Strengthen your core muscles from home with these seven ab exercises. Although weights are effective at adding intensity, bodyweight ab workouts can work these muscles hard without equipment.
Bodyweight training, like a calisthenics workout, naturally engages your core muscles and helps build functional strength, keeping your body moving with better efficiency and less chance of injury, also strengthening your joints and bones. A strong core also helps all exercisers lift heavier with better posture and run with better economy, amongst many other benefits.
If you enjoy home workouts or prefer scaling back on the best gym equipment, these seven ab exercises should be staples in your gym routine. Here's a rundown on how to do them and the benefits of building a stronger core.
Benefits of bodyweight exercises for abs
I program bodyweight training into any client's routines regardless of their experience level because you should always be able to move with your own bodyweight properly before you start picking up kettlebells, barbells or the best adjustable dumbbells.
My rule of thumb — everyone who can (and does) exercise without limitation should learn to do one bodyweight pull-up, push-up and squat supporting their weight. Obviously, there are exceptions.
You don’t have to isolate your core muscles with sit-ups or crunches, either. Plenty of compound exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups simultaneously activate these muscles.
The payoff is a stronger torso, supporting quality and safe movements like flexion, extension and rotation during workouts. You can also expect increased power and endurance and better postural control.
If you prefer weight training and made it this far, check out the 5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners for more ideas.
7 best bodyweight ab exercises for strengthening your core muscles
We’ve included exercises that target various core muscles, not just your abs, so you’ll find your six-pack muscles, obliques (that run down your waist) and lower abs feel the burn. We also activate the deeper muscles responsible for stabilizing the spine, which are the most important muscles to keep strong.
Strengthening and building muscle will give you more definition, but repping out hundreds of crunches and sit-ups alone won’t make a huge difference to your appearance — that comes down to diet, consistency and lifestyle choices. Find out why you can't see your abs yet, despite working out if that sounds familiar.
1. Alligator crawls
The move improves core and shoulder stabilization and works the entire body, including your arms and shoulders.
- Place a dishcloth or sliders (or similar) underneath your feet
- Start in a high plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and stomach engaged, hips in line with your shoulders
- Squeeze your glute and quads, then begin to drag your body weight forward using your hands
- Keep both legs straight and still, using your upper body to drive the movement.
This burpee variation is kinder on your lower back and doesn’t require chest-to-floor motion. The move develops strength, speed and explosive power and works multiple muscle groups, including your shoulders, chest, core, and legs.
- Start in a push-up position and brace your core
- With explosive power, jump both feet to land outside of your hands with heels planted down
- Lower your bum and lift your chest, then lift both hands away from the floor
- Place both hands back down on the floor, then jump both feet back into the starting position.
Avoid rounding through your spine or hyperextending your lower back, and practice landing toward your heels, not the balls of your feet. Here’s what happened when I did 80 sprawls every day for a week.
3. Plank hip dips
The variation targets the obliques, transverse abdominis, the stabilizer muscles in your shoulders, and the muscles in your back using rotation similar to a rinsing motion. Find out how to do plank hip dips in detail here.
- Start in a plank position on your forearms or in a high plank
- The core should be engaged, and there should be a straight line from your head to your heels
- Squeeze your glutes and slowly turn your hips to the left until they hover a few inches from the ground
- Hold for a second, then rotate back to your starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
4. Oblique v-up
A take on the v-up, the move is killer on the obliques. Oblique v-ups adopt a side-crunching motion to torch your waist and test stability.
- Lie on your right side with your legs extended away from you and slightly bent
- Place your top hand on the back of your head and your bottom arm to the side for support
- Lift your head and torso off the floor and raise your legs at the same time
- Touch your legs and elbow together, then lower to the starting position
- Switch sides
- Don't let your back rest on the floor.
5. Flutter kicks
Flutter kicks hit the lower abs and hip flexor muscles, activating your lower back. The move also requires core stability to stay in a crunch position throughout.
- Start on your bum and slightly lean back, engaging your core
- Place your hands down by your hips for support. Keep your spine tall, shoulders back, and chest lifted
- Lift both legs and begin gently kicking up and down with pointed toes
- Lower your legs closer to the floor to make the move harder, and experiment by placing your hands on your hips or behind your head
- Bend your knees to make the move easier.
6. Sorenson Hold
The Sorenson Hold is an isometric exercise that requires your body to stay in a neutral parallel position with your chest lifted. It primarily strengthens your posterior chain muscles located down the back of your body, including the lower back, glutes, core, hip flexors and hamstrings.
- Rest both thighs on the padded cushion of a GHD machine
- Straighten both legs and place your feet on the footplates
- Your hips should be unsupported just in front of the pads
- Maintain a straight line from head to toe with a neutral spine
- Squeeze your glutes, hamstrings, stomach and back muscles, then extend your hands away from you, or place them behind your head.
Replicate the move without a GHD machine with your thighs supported on a bench or box. Place a dumbbell between your feet or ask a friend to hold your legs.
7. Fallen triangle
A popular yoga move, the fallen triangle combines a triangle pose and side plank to torch shoulders, arms, glutes, obliques and abs, stretch the pectoral muscles and hips and activate your legs and back.
Yoga teachers can program the move in various ways, so here’s one way to do a fallen triangle.
- Start in a high plank position and draw your right knee to your chest
- Keep your core engaged and back flat without dropping your hips
- Extend your right leg and step your right foot to the outside of your left wrist toward the side
- Rest on the outside edge of your foot and turn on your back foot to rest it on the mat
- Extend your left arm toward the ceiling, stacking your arms in one straight line
- Gently twist your torso so that your chest faces the left side of the room.
For an extra challenge, practice lifting your left leg away from the ground with a bent knee, then extend the leg away from you.
If you’re brave enough, some people enjoy elbow-to-knee crunches from this position. I know, right?
Do ab workouts burn belly fat?
Ah, the age-old question — can you shred fat from ab exercises? Unfortunately, you can’t decide where to lose fat, regardless of how many targeted ab exercises you choose to do. So, if a website or personal trainer tells you you only need an ab workout to torch fat and nothing else, run far, far away.
Your genes, lifestyle choices, sleep and stress all play a part and the decisions you make in the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, you’ll need to find some balance and consistency with diet and exercise. Sadly, for many people, the stomach is the most stubborn place to lose fat from.
But it is possible, and the answer isn’t drastic. Making small changes to calorie intake, adopting a consistent exercise routine and incorporating more activity into your day can support sustainable weight loss — find out more about NEAT and weight loss here.
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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.