6 Abs Exercises to Tighten Stomach Muscles for a Strong Core

Searching for the magic formula to tighten stomach muscles? Read up on expert-backed ways to get a stronger core, stat.

Let's be real: Standard abs exercises such as sit-ups and crunches are a little archaic and extremely mundane — not to mention, no amount of basic crunches will get you a super-strong core. In order to tighten stomach muscles and properly strengthen your core, you'll need to go deeper.

But first, make sure you're putting emphasis on building and maintaining a strong core — not a flat stomach or rock-hard abs muscles. There are so many reasons why it's important to have core strength that have nothing to do with aesthetics.

In order to properly strengthen your core and tighten stomach muscles, consider these pro tips and unique abs exercises that'll help you get there.

6 Tips to Tighten Stomach Muscles

Before you roll out your mat, read up on these important tips from exercise experts:

Choose Variety Over Reps

For best results, mix up the order of your abs moves during each workout, and change your routine every three to four weeks. "Alternating your workout is more important than cranking out 100 crunches every day," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., senior clinical professor of exercise physiology at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. "Perform 15 to 20 reps of each exercise, then move on," she suggests. (This 12-minute at-home abs routine is another option to toss into the rotation.)

Forget the Idea of "Upper vs. Lower Abs"

It's all one sheath of muscle: the rectus abdominis. "If you feel the upper abs working, it doesn't mean the lower abs aren't engaged," says Alycea Ungaro, owner of Real Pilates in New York City and author of The Pilates Promise. Where you feel it depends on the move's anchor point. For example, leg lifts engage more of the lower section since your upper body is against the floor. (Here's a full guide to your abs muscles, if you want an anatomic breakdown.)

Engage Your Pelvic Floor

To target your abs more effectively, strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. "These muscles assist your deepest abs in doing exercises correctly," says Olson. Actively engage them by gently pulling your belly button toward your back. Place one hand on your abdomen; if you feel your stomach pushing out while you do sit-ups, you're pushing the pelvis down rather than pulling muscles up and in, cheating your abs of the full workout. Keep the muscles contracted when working abs to reap the most benefits.

Work Your Abs, Not Your Neck

Pretend you have an orange tucked under your chin to release the tension during core moves such as the bicycle crunch. Or press your fingertips into the base of your neck and give yourself a nice neck massage while curling up. Another strategy: To stop neck muscles from tensing, place your tongue firmly on the roof of your mouth as you crunch. (More: These Are the Ultimate Abs Workout Moves, According To Trainers)

Make Abs Your Transition Workout

When you have time to do strength training and cardio in one workout, try to sandwich 10 minutes of abs work in between. Cool down from cardio, then hit the mat for stretches, reverse curls, and planks (quite possibly the most versatile of all core-strengthening moves). This is a great way to shift the focus from cardio to strength training; it helps you zero in on your abs and core strength as you lift.

Know When to Rest

You can tell you've worked your abs well when they're sore the next day. Like other muscles, the abs respond best to intense training every two days. Work them too hard, too often, and you'll see minimal progress, says Holland. (See: This Is What the Ultimate Recovery Day Should Look Like)

woman planking to tighten stomach muscles
LeonidKos/Shutterstock

6 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere to Tighten Stomach Muscles

How it works: Do each exercise (don't forget to engage your core throughout!) for 30 seconds, resting for 30 seconds between moves. You can add these core-strengthening exercises to your current fitness program or perform this circuit separately as your core routine.

Press and Resist

A. Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Engage core and draw knees in toward navel, forming a 90-degree angle with knees so shins are parallel with the floor. Place palms slightly above knees on thighs.

B. Press palms into thighs, simultaneously resisting the pressure with knees. Maintain equal balance with pressure from palms and thighs in order to keep the 90-degree angle of the knees.

Hold for 30 seconds.

Helicopter

A. Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms extended out to sides, palms down. Engage core, take a deep breath in, and draw knees into chest.

B. Exhale, pressing lower back into the floor while extending feet toward the ceiling. (Upper torso and lower body will form a 90-degree angle with feet pressed together.)

C. Keep core contracted, flex toes toward the floor, and begin circling legs clockwise, keeping legs fully extended and hips resting firmly on the floor.

Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch directions; repeat (circling legs counter-clockwise).

To scale up: Flip palms up to face the ceiling to decrease stability while increasing core activity.

Hands of Time

A. Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms extended out to sides, palms down. Engage core, draw knees into chest, and press feet toward the ceiling. Feet should remain together with toes flexed.

B. Inhale and lower right leg out to the right as far as possible, keeping left leg still.

C. At lowest point, exhale and use core to move right leg back to starting position.

Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

Round the Clock

A. Lie faceup with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms extended out to sides, palms down. Engage core and draw right knee in toward navel.

B. Flare right knee out (opening inner thigh area) and extend right leg until it is at a 45-degree angle. Left foot should remain off the floor throughout the exercise.

C. Reverse direction to return to starting position.

Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

To scale down: Keep the opposite knee of the extended leg bent with foot flat on the floor.

Screamers

A. Start in a side plank position on the left side, with left forearm firmly placed on the floor and hips raised off the floor. Contract and drive right knee toward navel with toes flexed.

B. When knee reaches navel, extend right leg out in front of body at a 45-degree angle.

C. Quickly swing leg back to starting position.

Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

Trace the Triangle

A. Start in a push-up position with hands in line with shoulders and feet hips-width apart. Engage core and reach left hand out to 45 degrees or as far as possible. Do the same with right hand, bringing hands side by side.

B. Reach right hand as far as possible in front of head. Follow with left hand.

C. Reach backward with right hand on a 45-degree angle, following with left hand. (Hand pattern will be as if tracing a triangle.) Reverse direction through each step to return to starting position.

Repeat for 30 seconds, alternating directions.

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