Forget crunches — these 5 standing ab exercises blast your core

a photo of a woman with strong abs holding a kettlebell
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — when it comes to working your abdominal muscles, not all exercises are created equal. If building visible abdominal muscles is your goal, you’ll need to focus on your overall body fat percentage, not endless crunches. Your body fat percentage is affected by diet, cardio levels, stress, and sleep — here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters

That said, if you’re looking for some standing or kneeling ab exercises to work your midsection, you’ve come to the right place. This workout, devised by fitness trainer Elsie from Elise’s Body Shop, mainly focuses on standing or kneeling exercises that can help build functional fitness. Read on to find out more. 

What is the workout? 

For this workout, you’ll need a kettlebell or an adjustable dumbbell (check out the best adjustable dumbbells for working out at home here). You’ll complete each of the five exercises for 30 seconds, and do the circuit three to four times through, taking a short break between each circuit if you need. 

Here’s the exercises you’ll need to do: 

Overhead march

For this exercise, start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, and your core engaged. Lift the dumbbell or kettlebell above your head in one hand — ensure that the weight is heavy enough to feel challenging, but not too heavy that you feel like you are compromising your form. 

March one leg up toward your body, bending at the knee and raising it to your torso, then lower it back down to your starting position and repeat on the opposite leg. Do 30 seconds on one side, then swap to hold the kettlebell in the other arm.

Around the worlds

For this exercise, start by kneeling on your exercise mat with a kettlebell or dumbbell in one hand. Engage your core, and take the kettlebell around the side of your body, swapping to hold the weight in the other hand behind your back, so the weight makes a full circle around your waist. Keep switching the direction of the weight each rep. 

Goblet march

To do a goblet march, start by holding a kettlebell or dumbbell with two hands above your chest. Engage your core, and bend at the knee to march one leg, then the other up toward your torso. 

Kneeling chop

To perform the kneeling woodchop, grab a moderately heavy dumbbell. Place your right knee on the ground, aligned with your right hip. Place your left foot on the ground in front of you, forming a 90-degree angle with your left leg. 

Keeping your hips square and chest facing forward, lower the dumbbell to your right, aiming for the outside of your right hip. Draw your belly button in, maintain a neutral spine, and lift the weight from your right hip toward your left shoulder, in a semi-circle pattern. 

Don’t allow the ribs to splay or the back to arch, and keep your hips, torso, and chest square to the wall in front of you. 

Bear pull through

Ok, so this exercise isn’t standing or kneeling, but it’s a good one for working your core. 

Start by kneeling on all fours with a kettlebell or dumbbell to the side of your body. Engage your core and lift your knees a few inches off the ground. Grab the kettlebell and drag it underneath your body, keeping your core engaged and not letting your knees drop to the ground. Then, use the opposite hand to drag the weight back to its original position. Keep switching sides throughout. 

What are the benefits? 

Far from being just an aesthetic goal, strong abs are important. Your abs are responsible for several important tasks: they support and protect internal organs, help to maintain your posture, facilitate bodily functions like coughing or sneezing, and stabilize your pelvis and spine during any type of movement. 

Lacking sufficient abdominal strength can lead to a host of issues including frequent lower back pain, misalignment and instability in the rest of your body, and overuse injuries in muscle groups that try to compensate for core weakness. 

Doing standing or kneeling ab workouts has an additional benefit in that they work on functional ranges of motion. Unlike crunches or sit-ups, which also target the abdominal muscles, standing rotation exercises mimic movements you might make in your day-to-day life, like lifting something down from a shelf or passing something to someone standing next to you. Read more about what functional training is, and why you should be focusing on it here.  

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.