Forget sit-ups — this 5-move standing ab workout sculpts your core with just one dumbbell

woman holding dumbbell with defined abs
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — when it comes to working your core, not all exercises were created equal. One style of ab workout that’s getting a lot of attention right now is a standing ab workout — perfect for those who are short on space, and more accessible to those recovering from an injury, pregnant women who shouldn’t spend too long lying on their backs (although always check with your doctor or midwife first), or those with arthritis or joint injuries that make kneeling, or hands-and-knee core exercises like planks difficult.

Unlike sit-ups and crunches, when performing standing ab exercises, you are working on your balance, coordination, and stability more than you would be lying down. You’re also more likely to recruit other muscle groups. Unsure where to start? This workout uses one dumbbell and five different exercises to work into all of the muscles in your core — read on to find out how to do it.

As a reminder, if you’re new to exercise, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury or pregnancy, it’s always a good idea to check with a personal trainer to ensure you’re moving with the correct form. When it comes to selecting the right weight for your workouts, remember it should feel challenging by the final few reps, but not impossible — at no point should the weight compromise your form. 

What is the workout? 

The workout, posted by fitness trainer Shaina Fata, involves five different exercises requiring your body weight and one of the best adjustable dumbbells. In her Instagram caption, Fata says she is using a 30lb and a 20lb dumbbell, switching between the two, but select the right weight for you and your body. 

You’ll do three full rounds of each exercise — “I would suggest doing it in circuit form by [completing] each exercise once through before starting the next round,” writes Fata. 

Ready to get started? Here are the exercises to add to your next standing ab workout: 

Dumbbell squat to cross crunch — 14 reps

For this exercise, start with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell against your chest with both hands. Engage your core and squat down, bending your knees and sending your hips back as if you’re sitting on a chair directly beneath you. 

As you squat down, push your knees outwards so that they track directly over your middle toes and keep the weight distributed through your feet. As you stand back up, push from your feet. Once you are back in your starting position, raise one knee towards your chest, at the same time, twist your opposite elbow to touch the knee (it doesn’t matter if they don’t actually touch). Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. 

Dumbbell knee slams — 20 reps

Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Extend your arms to the ceiling, raising the dumbbell overhead. Engage your core to keep your body stable, thinking about sucking your belly button in towards your spine. Raise one knee up towards your chest, and at the same time lower the dumbbell down towards your knee, bending your elbows. Extend your arms and leg so you are back in your starting position, and repeat on the other side. Keep alternating sides for 20 reps. 

Dumbbell good mornings — 10 reps

Begin in a standing position, feet hip-width apart, with a dumbbell held in both hands against your chest. You should have a slight, loose bend in the knee. From here, engage your glutes and hinge forward at the hips. Keep your back flat as your bend forward and do not increase the bend in your knees. Hinge until your back is parallel with the floor, if you can (do not attempt to force things or to bend your back). Keep your head in line with your flat spine. Come back up to standing, pushing your hips forward, to complete one rep. 

Of course, if you have a history of back problems, please seek advice from a medical professional before you do this exercise. Read what happened when this writer did 30 good mornings a day for a week here

Dumbbell figure 8’s — 60 seconds

To do this exercise, start with your feet hip-width apart, and your core engaged, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Circle the dumbbell so you make a figure of eight in front of your body, raising and lowering the dumbbell slowly and with control. Keep your trunk still throughout — think about sucking your belly button in toward your spine. 

Dumbbell woodchops — 10 reps per side

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in both hands at shoulder height. Position your hands at one end of the weight, keeping your arms extended. Maintaining only a slight bend in the elbow, rotate your torso to one side, bringing the weight down diagonally across your body until it reaches your hip. Keep your core engaged throughout the motion. Pause for a moment, then rotate your torso back to the starting point, lifting the weight back up across your body and diagonally overhead, extending your arms. As you do this, engage your core and oblique muscles. 

Complete the desired number of repetitions on one side before switching to the other side, performing the exercise in a controlled and deliberate manner to ensure proper muscle engagement. 

Here's more on how to do weighted woodchops and the benefits of the exercise.

What are the benefits? 

There are a number of benefits when it comes to working on your core strength. Strong abdominal muscles are far more than just an aesthetic goal — they can help you stand with a better posture, protect your back from injury, and run and lift weights with better form. If you are hoping to sculpt visible abs, you’ll need to work on your overall body fat percentage — here’s how to calculate yours, and 5 reasons why you might not be able to see your abs, despite working out.

As mentioned above, there are a number of benefits to standing workouts, one being you can do them just about anywhere, without the need for a lot of space. Standing ab exercises can also help you to build power — especially exercises like wood chops and medicine ball slams. 

As a runner, I’m always looking for ways to build the explosive power I need to accelerate in the final miles of a marathon, so I’ll definitely be adding standing ab workouts to my strength training routine in the future.  

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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.