The Best Abs Exercises for a Full Core Workout, According to Trainers

muscular woman with toned abs
Photo: rez-art/Getty

Looking for a super-strengthening full core workout? Try these abs exercises recommended by top fitness pros.

01 of 19

Passé Abs Series

woman demonstrating passe abs core exercise
Peter Ardito

"This move is one of my all-time favorite abs-sculpting exercises," says Andrea Rogers, ACE-certified Pilates instructor and founder of Xtend Barre. "It strengthens the abdominal muscles while developing stability of the pelvic lumbar region. You can also amp things up by increasing the tempo," she adds. (

A. Start seated, then lean back, resting weight on forearms (elbows bent behind body, fingers facing forward). Extend both legs straight out in front of body.

B. Bend left knee into a passé position by pointing left foot and pressing inside edge of left foot along inside of right knee.

C. Draw abs in tight and lift legs off the mat and toward chest (maintaining passé position).

D. Bring left knee to left side of chest and then lower legs (still in passé) back down, about two inches from the floor (or as low as possible).

Do 8 reps. Switch sides; repeat for up to 2 sets.

02 of 19

Weighted Squat

woman demonstrating how to do a weighted squat
Peter Ardito

"People generally look to the old faithful crunches or sit-ups as their favorite abdominal or core exercise. I'm more of a fan of something that is way more practical than lying on the ground straining your neck," says Declan Condron, an NSCA-certified trainer, coach, and owner of Condron Fitness. "One of the main jobs of the abdominal or core muscles is to act as stabilizers for the trunk, helping to support while the person is squatting, lifting, or moving about in general," he says. Hence, why this move is an integral part of his full core workout. And, once you've mastered the dumbbell squat, try a barbell back squat, one of the best strength exercises out there.

A. Stand with feet shoulders-width apart, with dumbbells racked on the tops of shoulders.

B. Lower body toward the floor, sending hips back and down and bending knees.

C. Push through heels to return to start position, keeping back flat and head up throughout the movement.

Try to do 8 to 10 reps for 3 sets (resting 45 to 60 seconds between sets).

03 of 19

The Teaser

woman demonstrating how to do pilates teaser core exercise
Peter Ardito

"I have researched this move in my lab, and it is very effective at activating all of the abdominal muscles — the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and the transverse abdominins — and yet, the movement is very straightforward and does not require several steps or positions," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., senior clinical professor at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama.

"This move is also great for learning how to breathe correctly when engaging the abdominal muscles in order to get a very deep and full activation of the abdominal wall, and the 'up' position of the legs during the entire exercise greatly limits any action of the hip flexors," she adds.

A. Lie on the floor with arms extended above head and both legs lifted in the air at about a 45-degree angle.

B. Inhale, roll head and shoulders off the mat, press ribs down toward hip bones and exhale, lifting entire upper body off the mat (keeping both legs up). At the top of the exercise, "land" arms so that arms and legs are parallel to one another.

C. Breathe naturally while holding the top/"up" position for two slow breaths.

D. Reverse the action by inhaling and then rolling back, shoulders, and head down onto the mat, exhaling at the start position.

Do 5 to 10 reps.

04 of 19

Towel Plank and Knee In

woman demonstrating towel plank and knee in core exercise
Peter Ardito

"Fit and healthy abs should be able to resist external forces, flex, extend, and rotate, and this move does all of these. You'll also burn more calories because it uses more muscles than just the abdominals," says Marta Montenegro, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist and adjunct professor at Florida International University.

A. Start in plank position with one small towel placed under ball of each foot, legs together.

B. Bring right knee in toward left side of chest, squeezing abs. Straighten right leg back out to full plank and bring left knee in toward right side of chest and back out to full plank.

C. Draw both knees into chest at the same time and then slide legs back out to full plank.

Build up to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps (resting in between).

05 of 19

Standing Lift

woman demonstrating rotational lift complete abs exercise
Peter Ardito

If you don't have time for a full core workout, you'll want to go for an exercise that links the legs, hips, glutes, shoulders, back, and core together — just as this standing lift move does, says Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist for ACE Fitness.

A. Stand with feet hips-width apart and pressed firmly into the floor and hold a medicine ball (or another similar weighted object).

B. Brace abs and use lower body to start the movement by bending knees, sitting back into hips, and reaching the ball down across the outside of left leg.

C. Stand up, swinging arms across body and up to the right while pressing hips forward.

Do 10 to 12 reps going from left hip to right shoulder. Switch sides; repeat.

06 of 19

Boat Pose

woman demonstrating boat pose core exercise yoga pose
Peter Ardito

"This pose will strengthen the core and tone the abdominal muscles," says Tamal Dodge, E.R.Y.T,, a certified yoga instructor and founder of Yoga Salt.

A. Sit with knees bent, knees together, feet slightly lifted off the floor.

B. Reach arms forward and shift weight into sit bones, draw abs in tight, and lift chest.

C. Try straightening legs as much as possible (forming a "V" shape with body).

Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, maintaining even breathing.

