Most of us would love to have six-pack abs. The question is how? It seems so elusive, given that you’ve been attempting crunches since, what, the first grade?
Well, “a lot of people feel like targeted abs training is so tough because they haven’t developed proper strength in their core,” says Adam Rosante, a certified personal trainer and author of The 30-Second Body. “And when you work to bring up any weak muscle group, it’s going to feel like a struggle.”
...that is, at first. And it’s worth it to stay in the game. “The role of the core is to keep your spine safe and stabilized while your extremities are in motion,” says Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of sport science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL. “The stronger it is, the safer your spine,” and the better equipped you’ll be at all kinds of exercises, from toning your arms to strengthening your glutes.
The key to a strong core is all about variation. “Once you add in one or more different moves, you really start to challenge your abs,” says Olson. To get you started, we've curated 10 best ab workouts that you can do from home or your backyard, running from beginner to intermediate and advanced. Pick five at a time to build your own circuit and plan on a core day 2-3 times a week. If you are new to core strengthening, start with the beginner moves or modified versions of the advanced moves. Once you get a hang of those, challenge yourself with more reps or try the more advanced moves. Have fun with it!
Equipment: yoga mat, kettlebell (optional)
Time: 5-15 minutes
Reps and sets: Aim for 10-15 slow, controlled reps per set and 2-3 sets per exercise. For static holds, stay in the pose anywhere from 20 seconds to 1 minute.
Exercise 1: Reverse Plank
How to do it: Sit on your mat with your legs straight in front of you. Place your hands behind you, fingertips facing forward. Then, squeeze your butt as you lift your hips up toward the sky. Keep your elbows straight and feel the burn in your triceps. Keep your neck in a neutral position and hold for your desired time.
Modifications: Reverse table top is a great alternative to reverse plank. All you have to do is bend both of your knees and have your feet flat on the floor. This way, you are holding less of your bodyweight.
Exercise 2: Crunch Kicks
How to do it: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides for support. Bring your knees in toward your chest as you pull your belly button toward the ground and keep your lower back glued to the floor. Try to maintain as much of this core engagement as you can as you kick your feet straight out in front of you. Don't allow your lower back to arch off the floor. If your back arches a lot, don't kick as far or try the modification below. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you get your reps done.
Modification: Try the reverse crunch. Bring your knees in toward your chest and instead of kicking your feet straight in front, keep those knees bent and lower your heels to the ground. Then bring your knees back in to your chest and continue.
Exercise 3: Sit Ups with a Twist
How to do it: Lie down on your back and bend your knees with your feet flat on the ground. Inhale as you brace your core, exhale as you sit up and bring your left elbow to your right knee. With control, lower yourself back to the ground and repeat on the other side. Continue until you finish your reps.
Modification: If you are struggling with sitting all the way up, you'll want to work on sit up negatives first. In this movement, grab your hamstrings (the back of your legs) and use your arms to help you sit up. Then loosen your grip and lower yourself down as slowly as you can. Sit up negatives do not include the twist (which strengthens the oblique muscles), but they will help you achieve all sit up variations.
Exercise 4: Climber Taps
How to do it: Start in a plank position with your hands directly beneath the shoulders. Maintain a flat back. Pick up your right hand and your left foot and bring them to touch beneath you. Switch and alternate sides until you completed your set.
Modification: There are two modifications you can work on to master this movement. You can improve your strength, stability, and stamina by holding a regular plank. And to work on coordination and mobility, you can try slow and controlled mountain climbers. With the mountain climbers, you begin in a plank then pick up your right leg and bring it as far as you can forward to your right elbow. You then repeat it on the left side and keep alternating as such.
Exercise 5: Plank Hops
How to do it: This is a great move to mix into any bodyweight-cardio workout. Start in a plank position with your feet together, then hop your knees as far forward to the right as possible, landing outside of your right elbow. Hop back to neutral, then hop to the left side. Repeat.
Modification: If you're not able to get your knees all the way to your arms, no worries. Find the range of motion that works for you (i.e. don't hop as far) and know you're still getting in good work!
Exercise 6: Star Crunches
How to do it: Lie on you back and spread your arms above your head and legs out wide like you're a starfish. Inhale to prep, then exhale as you sit up, bring your heels to your bum as your grab your shins. Lower yourself down, then continue for as many reps as you desire.
Modification: Try a modified "v-sit." Begin on you back, but this time bring your knees up with your feet flat on the floor. Your arms will be down by your sides. As you sit up, bring your knees towards your chest. Reach for your toes. Then slowly lower yourself down back to the start.
Exercise 7: Modified Boat Pose
How to do it: Sit up tall with your back straight. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and start with your feet flat on the floor. Bring your arms in front of you with your palms up. Then lift your feet off the ground as you recline. Lift your shins until they are parallel to the ground and hold for your chosen time. If you want to really challenge yourself, straighten out those knees.
Modification: Instead of bringing your feet all the way up into the air, lift your heels off the ground and let your toes give you some support. Make sure you maintain a tight "v" shape between your thighs and torso.
Exercise 8: Hollow Body Descents
How to do it: Lie on your back with your arms above your head and legs straight in front of you. Suck your navel inward as you glue your lower back to the mat. Lift your legs one foot off the ground, then sit up until you body makes about a 135-degree angle. Hold for a second, then with as much control as possible slowly lower down (while keeping your legs up), vertebrae by vertebrae, until your torso meets the floor. Re-engage the core and repeat.
Modification: The first step to nailing this move is getting strong at regular hollow body holds. For this movement, you begin the same way with your hands above your head and legs in front. Brace your core, then lift your shoulders a few inches off the ground. Lift your legs. This time, keep you lower back glued to the floor and hold this position. To make this easier, you can bring one knee in towards your chest.
Exercise 9: Star Plank
How to do it: Lie on your right side with your feet stacked on top of one another. Then push yourself up so that you are propped up by your right arm. Make sure your right wrist is directly beneath your right shoulder. Keep your hips, shoulders, and ankles in one even, diagonal line. When you find your balance, shoot your left arm and leg towards the sky. Hold for your chosen time then switch to the other side.
Modification: Get comfortable with the standard side plank before you attempt the star version. In that movement, you just refrain from lifting your top arm and leg into the air. If the standard side plank is too challenging, use your top leg for additional support. Bring that foot behind you and place it flat on the ground. Think of yourself as a tripod.
Exercise 10: Turkish Get Up
How to do it: For this one, you may want to grab a kettlebell or dumbbell, but this can be done without a weight. Lie on your back and bring your right knee up with the right foot flat on the ground. Your left leg will be straight on the floor. Place the weight outside your right shoulder and grab onto it. With your right arm, press the weight overhead and place your left hand into the ground for support. Roll up on to your left elbow, then your hand as you sit up. Drive your right heal into your mat then lift your hips up into the air. Sweep that left leg back into a lunge. Stand up. Then reverse these steps to make your way back to the ground.
Pro tips: Keep your eye on your weight the entire time you move through this exercise and go slow and controlled. And lastly, halve the reps for this one because it's work. For example if you normally aim for 12 reps for traditional ab moves, go for 3 reps on each side (for a total of 6).
Modifications: If you're new to this movement, master each step with your own bodyweight. It can be a bit confusing to figure out where your legs and arms go when you do this movement, so it's OK doing this with an empty hand for a while. Plus anytime you get off the floor with control and intention, you are working your core, so you'll benefit even if you don't have equipment on-hand.