These Are the Absolute Best Ab Exercises, According to Trainers
Passé Abs Series
"This move is one of my all-time favorite abs sculpting exercises," says Andrea Rogers, creator and founder of Xtend Barre who favors the move as part of a full abs workout. "It strengthens the abdominal muscles while developing stability of the pelvic lumbar region. You can also amp things up by increasing the tempo." (Related: The Barre Studio Abs Workout Sculpts a Strong Core with No Equipment)
A. Start seated, then lean back, resting weight on forearms (bending elbows behind body, fingers facing forward). Extend both legs straight out in front of body.
B. Bend right knee into a 'passé position' by pointing right foot and pressing the inside edge of right foot along the inside of left knee.
C. Draw abs in tight and lift legs off the mat and toward chest (maintaining passé position).
D. Bring right knee to right side of chest and then lower legs (still in passé) back down, about two inches from the floor (or as low as possible).
E. Repeat 8 times and then switch legs.
Try to do 8 reps on each side, for up to 2 sets.
"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, a 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. Many studies show that muscle fiber activation rates in the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and internal and external obliques are higher during the squat than during many 'traditional' crunch type exercises where the performer is lying on their back." Hence, why this move is part of his complete abs workout. Once you've master the dumbbell squat, try a barbell back squat, one of the best strength exercises out there.
A. Stand with feet shoulder-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).
"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., a senior clinical professor at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL.
"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." (Not only is breathing correctly essential for this best ab exercise, but it can also transform your plank workout, according to Kayla Itsines.)
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 the arms and legs are parallel to one another.
C. Breathe "naturally" while holding the top/up position for two slow counts.
D. Reverse the action by inhaling and then rolling back, shoulders, and head down onto the mat exhaling at the start position.
Towel Plank and Knee In
"Fit and healthy abs should be able to resist external forces, flex, extend, and rotate, and this moves 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. (Finding these best ab exercises for women a little too hard? Try this easier core workout instead to get started.)
A. Start in a plank position with one small towel placed under each ball of foot, legs together.
B. Bring left knee in toward the right side of chest, squeezing abs. Straighten right leg back out to full plank and bring right knee in toward the left 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. That's one rep.
Build up to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps (resting in between).
If you don't have time for a full ab workout (i.e. this one from Emily Skye), you'll want to go for one of the best ab exercises that links the legs, hips, glutes, shoulders, back, and core together such as this standing lift move does, says Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist for ACE Fitness.
A. Stand with feet hip-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, and then repeat on the other side.
"This pose will strengthen the core and tone the abdominal muscles," says Tamal Dodge, founder of Yoga Salt. Meaning it's one of the best ab exercises to tack onto a routine you already love. (Or it might already be part of one of your go-to complete ab workouts, such as the 10-minute abs workout the Tone It Up ladies swear by.)
A. Sit with knees bent and 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 this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, maintaining even breathing. (BTW, breathing is just one way to get a rock solid core without doing tons and tons of these best ab exercises.)
Side-to-Side Crunch and Weave
A solid pick for any complete ab 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 best ab exercise for women also keeps you moving quickly to help you burn more calories 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 the center and lean to the left. Repeat lean back to the right.
C. Lean lower 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.
Reverse Curl and Lift
"You'll feel a burn like no other when you do this move," says Jari Love, a certified personal trainer, and creator of the Get RIPPED! full-body workout program. "It's a great way to challenge your abs in a whole new way." (Related: Exactly How to Do a Reverse Crunch Once and For All)
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 your 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.
Inchworm to Side Plank
Linda LaRue, a registered nurse, athletic trainer, and creator of the Core Transformer suggests adding this total-body move to a full ab workout because it engages your core — not just your abs. "Moves that involve trunk (your core) twisting best engage your transverse abdomens (the deepest muscles)." (For more of the best abdominal exercises that engage your entire core, check out these rotational moves as well.)
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, shoulders down, and abs drawn in. Hinge forward at waist and inch forward, walking with hands into a top-of-the-pushup (or 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 pushup 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 right, reaching right arm up to the ceiling, into a side plank position. Hold for three counts.
E. Repeat the pushup and side plank to the other side. Walk hands back to body and stand up tall to start position. That's one rep.
Repeat 6 times.
"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 exercise physiologist Tom Holland, C.S.C.S.
A. Assume a pushup 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 counts, then return to plank position and repeat with the other arm and leg. That's one rep.
Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 20 reps, several times per week for best results.
"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, 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." (Want more? Work these advanced stability ball moves for an extremely strong core into your next full ab 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 hip-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. (And then when ready, progress how far away you reach and number of reps, recommends Richey.)
The Pilates Roll Up with Ball
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 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." (And if you want more Pilates-inspired best ab exercises after this roll up move, check out this 15-minute core-centric workout.)
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 as you lift head, neck, and shoulders off the floor and then 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, and 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.
Supine Oblique Ball Twist
Add this best abdominal exercise from Bryce Taylor, a trainer, physical therapist, and facility manager at Athletico in Indianapolis into any complete ab workout. Why? Because this bad boy will work your obliques much better than crunches. (But if you must do crunches — they are some of the best ab exercises after all — be sure you know how to do 'em correctly.)
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 floor as possible without dropping to the side).
C. Press the ball back up to the ceiling and repeat to the left.
Alternating sides for 1 minute.
"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.
Stability-Ball Plank Leg Lift
Samantha Clayton, a former Olympic sprinter, and trainer with Herbalife Nutrition suggests adding this best ab exercise to any complete ab 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." (Related: The Ultimate 30-Day Plank Challenge for Your Strongest Core Ever)
A. Get into pushup position with both hands on the stability ball directly below shoulders (feet can be slightly wider than shoulder-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.
D. Repeat on the other side.
Try to do three sets of 10-second holds and then advance to a 30-second hold.
This targeted move from Lisa Hubbard, creator of Rhythm Pilates, really zeroes in on hard-to-tone oblique muscles and abdominal wall — something every complete ab workout needs.
A. Lie on back with hands interlaced behind head, knees bent, and feet hip-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 right side; exhale again rotating even further, 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.
Cross-Leg Reverse Crunch
This best ab exercise for women 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 personal trainer, and creator of The Atlas Way and 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 the couch or a heavy medicine ball. Cross right ankle on top of left 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 the starting position. That's one rep.
Try for up to 15 reps with right leg, then repeat on the left.
As a part of your full ab workout, this tough, unique plank variation from Cody Harter, owner of Harter Strength & Conditioning, will challenge your core and back — no pool required. (And if you want more, this high-powered plank workout will also fire up your core.)
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 the balls of feet.
D. Finish the full stroke before returning to elbow plank position.
E. Repeat with left arm. That's one rep.
Do 10 reps total, alternating sides each time.
Stacy Berman, Ph.D., trainer, Reiki master, and founder of Stacy's Bootcamp in New York City loves this plank move as part of a full ab workout. "You are going to work your upper and lower abs, obliques, and lower back," says Berman. "Walking the hands as far above your head as you can forces the core to work extra hard to stabilize."
A. Stand with feet hip-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 you are in a full plank position.
C. Hold for one count at the furthest point, and then walk hands back to feet and slowly return to standing. That's one rep.
Repeat up to 10 times.