07 of 19

Side-to-Side Crunch and Weave

woman demonstrating how to do core exercise crunch bob and weave

A solid pick for any full core workout, this kickboxing-based move targets your entire waistline of muscles — including the abdominal wall, side obliques, and lower back — all while keeping your lower body engaged. This exercise also keeps you moving quickly to help keep your heart rate up during your core training, says Guillermo Gomez, a fifth-degree black belt and founder of Martial Fusion.

A. Start with feet in a wide stance, knees bent, arms up on guard.

B. Keeping lower body still, quickly lean upper body to the right, then come back through center and lean to the left. Repeat lean back to the right.

C. Lean upper body from the right around to the left side, making a half circle with torso. Return to start position. That's one rep. (Tip: It helps to keep a steady rhythm with this move. Think — or say aloud — "one, two, three, weave" to help keep tempo).

Repeat 10 times total, alternating starting on the right and left sides.

08 of 19

Reverse Curl and Lift

woman demonstrating reverse crunch lift core exercise
Peter Ardito

"You'll feel a burn like no other when you do this move. It's a great way to challenge your abs in a whole new way," says Jari Love, certified personal trainer and creator of the Get RIPPED! full-body workout program. (But before you give this part of the full core workout a try, make sure you know exactly how to do a reverse crunch.)

A. Lie flat on back with both hands behind head, legs extended out with heels lifted about six inches off the floor, toes pointed.

B. Contract abs, bend and draw knees into chest, and raise hips slightly off the floor.

C. Slowly lower back to the start position.

Repeat 8 times, for 3 sets total.

09 of 19

Inchworm to Side Plank

woman demonstrating inchworm side plank core exercise
Peter Ardito

This total-body move engages your core — not just your abs, notes Linda LaRue, R.N., a celebrity athletic trainer and creator of American Fitness Couture. "Moves that involve trunk (your core) twisting best engage your transverse abdomens (the deepest muscles)," she adds.

A. Stand with feet hips-width apart, shoulders down, and abs drawn in. Hinge forward at waist and inch forward, walking with hands into a plank position.

B. Hold plank for three seconds, keeping chest lifted and belly button drawn into spine. Body should form a straight line from ears to ankles.

C. Perform one push-up by bending elbows to the sides and lowering body toward (but not touching) the floor, maintaining a straight spine.

D. Straighten back up to plank position and twist torso to the left, reaching left arm up to the ceiling, into a side plank position. Hold for three seconds.

E. Repeat push-up and side plank to the other side. Walk hands back to body and stand up tall to start position.

Do 6 reps.

10 of 19

Two-Point Plank

woman demonstrating two point plank core exercise
Peter Ardito

"This [best] abdominal exercise is excellent for several reasons. It is an extremely functional exercise; it works your entire core region — front and back — while sculpting great-looking abs at the same time," says Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist.

A. Start in push-up position, making sure body forms a straight line from shoulders down to toes.

B. Raise right hand and left leg out to form a straight line with body, hold for two breaths, then return to plank position and repeat with the other arm and leg.

Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 20 reps.

11 of 19

Stability Ball Rollout

woman demonstrates stability ball rollout core exercise
Peter Ardito

"I love this exercise because it advances the plank in two ways: You're on a ball and you stress the core by moving the ball away from your body," says Rick Richey, an NASM-certified personal trainer, orthopedic massage therapist, and co-founder of New York–based recovery studio ReCOVER. "You get to control how easy or difficult the exercise is by the distance of the ball from your body — I have done this for years and can still make it hard enough to fire up the abs," he adds. So, start slowly, and then when you're ready, progress how far away you reach and number of reps, recommends Richey. (Want more? Work these advanced stability ball moves for an extremely strong core into your next full abs workout.)

A. Kneel with elbows bent under shoulders on top of a stability ball.

B. Draw abs in tight, keep weight in arms (chest lifted off the ball), and extend both legs out straight behind body, feet about hips-width apart. Maintain a straight line from head, shoulders, hips, knees, and feet.

C. Once stabilized on the ball, slowly roll the ball away from body to increase the lever length and add stress on the abdominal region.

For safety, go slowly and start with short movements in and out for 10 to 15 reps.

12 of 19

The Pilates Roll-Up with Ball

woman demonstrates pilates roll up with ball core exercise
Peter Ardito

The roll-up is a classic Pilates mat move that's perfect for spinal articulation and strengthening the abdominals, says Tracey Mallett, a certified Pilates instructor and personal trainer based in Pasadena, California. "This exercise is so effective because it teaches you not to rely on your bigger muscle groups (like your thighs) and focuses on using your abdominals correctly in a controlled manner without using momentum. The use of the ball gives you natural feedback of your weaker side so that you can adjust and work on symmetry of your musculature, preventing future injuries," she says.

A. Lie down with a small ball or pillow under heels, both arms extended over head, palms facing toward each other.

B. Inhale to prepare, then lift head, neck, and shoulders off the floor. Exhale while continuing to roll up by drawing in abdominals, reaching up and over toward feet.

C. Keep abdominals contracted with spine rounded in a "C" curve, then inhale to prepare and exhale while rolling down through each vertebra in a controlled movement, keeping heels pressed evenly into the ball the entire way up and down.

