The 5 Best Abs Exercises for Women, According to Trainers
If you want to maximize your gym time, start doing these effective moves.
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.
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:
- Start on hands and knees with wrists directly under shoulders, legs extended.
- Draw belly button toward spine, squeeze glutes, and straighten knees to create a straight line from crown of head to heels.
- Lower forearms to the ground and hold.
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:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells in front of hips.
- Hinge at the hips, then knees, to lower dumbbells along the front of legs, pausing when torso is parallel to the ground.
- Drive through feet to fully extend knees and hips to stand and return to start.
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:
- Start kneeling with an ab wheel resting on the floor in front of knees, gripping handles.
- Slowly roll the wheel forward as far as possible while still maintaining a straight back and engaged core.
- Slowly roll the wheel back to knees to return to start.
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:
- Start on hands and knees and place each foot through the bottom loop of each TRX band.
- Lift knees off of the ground and keep elbows straight, forming a straight line from head to heels (similar to a high plank).
- Keeping core engaged and back straight, use abdominals to pull knees in toward chest. Carefully extend the legs to the pushup position to return to start.
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:
- Start lying face-up on the ground, arms by sides, knees bent with feet flat on the floor.
- Raise shoulders a few inches off the floor and draw knees in toward chest so feet lift off the floor. Keep lower back connected to the floor and hover arms off the ground. Hold.