If you want to maximize your gym time, start doing these effective moves.

By Renee Cherry
Updated May 03, 2019
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If the fitness crowd labels one exercise overrated a lot, it's sit-ups. (They even got booted from the U.S. Navy's fitness test in favor of the plank.) Sit-ups might be a gym class favorite, but their potential to put strain on the back and work the hip flexors more than the abs doesn't win them any favors. Fortunately, there are plenty of other abs exercises that shine where crunches and sit-ups don't.

Unclear on which moves you should be prioritizing? We asked trainers which of the best abs exercises for women they'd choose if they could only ever do one. (You'd think we'd asked them to choose between their children.) Ahead, their absolute favorites.

Forearm Plank

Planks are easily scalable and work your rectus abdominis (the front of your abs, or "six-pack" muscles), erector spinae (muscles that run down the center of the back), glutes, quads, and delts, says Racelle Reed, manager of training development at Pure Barre, making them much more than just an abs exercise.

Plus, "exercises like the plank have been proven to help keep the lower back healthy," says Stan Dutton, Head Coach for Ladder. (More here: Why the Forearm Plank Is Such an Amazing Abs Exercise for Women)

How to do a forearm plank:

Deadlift

Deadlifts are a win all around. While you might equate them with killer posterior-chain muscles, deadlifts are actually one of the best abs exercises for women too. (Bonus core work is just one of the benefits of lifting heavy weights.)

"Done right, the deadlift is one of the best exercises to strengthen and tighten up not only your core but your entire body," says Cat Kom, founder of Studio SWEAT OnDemand. They work the hamstrings, quads, back, shoulders, traps, glutes, and abs, she says.

How to do a conventional dumbbell deadlift:

Ab Wheel Rollout

As far as As Seen On TV products go, the ab wheel is pretty legit. "The ab wheel is perfect for building a strong core," says Mary Nnamani, personal trainer at Blink Fitness. "It activates far more muscle activity in your abs and obliques than any machine or floor abs exercise."

Contrary to crunches and sit-ups, "it strengthens your abs and back all while staying in a neutral spine position," Chris Matsui, C.S.C.S., director of Fusion Performance Training in NYC previously told us. "This is important since most of us are sitting hunched over all day at our desks."

How to do an ab wheel rollout:

TRX Reverse Crunch

For beginners, Joe Dowell, C.S.C.S. loves planks and Pallof presses on the cable machine. For people who are at a more advanced fitness level, he favors this hurts-so-good TRX move as one of the best abs exercises for women.

How to do a TRX reverse crunch:

Hollow Tuck Hold

"I like the hollow tuck hold more than a plank, especially for someone who doesn't know how to do a proper plank," says David Chesworth, fitness director at Hilton Head Health. "It's tough to do this one improperly without feeling it directly in the abs." (Related: 9 Hard-Core Exercises That Get You Closer to Six-Pack Abs)

How to do a hollow tuck hold:

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