Do 15 reps.

13 of 19

Supine Oblique Ball Twist

woman demonstrates supine oblique ball twist core exercise
Peter Ardito

Add this exercise ito any full core workout, suggests Bryce Taylor, an NSCA-certified trainer, licensed physical therapist, and facility manager at Athletico in Indianapolis. Why? Because this bad boy will work your obliques much better than crunches.

A. Lie on back with arms out to each side in a "T" shape, palms facing down. Position a stability ball between feet and extend both legs up toward the ceiling, just above hips, knees slightly bent.

B. Gently squeeze into the ball, draw abs in tight, and press ribcage into the floor. Carefully move the ball to the right, lowering both legs toward the floor (only go as far toward the floor as possible without dropping to the side).

C. Press the ball back up to the ceiling and repeat to the left.

Alternate sides for 1 minute.

14 of 19

Reverse Press-Up

woman demonstrates reverse press up core exercise
Peter Ardito

"My personal favorite abs exercise is the reverse press-up because it targets the lower part of the transverse (deep) abs without any equipment," says Andre Farnell, C.S.C.S., a New York–based personal trainer.

A. Lie flat on back with both hands by sides, palms facing down.

B. Extend both legs up in the air above hips, keeping both knees slightly bent, feet flexed.

C. Push upward with both feet at the same time, pressing heels toward the ceiling, lifting hips off the floor.

Try for up to three sets of 15 reps.

15 of 19

Stability Ball Plank Leg Lift

woman demonstrates stability ball plank leg lift core exercise
Peter Ardito

Add this exercise to any full core workout because "the stress you put on all of your core muscles in order to stay in this position forces your abs to be contracted the entire time," explains Samantha Clayton, a former Olympic sprinter and trainer with Herbalife Nutrition.

A. Start in push-up position with both hands on the stability ball directly below shoulders (feet can be slightly wider than shoulders-width apart for extra stability).

B. Contract abdominals and try to bring body into a straight line from neck to toes (contract glutes and keep hips down).

C. Once stable, lift right leg a few inches off the ground and hold for 10 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

Try to do three sets of 10-second holds and then advance to a 30-second hold.

16 of 19

Rotational Lift

woman demonstrates rotational lift core exercise
Peter Ardito

This targeted move really zeroes in on hard-to-tone oblique muscles and abdominal wall — something every full core workout needs, says Lisa Hubbard, a certified Pilates instructur and creator of Rhythm Pilates.

A. Lie on back with hands interlaced behind head, knees bent, and feet hips-width apart on the floor.

B. Inhale and lift chest toward knees, bringing shoulders and head off the floor, maintaining a neutral pelvis (keeping it parallel to the floor).

C. Exhale and rotate to the left side. Exhale again, rotating even further and lifting a little higher.

D. Inhale and lift while returning to the center and repeat to the other side.

Do 8 to 10 reps per side.

17 of 19

Cross-Leg Reverse Crunch

woman demonstrates cross leg reverse crunch core exercise
Peter Ardito

This full core exercise engages so many muscles — from the bottom region of pelvis upward — and works the obliques at the same time without straining your neck, says Joey Atlas, a certified personal trainer and creator of Fit for Life private online training.

A. Lie on back with knees bent, feet flat on the ground.

B. Bring both arms overhead and hold onto the bottom of a couch or a heavy medicine ball. Cross left ankle on top of right knee.

C. Exhale and lift legs in (in the same cross-legged position) as close to chest as possible, lifting hips and lower back off the floor.

D. Inhale and slowly return to starting position.

Try for up to 15 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

18 of 19

Swimming Plank

woman demonstrates swimming plank core exercise
Peter Ardito

As a part of your full core workout, this tough, unique plank variation will challenge your core and back — no pool required — according to Cody Harter, C.S.C.S., owner of Harter Strength & Conditioning.

A. Lie on stomach with upper body propped up on elbows and a dumbbell upright on the floor about six inches in front of chest.

B. Tuck toes under and lift body into a full elbow plank, making a straight line from head to heels, drawing in abdominals.

C. Lift right arm off the floor and use best freestyle stroke to reach over and past the dumbbell, allowing hips to rotate into the stroke and turning through balls of feet.

D. Finish the full stroke before returning to elbow plank position.

E. Repeat with left arm.

Do 10 reps.

19 of 19


woman demonstrates walkout core exercise
Peter Ardito

"You are going to work your upper and lower abs, obliques, and lower back" in this exercise, says Stacy Berman, Ph.D. a certified personal trainer, Reiki master, and creator of The System by Stacy protein powder. "Walking the hands as far above your head as you can forces the core to work extra hard to stabilize."

A. Stand with feet hips-width apart. Bend knees slightly (or more if needed) and place both hands flat on the ground.

B. Keeping legs extended and feet planted, walk hands away from body, as far past shoulders as possible, until body is in a full plank position.

C. Hold for one breath at the furthest point, and then walk hands back to feet and slowly return to standing.

Repeat up to 10 times.

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