15 Unexpected Exercises That Work Your Abs
Traditional squats are an excellent exercise for working your abs, but this single-leg variation will have them working even harder to stabilize your trunk as you lower and lift.
How to do it: Stand on your left leg, right knee bent and foot lifted off the ground, holding dumbbells by your sides. Bend your left knee and squat down, hinging forward at the hips and reaching dumbbells towards your left foot as right leg moves slightly back to help counterbalance the body. Fully extend your left leg to return to start. That's one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions on both legs.
Lift your buns, tone your thighs, strengthen your back, and sculpt your abs (they have to work even harder to stabilize your torso with one leg in the air) with this bridge variation.
How to do it: Lie faceup with your arms pressed against the floor by your sides, knees bent, and feet flexed (only your heels should touch the ground). Extend your right leg up to the ceiling as straight as possible, keeping your foot flexed. Tighten your abs, press down through left heel, and lift hips as high as possible. Lower hips to lightly tap the floor. That's one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each leg.
It may not look like it, but this martial arts move is one serious abs toner—your obliques and abdominal wall muscles have to work during the entire exercise to balance your body while you lift and extend your leg.
How to do it: Stand with arms bent, hands in fists by your chin. Rotate your right heel in towards your body and shift weight to your right foot. Bend your left knee, flexing foot, and lift leg up to hip height, aiming right heel to the side. Extend your left leg out to the side, as if pushing something away from your body with your heel. Bend your knee back in (try not to lower leg in between repetitions if possible). That's one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each leg, switching sides after each set.
If this is too tough, try lowering your leg for the kick and/or holding onto a chair or wall with your right hand to help keep your balance.
Windmill Squat Press
This total-body exercise relies heavily on your abs and back muscles to control your range of motion and perform the full press properly.
How to do it: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width, holding one heavy dumbbell (10 lbs or more, depending on level) overhead with your left arm, palm facing in, right arm down by your side. Lower into a squat, looking up at your left arm as your torso rotates to keep it straight up above your shoulder. Your palm should turn away from body at this point. Reach your right arm straight down to floor and try to tap the ground lightly with your fingertips. Press up through your left side and keep left arm extended as you return to start. That's one rep. Try up to 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.
The forwards and backwards motion of this crawling move will work your abs like crazy, along with your shoulders, legs, and butt.
How to do it: Start on all fours, brace your abs in tight, and lift your hips slightly to raise knees off the floor. Step forward with right hand and right foot, and then immediately do the same with the left side. Build up your speed until you are crawling forward quickly (taking about 10 total 'steps') and then reverse your movement, stepping backwards with the right hand and foot, followed by the left, for 10 steps. That's one set. Try 3 sets total, taking a brief rest in between sets.
Overhead Uneven Farmer's Walk
This move looks deceptively simple, but with the right amount of weight (grab a set of dumbbells that are challenging to raise over your head), your abs will be working overtime to help stabilize your spine with every step. Get even more abdominal recruitment using an uneven load: Grab a weight with your left hand that's about twice as heavy as the lighter weight in your right.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip width, holding dumbbells overhead, palms facing in. Brace your abs in tight. Slowly start to walk forward, taking about 25 total steps (avoid letting the weights drift behind your head, and try not to overarch your back as you walk). Switch hands with your weights, and then walk back to starting position. That's one set. Try 3 sets total, taking a brief rest in between sets.
Single Arm Crossover Curl
This cross-lateral exercise sculpts your arms and fires up your abdominals in order to stabilize your body.
How to do it: Stand with feet together (or make it easier by standing with feet hip width), knees slightly bent, holding dumbbells (heavy enough to fatigue your arms in 10 repetitions). Engage your abs and keep your body as still as possible as you curl your right arm across your body towards your left shoulder, palm facing up. Lower arm and repeat with left arm. That's one rep. Try up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Unilateral Military Press
This challenging move requires a lot of core work to build balance and strength at the same time.
How to do it: Stand on your right leg with knee slightly bent and left foot lifted off the ground, holding dumbbells (heavy enough to fatigue your shoulders with 10 repetitions). Brace your abs in tight as you bend your right arm and bring the dumbbell to the outside of right shoulder, palm facing forward. Keeping body steady, extend right arm overhead. Bend your elbow and lower the weight to your shoulder. That's one rep. Repeat 10 times total then switch sides and repeat. Do up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions on both sides.
