Only have 20 minutes to spare? Put your core strength to the test with these kettlebell exercises for your abs.
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A woman is doing kettle bell swings at the gym
Credit: Getty Images

In a literal abyss of here-today, gone-tomorrow fitness trends, kettlebells have proven they're here to stay.

In addition to being a great tool for working your entire body, kettlebells are also pretty darn perfect abs workouts, too. "Because a kettlebell's center of gravity is about six to eight inches below their handle, your body has to work harder to stay balanced and stable when you work with them," explains Karolina Duncan, a New York City-based certified personal trainer and health coach.

Pretty much any move you do with a kettlebell is guaranteed to light up your entire core — which includes your abs muscles, says Duncan. But if you really want to build strength in your trunk, try this 20-minute, circuit-style kettlebell abs workout, created and loved by Duncan herself.

This kettlebell abs workout features a blend of full-body moves and abs-focused exercises that not only guarantee you'll break a sweat but will also leave you feeling sore throughout your entire midsection tomorrow. Plus, there's no "right" way to perform this kettlebell core workout. You can tack the kettlebell exercises for your abs onto the end of a cardio-focused sweat sesh, or you can do the kettlebell abs workout on its own when you're short on time.

20-Minute Kettlebell Abs Workout

How it works: Do 1 set of the prescribed number of reps for each exercise. After you finish the last kettlebell exercise for abs, start back at the first move and repeat. Perform as many rounds of the circuit as you can in 20 minutes while maintaining proper form. Rest as needed, but keep it moving.

You'll need: two kettlebells, one light-weight (about 10 pounds) and one moderate-weight (about 20 pounds)

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebell Swing
Left: A
Center: B
Right: C

The kettlebell swing, which works nearly your entire body and your cardiovascular system, requires a strong and stable core. "Keep your spine long and straight throughout the movement," says Duncan. The higher you swing the weight, the more challenging the kettlebell exercise is for your abs. 

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, with the heavier kettlebell on the floor about a foot in front of feet. Squat down to grab the handle with both hands, shoulders back and chest up, tipping the handle towards shins.

B. Pick up the kettlebell and swing it back between legs, shifting hips back.

C. Then, thrust hips forward to swing the kettlebell forward and allow the momentum to carry the kettlebell up until it's in front of body at shoulder height. (Contract glutes, quads, and core throughout the swing.) That's one rep.

Do 12 reps.

Reverse Lunge with Kettlebell Pass

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Reverse Lunge with Kettlebell Pass
Reverse Lunge with Kettlebell Pass
Reverse Lunge with Kettlebell Pass
Left: A
Center: B
Right: C

In addition to working your legs, this kettlebell exercise for abs challenges your obliques and the muscles that stabilize your spine in your low-back, says Duncan.

A. Stand with feet together, holding the heavier kettlebell in left hand at side.

B. Step left foot back into a reverse lunge until left knee grazes the floor. As knee approaches the floor, simultaneously pass the kettlebell under front leg into right hand.

C. Press back up out of the lunge, completing the kettlebell pass, to return to standing with the kettlebell in right hand. That's one rep. Repeat, alternating sides.

Do 6 reps per leg.

Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Chop

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Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Chop
Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Chop
Left: A
Right: B

Staying balanced in a half-kneeling position is tricky in itself, says Duncan. Add a weighted 'chop' movement on top of that, and your core has to work hard to keep your hips and lower back stable. During this kettlebell abs workout move, "make sure you're not just twisting from side to side here," she says. Keep your hips as stable and squared as possible as your arms move through the chop motion.

A. Kneel with left knee on the floor (left toes tucked) and right foot planted in front, right knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Using both hands, hold the lighter kettlebell low beside left hip.

B. Keeping both arms slightly bent, core engaged, and hips stable, draw the kettlebell up and across torso body diagonally until it's raised above right shoulder. Reverse the movement to bring the kettlebell back down by left hip. That's one rep.

Do 12 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Single-Arm Kettlebell Overhead Sit-Up

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Single-Arm Kettlebell Overhead Sit-Up
Single-Arm Kettlebell Overhead Sit-Up
Left: A
Right: B

"Because you're doing full sit-ups while holding a kettlebell in one side, this move really lights up the entire core," says Duncan. That said, the side of your core holding the kettlebell will have to work particularly hard to tackle this kettlebell abs workout move.

A. Lie face-up on the floor with legs outstretched and feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the lighter kettlebell in right hand and press it into the air over chest, locking out right arm. 

B. Keeping the kettlebell steady overhead, brace core and sit all the way up. Right bicep should be next to right ear. Slowly — and with control — lower back down to the starting postion. That's one rep.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Kettlebell Windmill

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Kettlebell Windmill
Kettlebell Windmill
Kettlebell Windmill
Left: A
Center: B
Right: C

In addition to looking cool, kettlebell windmills "build both stability and mobility in your core, hips, and shoulders," says Duncan. This kettlebell exercise for abs works your entire trunk — especially your obliques — and helps you progress to the famously tricky Turkish get-up. Keep your eyes on the kettlebell and the arm holding it locked out, she says. Take the move slow and focus on control.

A. Stand with feet twice as wide as hip width, feet pointing slightly outwards, and the lighter kettlebell in left hand. Press the kettlebell up overhead so bicep is next to ear and arm is locked.

B. Shift weight into left heel and look up at the kettlebell. Keeping legs and kettlebell arm straight and core engaged, start to pus left hip out and trace right hand down right leg toward knee and floor.

C. Once extended as far as possible (while remaining comfortable and strong), reverse the movement to return to the starting position, with the kettlebell locked out overhead. That's one rep.

Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

Plank with Kettlebell Drag

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Plank with Kettlebell Drag
Plank with Kettlebell Drag
Plank with Kettlebell Drag
Left: A
Center: B
Right: C

What better way to finish out this kettlebell abs workout than with a twist on the classic plank? "This move is an anti-rotation exercise, meaning your core has to work to keep your body from rotating as you drag the kettlebell from side to side," says Duncan.

A. Start in a high plank position with the heavy kettlebell on the floor behind right hand. While keeping chest and hips as still and level as possible, reach left hand beneath torso to grab the kettlebell on the right side. 

B. Keeping core engaged, pull kettlebell beneath torso and over to the left side. Rest the kettlebell behind left hand's position. Return left hand to the floor. That's one rep. Repeat, alternating sides.

Do 10 reps per side.

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