Taking time to do an ab-focused workout can be a great way to break up your fitness routine! It’s nice to hone in on the exact muscles that support your posture, performance and can prevent back pain!
Disclaimer: if you are doing ab exercises for the sole reason of losing fat and gaining that six-pack, remember that you can’t “spot treat.” Don’t skip your ab work, but be sure to incorporate other cardio or HIIT workouts too.
Let’s get right into it!
There are so many exercises that fire up your abs (because they should be engaged in every exercise you do!), but this article hones in on some of the best for all four of the main abdominal muscles.
What muscles Make up my Abs?
There are 4 main abdominal muscles: rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, external oblique and internal oblique.
These are your “6-pack muscles” that run straight down the front of your stomach from the pubis to sternum. They are essential in stabilizing your core and body throughout various movements, but their main function is flexion - aka “crunching.”
These are the deepest of all the ab muscles, and they wrap all the way around the torso between the hips and ribs. These muscles run horizontally and act as a corset or weight belt!
The external oblique muscles are located on either side of the rectus abdominis. They make a “V” shape running from your lower ribs down to your pelvis. They work with the internal obliques to flex, rotate, side bend and compress the abdomen.
These muscles are slightly deeper than the external obliques and run at a 90-degree angle to the external obliques. Their function is the same: flexion, rotation, lateral flexion and compression.
Pro-Tip: To really ensure you are fully supporting your spine and getting the most out of your ab work, practice “cinching” up your belly. By closing your ribcage (instead of having it splayed out), you will target those deeper ab muscles and maximize your workouts! This applies to every single ab exercise.
Okay, let’s get to these ab workouts!
No-Equipment Ab Exercises
When there’s no equipment needed, there are no excuses right? Here are the 9 best ab workouts that don't require any equipment!
1. DEAD BUG
Keep your low back sealed to the ground. If your low back lifts off of the ground, don’t extend your arm and leg as far. This is a great exercise to activate those deeper ab muscles, just remember to keep those knees bent!
2. FOREARM PLANK
This classic ab exercise is a go-to because it activates nearly every muscle. Draw your belly button to your spine and imagine pressing your low back to the sky (no arching your back!)
3. SIDE PLANK (each side)
Place your elbow directly below your shoulder. Press down into your forearm and elbow to stay lifted. Start with the left arm or right arm and then switch. Hello, obliques!
4. BICYCLE CRUNCH
Seal your low back to the ground, lift your upper back off of the ground, and rotate. Keep your gaze up slightly!
5. PLANK COMMANDO
The same rules apply here as they did for your plank. Do your best not to wobble your hips as you walk up and down. Take your feet wider to make yourself more stable. Drop down to your right elbow and straighten back up, then drop down to your right elbow and continue.
6. SIDE PLANK DIPS (each side)
Drop your hips as low as you can maintain strength and stability. Focus on the lift up with your hips to engage your obliques even more while keeping a straight line!
7. PLANK KNEE TAP
Plank rules apply here too! Move slowly and see how close you can get your knee to your elbows.
8. SEATED TWIST
Maintain a tall spine throughout (no hunching!). Draw your low abdominals in and up as you twist.
9. BEAST WALKOUT
Stabilization is key here. And most of it is coming from your core. Move slowly and maintain plank engagement throughout.
15- Minute Workout: Complete 30 seconds of each exercise with 15 seconds rest in between. Perform 2 rounds.
Similar Content: Zero-Cost, Zero-Equipment At-Home Workouts
Dumbbell or Kettlebell Ab Exercises
Add a weight to offer extra resistance and make your abs work even harder! All exercises are shown in the video below.
1. PLANK DRAG
Plank engagement (as mentioned above). Try not to wiggle or rotate your hips as you reach for your weight and drag it across your mat.
2. SKULL CRUSHER CRUNCH
Use your abdominal strength to roll down one vertebra at a time to your back - and back up to your seat. Depending on the weight you use, it can help you to sit back up, but be careful it’s not doing all of the work. Use those abs!
3. SEATED TWIST
Maintain a tall spine throughout (no hunching!). Draw your low abdominals in and up as you twist. Tapping the weight on each side challenges your obliques even more.
4. REVERSE CRUNCH
The weight here is used to keep your upper back grounded. The starting position here is to seal your low back to the floor and only lower your legs as far as you can keep it sealed.
5. STANDING SIDE BEND (each side)
Stand tall with core engaged (like you’re bracing for a punch to the gut!). Slowly bend to one side, then use your obliques to draw you back to stand.
6. HALF-KNEELING WOOD CHOP (each side)
Start in a half-kneeling position. This stance, paired with movement, really challenges you to stabilize with your abdominals. Draw the weight down towards your grounded knee, then drive up and press the weight to the opposite side. Start with your right knee or left knee down and switch sides after 10 reps.
240 Rep Workout: Complete 10 reps of each exercise (be sure to do 10 on each side for Side Bend and Wood Chop) Repeat for 3 rounds.
Slider (or towel) Ab Exercises
This is such a fun way to challenge your abs. Use sliders if you have them, otherwise, towels (or paper plates if you’re on carpet) work too. All ab exercises are shown in the video below.
1. KNEE TUCK
Press down firmly into your hands. As you draw your knees in, round your lower back like a crunch. As you extend your legs back out, find a strong plank position.
2. PLANK JACK
Sick of the plank, yet? Well, she’s back again. This time with some jack movements. As you draw your legs out wide, be mindful you don’t let your hips drop down.
3. MOUNTAIN CLIMBER TWIST
While maintaining your solid plank, draw your knee to the opposite elbow. See how close you can bring your knee in to your arm.
This is a tough-ie. You do not need to sweep your feet all the way to your hands. Start small and focus on using your core to get your booty up the air as your feet come forward, then push your feet back to plank. Remember to keep straight legs!
While maintaining stability in your forearm plank, alternate drawing your knee to armpit.
6. PLANK HAND SLIDE
Plank rules also apply here! As you sweep your hand forward and back, try not to let anything else on your body move. Cinch your rib cage closed. Start with your right hand or left hand and then switch.
Tabata Ab Workout: Perform each exercise for 2 rounds in a row before moving on to the next exercise. 20 seconds of work, 10 secs to rest.
So many ways to work your abs! You can do it solo, with a weight or even change it up with sliders.
These core exercises will help your lower abs, upper abs and help you build an overall strong core. Ab exercises aren't just great for your midsection; a strong core will help you crush your cardio, yoga and other fitness goals.
I hope you feel more inspired to challenge all four of your powerful abdominal muscles! Forget the personal trainer and start your ab workout routine today! Your six-pack abs are right around the corner with these best ab exercises for women, while maintaining a consistent workout routine, of course!
You might also be interested in: The 40 Best Bodyweight Exercises [For All Fitness Levels]