7 best dumbbell ab exercises for beginners to strengthen your core

Man on exercise mat performing sit-up punches with right arm forward holding a pair of dumbbells
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The best dumbbell ab exercises for beginners hit your core muscles hard without needing high-level experience in the gym. If your goals include building stronger abs and increasing muscle mass, these seven ab exercises should be your go-to. 

Dumbbells are arguably the most accessible free weights, especially the best adjustable dumbbells. A medium-weight set can service most home workouts, and free weights allow you to work single-sided (unilateral training), isolating various muscle groups while you train. 

We’ve rounded up seven of our favorite dumbbell ab exercises for beginners, meaning anyone at any training level can do them. You can also find the 5 best dumbbell ab exercises for more experienced exercisers, but these are bread-and-butter core exercises for a firmer, fortified midsection. Here they are. 

Benefits of dumbbells for abs

You can do plenty of bodyweight ab workouts at home or in the gym to sculpt core muscles, but dumbbells increase the intensity and challenge, helping you build muscle, strength and power across your torso.

Your core muscles run down the front and back of your body, wrap around your torso and extend down your waist, including your glutes and hip flexor muscles. Your diaphragm is technically part of your core network too, helping you breathe properly as you move. 

Weak core muscles make you more susceptible to injury and a limited range of motion. You’ll also find posture, speed, and weightlifting ability all affected. Keep these muscles strong and your body stable by training your core several times weekly. That doesn’t just mean dedicated ab workouts and can include compound exercises like squats or deadlifts as well. 

If you enjoy kettlebell training, we’ve also rounded up the 5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners here. Now, let’s hit those abs hard.

Woman holding two dumbbells punching forward with her left arm and holding her right hand above her shoulder

(Image credit: Shutterstock images)

7 best dumbbell ab exercises for beginners to strengthen your core muscles 

You can single or dual-load your dumbbells. Single dumbbell exercises are great for unilateral exercises, challenging your core balance and stability while isolating one side of your body. But you could also single-load to reduce intensity. Using two dumbbells, you’ll teach both sides of your body to communicate and coordinate, strengthening muscles everywhere. 

Always seek advice from a qualified personal trainer or medical professional before starting a new exercise program, and stop immediately if you experience pain. 

1. Dumbbell standing wood chop

a photo of a man doing a wood chop exercise

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Twisting exercises help your muscles deal with rotational load and could even assist in sports like golf or tennis. You’ll target the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal and external oblique muscles (muscles that run down your waist), shoulders and upper and lower back. 

How:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and soft knee bend
  • Hold a dumbbell in both hands, brace your core and keep your spine neutral
  • Squat as you twist your torso and tap the dumbbell to the outside of your left thigh, pivoting on your right foot
  • As you exhale, drive the weight across your body and upward to the right side above your head and pivot on the left foot
  • Control the weight back down and use your core. Complete reps on one side, then swap.

2. Dumbbell standing twist

The wood chop exercise focuses on diagonal rotation, whereas standing twists require side-to-side movement, similar to Russian twists. The move works your waist muscles hard, targeting the erector spinae muscles in your lower back.

How:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and soft knee bend
  • Hold a dumbbell in both hands and extend your arms in front of you, brace your abs and keep your spine neutral. Roll your shoulders back and down
  • Rotate your torso from left to right while keeping your hips forward facing and feet planted down
  • Aim to reach the dumbbell to the outside of your hips and allow your gaze to follow the weight.

3. Dumbbell standing side bend

an illo of a woman doing a dumbbell side bend

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The side crunch motion targets the internal and external obliques, activating the lower back muscles responsible for posture and stability. Your waist gets a good workout as a result, and your arms are nice and active too.

How:

  • Stand with feet hip or shoulder-width apart and soft knee bend, holding a dumbbell in each hand
  • Engage your core and lengthen through your spine, standing tall with a flat back and shoulders pinned back
  • With control, slowly slide the dumbbell down one leg, bending to the side without leaning backward or forward
  • Control the weight back to your hip, then switch to the other side. You can hold a weight in each hand for counterbalance and extra intensity or one dumbbell if you prefer.

4. Dumbbell overhead crunch

an illo of a man doing weighted sit ups

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Overhead crunches work the lower back, abs and hip flexors, also targeting your arms and shoulder stability as you hold the weight above your head. Start holding one weight in both hands. To progress, hold a weight in each hand when you feel more comfortable with the movement.

How:

  • Lie on your back with legs extended away from you or knees bent and feet pressed into the mat
  • Grip a dumbbell in both hands and engage your core
  • Extend your arms behind your head
  • Perform a crunch by squeezing your abs and lifting your upper back off the mat
  • Press the dumbbell overhead toward the ceiling, arms outstretched
  • Slowly lower back down to the ground with control. Repeat.

5. Dumbbell swings

Vector person performing dumbbell swings

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Swings target and strengthen the posterior chain muscles, including your back, glutes and hamstrings, and swinging the weight upward also increases shoulder activation and core control.

How:  

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider) and toes pointed out at 45 degrees
  • Grip the end of a dumbbell with both hands. Softly bend your knees and set your shoulders back and down
  • Brace your core, then hinge forward at your hips and send your bum back with a neutral spine
  • Swing the weight between your legs, then explosively drive it up to shoulder height, snapping your hips forward and squeezing your glutes at the top
  • Control the descent back down. Repeat
  • Alternate arms on the upswing if you need more challenge.

Avoid squatting by locking both knees in place. Here’s how to do kettlebell swings for more.

6. Dumbbell butterfly sit-up

Vector of woman performing a sit-up in two stages with knees apart

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Butterfly sit-ups remove your hips from the equation, fully loading your ab muscles during the exercise. Sit-ups target the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and internal and external obliques, making the move a total ab attack. Having a wall in front of you helps support your feet and forces you to reach forward at the top, achieving a fuller range of motion.

How:

  • Lie on your back facing a wall and grip your dumbbell with both hands close to your chest
  • Press the soles of your feet together and open your knees to the sides
  • Ensure your lower back is supported on the mat beneath you. Engage your core
  • Perform a sit-up by lifting your back off the mat into an upright position
  • Press the dumbbell forward and tap it on the wall in front of you
  • With control, lower your entire back down onto the mat.

7. Dumbbell seated windshield wipers

The move hits your abs, obliques and transverse abdominal muscles. It also activates your hip flexors, glutes, legs (namely, quads and hamstrings) and lower back muscles. 

How:

  • Sit on your mat and stand one dumbbell on its end in front of you
  • Place your feet on one side of the dumbbell. Engage your core, then slightly lean back
  • Lift tall through your spine and keep your back neutral and shoulders pulled back and down
  • Rest both hands on the ground just behind your hips for support
  • With straight legs, lift both feet over the dumbbell and tap the outside of your foot to the ground. Slightly twist your torso in the same direction as your legs
  • Now drive your legs back over to the opposite side, tapping the outside foot to the floor and gently twisting your torso to follow
  • Bend your knees if you prefer. Hold a dumbbell to your chest or place your hands behind your head for an extra challenge.

For more inspiration, here are some other TG-approved core torchers to get stuck into below.

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.