Forget crunches — this kettlebell ab workout targets your core in 4 exercises

a photo of a man holding a kettlebell
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to working your abdominal muscles, not all exercises are created equal. While crunches and sit-ups can target the rectus abdominis, or the six-pack muscle that runs along the front of your torso, adding weight to your abdominal exercises can boost your workouts, and target all of the muscles in your midsection, including your deep core muscles, and your internal and external obliques. If you’re looking to up the intensity, grab one of the best kettlebells, and give this workout a try. 

Strong abdominal muscles are far more than just an aesthetic goal — they’ve been found to help you run stronger, lift heavier weights, move with a better posture, and they can help protect your spine from injury. Studies have found that weight training can reduce abdominal, and overall body fat, helping you lose weight and appear leaner. If visible abs are your goal, you’ll need to focus on your overall body fat percentage and eat a healthy, balanced diet, as well as adding ab workouts to your routine. 

What is the workout? 

The workout, devised by fitness coach and qualified personal trainer, Caroline Idiens, consists of four different kettlebell exercises, designed to target the abdominal muscles. All you’ll need for the workout is one of the best kettlebells, or alternatively, one of the best adjustable dumbbells or a weight plate. 

When it comes to selecting the right weight kettlebell for your workouts, remember that the weight should make the exercise feel challenging but never impossible. You should be able to complete all your reps without compromising your form. 

Idiens doesn’t offer rep suggestions for these exercises, but you can easily build them into a circuit for a quick ab workout. For example, do each exercise for 45 seconds, taking a 15-second rest between, and repeat the circuit four times. Alternatively, you can combine these with other kettlebell ab exercises for a longer workout.  

Here are the exercises, and how to do them: 

Goblet marches: Start by standing on an exercise mat, with your feet hip-width apart, and your core engaged. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands, either like a goblet, or lifted up and away from your body — the further the weight is from your body, the harder this exercise will be. Keep your core engaged and march one leg up towards your torso, bending at the knee, then lower your leg back to its starting position, and repeat on the other side. Your weight should be transferring from side to side, forcing your stabilizer muscles to work to keep your upper body steady. Complete all your reps, alternating between sides, before lowering the weight back down to the ground. Here’s what happened when our fitness editor did goblet marches every day for a week

Windmills: Select a light or moderately heavy kettlebell and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Pick up the kettlebell with your left arm and raise it into the air, letting the bell rest on top of your left wrist and keeping your arm straight. Ensure that your left shoulder is rolled back and your lats are engaged. Turn both of your feet to the right at a 45-degree angle. Look up at the kettlebell above you, and keep your focus on the bell for the entirety of the movement. Engage your core and shift your left hip behind you, allowing your right knee to bend slightly. Rotate your right arm from the shoulder, placing your knuckles against the inner thigh of your right leg. Slide your right arm along the inner thigh, reaching your fingertips towards the floor. Once you’ve reached the end of your range, lift back up to the starting position with control. Here’s more on how to do kettlebell windmills with perfect form. 

Wood chops: Idiens does this exercise kneeling, but you can also stand upright if you prefer. Start with your feet, or knees, shoulder-width apart, and hold the dumbbell in both hands to one side of the body. For example, start with the dumbbell next to your left hip. Engage your abs, and lift and rotate the dumbbell above your right shoulder. If you’re standing, as you lift, pivot your left foot so your torso to help the elevation. This is the lift part of the movement. Next comes the chopping part. Moving with control, lower the dumbbell back to your starting position, keeping your core engaged — there should be minimal movement from the trunk during this exercise. Here’s more on how to do the weighted wood chop

Rotations: Again, Idiens does this exercise kneeling, but you can stand if you prefer. Start with your feet or knees hip-width apart, with your arms outstretched at chest height, holding the kettlebell in both hands. Engage your core, thinking about sucking your belly button into your spine, and rotate your torso to the right. Pause here, then return to your starting positon, before rotating to the left. Keep switching sides. Do not let the kettlebell drop. 

What are the benefits? 

There are a number of different benefits to adding weight to your ab workouts, such as:

Increased core strength

It won’t be surprising, but adding weight to an exercise often makes your muscles work harder. Adding weight to your ab workouts can help you increase your muscle mass, and tone your abdominal muscles. That said, if you’re a complete beginner, start by doing bodyweight exercises with higher reps, or use light weights, and build up. 

As with all ab exercises, the key is to move slowly and with complete control. It’s important to maintain good form, especially when adding weight to the move. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to check with a personal trainer. 

Better balance and stability

One of the main jobs of your abdominal muscles is to stabilize your body, especially your hips, pelvis and lower back. Adding weight to your abdominal workouts forces your stabilizing muscles to work harder, in turn, improving your stability and balance. This is important in day to day life, not just your workouts. 

Lowering your risk of injury

As mentioned, strong abdominal muscles can reduce your chances of injury to your lower back. That said, strength training has also been found to reduce your risk of injury. Strength training has been found to increase your range of motion, and help correct muscle imbalances in the body, lowering your risk of injury. 

Improved athletic performance

Whether you’re a runner, a cyclist, or a tennis player, a strong core is essential. Adding weighted ab exercises to your routine can help you work on your core strength, and in turn, help you perform better. 

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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.