Passing Chest Fly
This double duty move targets your chest, shoulders, and, of course, your abs, as your obliques have to work hard help stabilize your torso in opposition to the weight.
How to do it: Grab one heavy dumbbell and lie faceup on the floor with both knees bent, feet lifted 90-degrees above your hips. Brace your abs in tight and extend arms above your chest, holding onto weight with both hands. Grab the weight with your right hand, and extend both arms out to sides (elbows should be only slightly bent, palms facing up), stopping just before arms touch the floor. Use your core muscles to keep your shoulders and hips pressed into the floor. Keeping arms extended, bring arms back together over chest, pass the weight to your left hand, and repeat. That's one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
This is one of the most challenging ways to work your abs! Your entire core has to engage to perform weighted rows from this plank position.
How to do it: Start in a full plank position with feet hip-width apart, hands on top of dumbbells. Brace your abs in tight and row your left arm back, pulling the dumbbell to the side of your body. Gently lower arm and repeat on the right. That's one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
A sneaky abs toner, the pulling movement of this exercise works your abdominal wall, back, and the often-overlooked serratus anterior muscle, which is great for improving your posture.
How to do it: Secure a resistance band at a point that is fixed firmly above eye level and hold onto the handles (or the ends if your band doesn't have handles). Step away from anchor point until there is tension on the band with your arms extended straight out in front of your chest, palms facing down. Brace your abs in tight, press shoulders down, and pull arms (keeping them straight) down until they're slightly past your hips. Return arms to chest level. That's one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 15 repetitions.
Want to use heavier weight? Try this at the gym with a straight bar attached to a high-point cable.
Bow and Arrow Pull
The rotational pulling motion of this exercise works your back, shoulders, arms, and abs.
How to do it: Secure the center of a resistance band at a sturdy point at chest level and hold onto the handles. Step away from anchor point until there is tension on the band with your arms extended straight out in front of your chest, palms facing in. Take a wide step back with your left foot as your left arm bends, pulling elbow back while keeping it in line with your shoulder and rotating your torso to the left (eyes should remain focused front, as if aiming a bow and arrow). Step back and extend both arms to return to start. Repeat on the other side to complete one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 15 repetitions.
Want to use heavier weight? Try this at the gym with a double cable positioned at chest level.
The key to engaging your abdominals during deadlifts is to keep them braced into your back (your abs should remain pulled in, but you should still be able to breathe comfortably) during the entire movement. If you do this, your obliques kick in to prevent shifting from side to side and your abdominal wall helps support and stabilize your spine.
How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip width, holding heavy dumbbells or a weighted barbell, palms facing in. Pull your belly button in toward your spine, soften knees, and keep spine naturally straight as you hinge forward from the hips until your chest is almost parallel to the floor, arms reaching down in front of legs. Maintaining a straight spine, slowly return to start. That's one rep. Do up to 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions.
Plank Tuck Jumps
This exercise combines heart-pumping plyometrics with the abs-sculpting power of a plank and tuck movement.
How to do it: Start in a full plank position, feet hip-width apart. Brace your abs in tight, bend knees, and shift your weight into your arms. Jump up, lifting hips up in the air to bring feet into hands, landing in a tuck position on the balls of your feet. Quickly jump feet back out to plank position. That's one rep. Jump in and out as quickly as you can for up to 3 sets of 20 reps, taking a short rest in between sets to catch your breath.
Single-Arm Squat Thrust
Squat thrusts are a killer cardio exercise, and this single-arm version really kicks up the intensity and core-conditioning capacity of every rep.
How to do it: Start standing with your feet slightly wider than hip width. Squat down to the floor and press your right hand into ground just below the center of your chest (left arm reaches behind your body). Brace your abs in tight and jump both feet back, landing in a full plank position. Quickly jump feet back in towards your hands, landing in a squat, and stand up. Repeat using your left arm. That's one rep. Try up to 3 sets of 10 repetitions as quickly as you can, taking a brief break in between sets to recover.
Photos by: Vanessa Rogers Photography
Shot on Location at Canyon Ranch Miami Beach