14 Great Ab Exercises to Work the Muscles of Your Core

Pelvic Tilts on the Ball

Pelvic Tilt on the Ball
Paige Waehner

When choosing exercises for your abs, the basic pelvic tilt is a great one to start with. This simple, subtle exercise is a great warm up for your abs and back. This movement actually originates from the hips, rather than from the shoulders as in a crunch. Your upper body will remain stable as you curl the hips towards the ribcage. You should concentrate on the movement to make sure you're using your abs rather than your glutes.

  1. Lie at an incline position on the ball with the hips down, head supported by the hands.
  2. Without rolling on the ball, contract the abs and pull the hips in towards the ribcage.
  3. Try not to squeeze the glutes but, instead, focus on originating the movement from the core.
  4. Lower the hips and repeat for 1-3 sets of 15 reps.

Seated Rotations

Paige Waehner

If you get tired of floor exercises or need something you can do at work for your abs, seated rotations are a good choice. You can work your obliques, as well as your lower back, and holding the weight adds intensity and will involve the shoulders, arms and chest as well.

  1. Sit tall on a ball or chair and hold a medium weight.
  2. Begin the movement with the weight at chest level, shoulders relaxed.
  3. Keeping the hips and knees facing forward, rotate the torso to the right as far as you comfortably can. Focus on squeezing the muscles around your waist.
  4. Rotate back to center and then to the left, keeping the movement slow and controlled.
  5. Continue alternating sides for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.

Bird Dog Ab Exercise

Bird dog core exercise
Paige Waehner

The bird dog is a great overall core exercise that not only strengthens the abs and back, but also involves the glutes and improves balance and stability. For a more advanced version, try this move on the toes instead of on the knees.

  1. Begin on hands and knees with the back straight and the abs pulled in.
  2. Lift the right arm up until it is level with the body and parallel to the floor.
  3. At the same time, lift the left leg up and straighten it until it is also parallel to the floor.
  4. Hold for a moment, lower and repeat on the other side, this time lifting the left arm and right leg. Continue alternating sides for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.
  5. Keep the move slow and controlled and try to keep your body straight throughout the movement.

Modified Bicycle

Modified Bicycle
Paige Waehner

The bicycle is one of the most effective moves for the abs, including the rectus abdominis and the obliques. The traditional move, however, requires both attention to detail and a very strong back to target the abs without putting strain on the back. This modified version, done with paper plates, is a great way to learn the movement and build strength before moving up to a traditional bicycle exercise.

  1. Lie on your back with paper plates under both heels, knees bent. Place the hands behind the head to support the neck.
  2. Contract the abs to lift the shoulder blades off the floor and rotate the left shoulder to the right, elbow in a fixed position.
  3. At the same time, slide the left heel out until the knee is slightly bent or straight, concentrating on the right side of the waist.
  4. Bring the left heel back and slide the right heel out as you rotate the right shoulder to the left, squeezing the left side of the waist.
  5. Keep the elbow back and in a fixed position, focusing on rotating the entire torso.
  6. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.

Ball Crunch with Medicine Ball Throw

Ball Crunch with Medicine Ball Throw
Paige Waehner

The ball crunch is great for targeting the abs, but one way to spice up this exercise is to add a medicine ball throw. With this move, you have several options. You can either do a full crunch and throw the medicine ball to someone standing in front of you, throw a soft, rubber ball against the wall so it comes back to you, or reach out with the ball if throwing it isn't an option. The medicine ball adds weight, intensity and fun to a regular ball crunch.

  1. Lie on an exercise ball holding a med ball. Position the ball under the mid-lower back in a tabletop position.
  2. Take the med ball behind the head, arms straight and feeling a slight stretch in the abs.
  3. Crunch the shoulders off the ball while taking the medicine ball forward, reaching the ball toward the ceiling.
  4. Roll back down, taking the medicine ball behind you for your next crunch.
  5. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.
  6. If you have a partner, throw the ball to your partner while staying in a crunch, then have him/her throw the ball back to you as fast as possible for your next crunch.

Plank with Knee Bends

Plank Knee Bend
Paige Waehner

The traditional plank exercise is great for strengthening the core and you can add intensity and variety by inserting a knee bend into the exercise. You'll challenge the core even more in this 3-point stance (just two hands and one foot) and engage the lower body muscles of the working leg as well.

  1. Begin in a plank position, on the hands and toes.
  2. Make sure the body is in a straight line from the head to the heels, core braced.
  3. Lift the left foot off the floor and bend the knee, pulling it in towards the chest. Your torso might bend a little as you bring the knee in.
  4. Cross the left foot over the right leg, hold briefly, then take left knee back to the chest.
  5. Bring the left foot back into your full plank and repeat on the other side.
  6. Repeat, alternating sides, for 1-3 sets of 8 reps (1 rep includes a knee bend with both the right and left legs).

Ab Crunches with Gliding Discs

Paige Waehner

Traditional crunches are something all of us have done and, probably, gotten bored with. Add some spice to your regular crunches by using Gliding Discs to slide the heels in and out. You can also use paper plates or, if you're on a hardwood floor, towels will work.

