While many of us are still under stay-at-home orders, at-home workouts are blowing up. And if there’s one type of workout that’s always been popular, it’s ab workouts.
Everyone craves the look and feel of washboard abs, but they’re certainly not born overnight. It takes consistency, dietary changes, and the right ab workout routine to strengthen your entire core — not just a few muscles.
And while having visible, toned abs obviously might feel fantastic, stronger abs can also lead to better endurance, flexibility, balance, and mobility[*]. It can also help relieve low back pain and improve your posture[*].
So, what are the best and most effective ab exercises to add to your daily routine?
Here’s a guide packed with exercises that hit every part of your abdominals, including upper, lower, obliques, and core, as well as some general insight into how your abs work
How to Do It: Lie on your back and hold a dumbbell or weighted plate across your chest in both hands. Don’t have the equipment? No problem. Use canned goods, bottled water, or a heavy book. Or you can do it without weights.. Then raise your torso, lower it, and keep tension in your upper abs as you go through the crunch motion.
Trainer Tip: Keep your neck loose. You do not want to feel strain as you crunch up and down, so let your bodywork from your abdominal muscles when pulling upwards, as opposed to using your neck to pull you.
V-Up or V-Sit Up
How to Do It: Lie on your back with your legs off the floor and extended away so they’re parallel with the floor, straight outwards. Keep your arms straight by your sides, not touching the floor. Keep those arms straight as you lift your torso and bring your legs in, bending at the knees, so that your chest and knees meet at the top. Then lower back down and repeat.
Trainer Tip: Instead of bending the knees and bringing legs in, keep the legs straight as you lift the torso up, meeting the arms but as a straight leg. Straight legs will make it more difficult.
How to Do It: Start in a plank position, with palms on the ground and arms straight out in front of you (not on forearms), where they hit right beneath the shoulders. Extend the legs out in a straight line, and then keeping your back flat, with arms stable, start to “climb.” You will tuck your right knee inwards toward your chest, then jump it back to the ground as you pull the left leg inwards towards your chest. Keep going for 30-60 seconds at a time.
Trainer Tip: You can make it harder by doing a “cross mountain climber,” where you cross inwards, with knee to opposite arms, as you twist your body with each motion. And you can increase cardio by going faster, too.
Lying Leg Raise
How to Do It: Begin by lying flat on your back with hands underneath the glutes, and with your palms down, while the legs are extended straight out. Then you will lift your legs slowly off the floor so that they’re perpendicular to the ground. Hold for a second to feel that work in your lower abs, then bring your legs back down to the floor.
Trainer Tip: To boost the challenge for your abs, don’t let your feet touch the ground as you go between reps, but rather keep them lifted the whole time when lowering.
How to Do It: Maintain a plank position, with your hips up and leveled, your glutes (your butt muscles) and core held in tightly, and your head and neck relaxed to avoid any tension. As you maintain the hold, breathe in slowly and deeply. You will keep this pose for as long as you can, or for a set period of time, usually 30-60 seconds. This is great for working the core and oblique muscles.
Trainer Tip: Make the plank harder by adding on extras. You can hold the plank on your forearms, instead of with palms on the ground and straight arms. And you can also do toe taps or plank jacks outward, or you can go up and down, by lifting up onto your palms with straight arms and then back down to your forearms, repeating, for a period of time.
How to Do It: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your heels on the ground. Your torso should be lifted, where it is held upwards at the top of a crunch position so that you can feel and see a 45° angle to the ground. Then you will twist your torso side to side, moving rather slow, and with control, to really hit those abs, the core, and obliques.
Trainer Tip: Make it more of a challenge by adding in weight or kettlebell, or you can use a heavy object, like a book or plate, from home, to add some resistance and make the twisting motion harder.
Depending on your fitness level, you can practice these moves daily or take 1-2 days off per week. As with many exercises, it’s best to take a break if you’re in a lot of pain or injured in any way.
To get the most out of your ab workout, choose three exercises, or one from each category and do three sets of 30 seconds each with about 10 seconds of rest in between. Do these same three exercises for one week, then switch them out for a different set of three for the next week.
By focusing on three exercises at a time, then switching things up, you’re staying consistent, while also using different muscles every week.
As always, the right nutrition, good sleep hygiene, and hydration are key players when it comes to shedding unwanted weight and strengthening muscle.