- Start in a traditional plank — shoulders over hands and weight on your toes.
- With your core engaged, twist to bring your right knee forward under to your left elbow, then bring that same knee to your right elbow to work your obliques and come back to plank.
- Repeat this with your left knee for one rep.
- Sydney suggests doing three sets of 10 on each leg.