  1. Lie down with Discs or plates under the heels, legs straight and hands gently cradling the head.
  2. Version 1: Crunch the shoulders a few inches off the floor while sliding the heels in, pressing into the Discs or paper plates.
  3. Version 2: Lift the body into a full sit-up (more advanced) as you slide the heels in while pressing into the Discs or plates.
  4. Try to keep the chin tucked and avoid pulling on the neck. Originate the move from your core.
  5. Stick with the first version if you have issues with your back.

Side Plank

Paige Waehner

The side plank is an advanced and challenging move that targets the obliques as well as the core. You can do this move on the forearm, as shown, or on the hand which is slightly easier, but still challenging

  1. Lie down on the right side, resting on your forearm.
  2. The legs should be straight, hips stacked. For the foot position, you have some options:
    • Harder: Feet stacked (shown above)
    • Easier: Feet staggered
    • Easiest: Knee Down
  3. Once you choose your foot position, press into the forearm to lift the hips off the mat.
  4. Hold your body in a straight line for 30-120 seconds, repeating 2-3 times on each side.

Modified Side Plank for the Obliques and Core

Paige Waehner

This modified side plank is the perfect exercise to work on the obliques and overall core strength while working up to a more advanced side plank exercise. You can modify further by placing the front hand on the floor in front of you for support.

  1. Sit, resting on the left forearm and the left hip.
  2. The knees are bent and the hips, knees and ankles should be stacked on top of one another.
  3. Place the right hand on the right hip or put the right hand on the floor in front of you for balance and leverage, if needed.
  4. Press into the forearm and squeeze the obliques to lift the hips off the mat.
  5. Hold briefly and lower, just touching the mat before lifting the hips again.
  6. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps on each side.

Modified Side Plank with Leg Lifts

Paige Waehner

This side plank with legs lifts is the next step in working up to a traditional side plank.  The idea is to increase the intensity by adding a leg lift and by taking the arm overhead.  You'll really challenge the core as well as the lower body.

  1. Sit, resting on the left forearm and the left hip.
  2. The knees are bent and the hips, knees and ankles should be stacked on top of one another.
  3. Take the right arm straight up or put the right hand on the floor in front of you for balance and leverage, if needed.
  4. Press into the forearm and squeeze the obliques to lift the hips off the mat.
  5. At the same time lift the right leg up a few inches, focusing on the outer thigh.
  6. Hold briefly, lower the leg and then go back down to the floor, just touching the mat before lifting the hips again.
  7. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps on each side.

Side Plank with Leg Lift

Paige Waehner

Side planks are hard enough, but if you really want to test your strength and endurance, try adding a leg lift.  This requires a tremendous amount of strength and balance, so take your time and practice easier versions before moving up to this one.

  1. Begin in a side plank, balancing the left hand and the outside of the left foot.  Feet can be stacked on top of one another (harder) or staggered (easier).
  2. Lift the other arm straight up over the shoulder to increase your balance challenge (optional).
  3. Holding that position, lift the right leg a few inches, bracing the core to maintain your balance.
  4. Lower the leg and repeat the leg lifts for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps on each side.
  5. If this hurts your wrist, try resting the hand on a yoga block.

Spiderman Planks

Paige Waehner

Holding a plank position can get a little boring, but you can spice things up a bit with these superman planks.  With this move, you're bringing the knee towards the same elbow, targeting the obliques as well as your balance and stability.  This one is tougher than it looks.

  1. Being in a plank position,on the hands and toes.  Make sure the hips are down and the back is flight while bracing your abs.
  2. Lift the left leg, bend the knee and bring it in towards your left elbow without moving the rest of the body.
  3. Take the left leg back and then bring the right knee in towards the right elbow, once again, keeping the body in the same position.
  4. Repeat for 30-60 seconds, completing 1-3 sets.

Seated Double Knee Lifts - Perfect for When You're at Work!

Double Knee Lift
Paige Waehner

You don't need anything special to work your abs.  In fact, you can do them right from your chair with this double knee lift.  You'll really feel this exercise in the lower abs.

  1. Sit tall in a chair, feet flat on the floor and shoulders down.
  2. Brace the abs and lift the feet off the floor, bringing the knees to the chest.
  3. Try to avoid leaning back in the chair as you lift your legs.
  4. Lower and repeat for 10-16 reps.

Oblique Crunches for the Muscles Around the Waist and Abs

You don't need any equipment to work your oblique muscles and this classic crossover crunch is a great exercise for targeting those muscles around the waist.  The secret to this move is to avoid crunching your elbow in, but focus on bringing the shoulder towards the hip as you cross over.

  1. Begin lying on the floor and cross the left foot over the right knee. 
  2. Place the right hand behind the head for support and, if you really want to focus your attention on the abs, place the other hand on the left side of your waist.
  3. Keeping the elbow back, lift the shoulder blades off the floor and then crossover, focusing on bringing the shoulder towards the knee.
  4. Feel the muscles contract in the left side of the waist.
  5. Lower and repeat for all reps before switching sides.

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