Forget planks or crunches — these 5 standing core exercises will torch your abs

Woman standing with hands behind head in blue workout gear against grey background
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Standing ab workouts or standing core workouts — whatever you call them, they torch your torso and strengthen the muscles responsible for keeping you moving, stable and injury-free without laying down. 

But what’s the point in standing? Doing so can be low-impact if you suffer from back pain like sciatica or have limited mobility, preventing you from getting down on the floor. 

But just because you won’t see planks or crunches here, don’t think we’re going easy on you. Some of the best ab workouts are standing, so here’s one of our favorite standing core workouts to try using five exercises. 

woman holding dumbbells for ab workout

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

But before we get to it — some tips for maximizing core activation. We always say, “Engage your core!” when explaining how to do ab exercises, but what does it even mean? 

Gently squeeze your stomach and suck your belly button toward your spine; it will prevent your lower back from taking over when you get tired. But you should still be able to breathe without restriction. 

Always move with control to make your muscles work hard, and avoid half reps — there’s a time and a place, but this isn’t one of them. Check these top 5 ways to build muscle without lifting heavier weights here to find out more. 

5 standing core exercises for torching your ab muscles

You can program these five ab exercises however you like, and it’s up to you if you add the best kettlebells or adjustable dumbbells. If you prefer bodyweight core workouts, you could also forget weights altogether. 

Here are five standing core exercises to test core strength and help build midsection muscle. 

1. Standing squat twists

Rotation activates the oblique muscles, which run along your waist. Strong obliques are functional but also create a more defined waistline.

How:

  • Start in a squat position with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward
  • Engage your core, keep your back flat, then lower into a squat by sending your hips back as if sitting in a chair while bending at the knees
  • Lower until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, keeping the weight spread across both feet and heels pressed down
  • Twist your torso to the left. Pause, then rotate back to center
  • Drive up through both heels to stand, squeeze your glutes
  • Repeat the squat. This time, turn to the right.

2. Medicine ball slams

Woman in a home gym throwing a ball over her head during a med ball slam

(Image credit: Shutterstock images)

Medicine ball slams help activate the deeper core muscles that help stabilize the torso during powerful movements. The ab exercise also targets your arms, shoulders, chest, hips and legs as you squat, lift and throw, making it a full-body strength and cardio workout. 

How:

  • Start standing with feet hip or shoulder-width apart
  • Place a medicine or dead ball between your feet
  • Engage your core, then squat down and grip the medicine ball with both hands
  • Keep your spine neutral, chest lifted and back flat. Begin to stand as you drive the ball overhead
  • Slam the ball down between your feet as hard as you can
  • Try to squat down and catch the ball on the bounce. Drive the ball back up overhead on the catch.

You could mimic the movement pattern using a kettlebell or dumbbell to do the move — you don’t need a medicine ball. Just remember not to let go of the weight!

3. Standing bird dog

The core exercise seems to be popping off on TikTok, amassing millions of views, alongside standing ab exercises. Learn more about the traditional bird dog exercise here. Add some weights to make the exercise harder, or practice standing on a balance trainer.

How:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms extended in front of you at shoulder height
  • Lift your left knee toward your chest and your right arm overhead, keeping the arm straight
  • Lower back down and repeat on the opposite side.

4. Single-arm overhead standing marches

Vector of man lifting one knee at a time against a white background

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Marching on the spot while extending one arm overhead targets your working arm and shoulder muscles, and your core works hard to keep your body stable as you move your legs. Marching itself targets your hip flexors, glutes and legs. Find out what happened when our editor did a similar standing ab exercise every day for a week recently.

How:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and stomach engaged
  • Lift your left arm overhead
  • Drive one knee up toward your chest, then lower the leg back down and repeat on the other side
  • Program high reps if possible, and after several reps, alternate arms. 

5. Standing windmills

an illo of a man doing kettlebell windmills

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The move packs a punch for various muscle groups — the abs, internal and external obliques, glutes, hamstrings, back and shoulders (especially the rhomboids and rotator cuffs). 

You don’t have to lower your arm to the floor, but it’s a great mobility exercise to help you get there and improves balance, coordination and stability. Our writer did kettlebell windmills and documented his results (spoiler, it's a torcher).

How:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward
  • Lift your left arm overhead, locking out the elbow over your shoulder
  • Roll your shoulders back and engage your lats — the large muscles that run down the sides of your back
  • Look up at your left hand and engage your core
  • Shift your left hip slightly back, allowing your right knee to bend slightly
  • Slide your right arm along the inner thigh, reaching your fingertips towards the floor as far as possible
  • Reverse back to your starting position, then switch sides.

To progress the move, hold a weight above your head to increase instability.

5-move standing core workout to try

Did you know that #standingabs is doing the rounds on TikTok? No shock, really. 

Adopting standing ab exercises could help build your abs and obliques without hurting your lower back, neck or joints. And if you enjoy the standing core exercises above, why not combine them into an ab routine of your own? 

But don’t be fooled into thinking that popping abs are just around the corner. The hard work extends to managing your diet and overall energy expenditure — this is called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).

These moves are functional, meaning they closely resemble how your muscles move and activate throughout the day. If you want to add weights and don’t have any, use a heavy rucksack or water bottles. Perform each core exercise for 45 seconds, aiming for 8-12 reps. Rest for 15 seconds and aim for 3-5 rounds.

More from Tom's Guide

Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified 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.