Forget sit-ups — this abs-on-fire workout sculpts your core using just 4 exercises

a photo of a woman with strong abdominal muscles
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Whether you’re looking for a quick ab workout to try on the move, or you want some inspiration for your next finisher, we’ve got you covered. This ‘abs-on-fire’ workout will torch your core using a set of the best adjustable dumbbells, and just four exercises. Read on to find out more, and how to do each of the exercises involved in the workout. 

All you need for this workout is a set of lightweight dumbbells — if you’re still working out from home, you can check out the best adjustable dumbbells to upgrade your home workouts here. When it comes to selecting the right weight for your workouts, remember it should feel challenging, but not impossible by the final few reps. At no point should the weight compromise your form. 

As a reminder, if you’re new to exercise or you’re returning to exercise following an injury or a pregnancy, it’s a good idea to check with a doctor before adding weights, or new exercises to your workout routine. If in any doubt, get a personal trainer to check your form to ensure you’re not putting yourself at risk of an injury. 

What is the workout? 

Ready to dive in? The workout was created by Julie, the trainer behind the Instagram account 'movementwithjulie', who makes dumbbell workouts for women. And it involves just four exercises. You’ll repeat the circuit four times in total. This one can be done from anywhere — if you don’t have a set of dumbbells, use a couple of books, or water bottles. 

Here are the exercises involved: 

Toe taps: 20 reps

For this exercise, start in a table top position, with your arms extended above your chest with a dumbbell in each hand, and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Engage your core, thinking about sucking your belly button into your spine, and tap one toe down to the mat, keeping the bend in your knee. Bring your leg back to its starting position, and repeat on the other side. Keep alternating sides for 20 reps.

Oblique twists: 20 reps

For this exercise, start by sitting on your exercise mat, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Lean your torso back slightly, engage your core, and have a bend in your knee with your feet on the floor. Twist your torso to one side, lowering both weights to the side of your body, and extend the opposite leg away from your body. Bring both arms and legs back to your starting position, then repeat the exercise on the opposite side. 

Straight leg dead bugs: 20 reps

Start in table top position, with a dumbbell in each hand, and engage your core. Slowly, and with control, extend one arm out away from your body behind your head. At the same time, extend the opposite leg away from your body. Reverse the movement so you are back to your starting position, and repeat on the opposite side. Keep alternating sides. 

Table top crunch: 12 reps

Once more, start in a table top position, keeping your lower back pressed into your exercise mat, and a dumbbell in each hand. Slowly, and with control, extend both arms back away from your body, at the same time, tap both heels down to the floor. From here, lift both your arms and legs back to your starting position, but complete the move by crunching your arms to your knees, and lifting your head and neck off the floor.

As with all abdominal exercises, the key during this workout is to move slowly and with control. The movement should always be coming from your mid-section, and the slower you move, the harder your abs have to work to stabilize your body.

What are the benefits? 

While many of us long for that elusive “six-pack,” aesthetics are hardly the only reason to train your core. Your abdominal muscles (like the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques) are responsible for stabilizing your hips, spine, and the rest of your body during any type of movement. A strong core can help reduce your risk of lower back injury, and help you run and walk with a better posture. 

If sculpting visible six-pack muscles is your goal, you’ll need to focus on your overall body fat percentage. Here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters.

But why add weight to your ab workouts? When we first begin working out, many of us will start with exercises like bodyweight squats and push-ups to build strength. Eventually though, moving our body’s weight alone stops being challenging. In order to keep getting stronger, we need to add dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, or another weight source to produce the same levels of exertion. This is what’s known in exercise science as the Overload Principle. 

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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.