Forget sit-ups — you only need 3 standing ab exercises, 15 minutes, and 1 kettlebell to build your core

Woman standing against grey wall holding a kettlebell overhead with right arm and left hand on hip
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Forget sit-ups, planks, or crunches because these three standing ab exercises sculpt and torch your whole core using one kettlebell. It's just you, standing up, and one of the best kettlebells for weightlifting.

If you sometimes prefer standing while tackling ab workouts, or you have limited mobility, you’re in luck. Standing ab exercises are brilliant alternatives for training your core if you can’t get down on the floor. 

Along with the three kettlebell ab exercises, we’ve also included a three-move standing ab workout you can try from home or the next time you hit the gym. Wherever you are, grab your weights, and let’s get started. 

Abdominal exercises with kettlebells: What are the benefits?

Building stronger abs and targeting your core muscles will require working in different planes of motion, which is why these three exercises will require you to control the weight around your body, overhead and while you twist.

If you haven’t worked much with kettlebells, we encourage adding them to your workout routine in place of dumbbells and barbells on occasion. There are many benefits to lifting free weights, including isolating muscles and improving core stability, muscular coordination and control. 

Strengthening your core means targeting not just your abs but the obliques, the deeper belt of muscles called the transverse abdominis, erector spinae (muscles that support your spine), hip flexors, glutes and even your diaphragm using controlled breathing while you move. 

The benefits of kettlebells are plenty, and studies like this one by the Journal of Human Kinetics found kettlebells could help build functional strength and neuromuscular power, helping you move with better quality as you get older. If you’re a beginner, also see these 5 best kettlebell exercises for beginners, and remember to check in with a personal trainer or a qualified medical professional before starting a new exercise regime.

Kettlebell core routine

You can single or double-load kettlebells. Single-loading will challenge balance and stability while isolating one side of your body, while double-loading will help you build to a heavier weight. If you’re unfamiliar with the grips you can use, we recommend learning how to hold a kettlebell properly.

Fitness Youtuber Strength Bound shares three kettlebell core exercises worth trying, and we’ve put them together to create a short, standing ab workout to build your core.

1.Tether bells

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold one kettlebell in your right hand. Engage your stomach and stand tall. Pass the kettlebell behind your back and transfer it to your left hand. As the bell travels in front of your hips, gently push it away with your right hand to reverse the movement behind you again in the opposite direction. This time, transfer to your right hand behind your back. As the weight travels forward, push away with your left hand, and so on.  

2. Kettlebell 1/4 halos

The kettlebell halo is a popular core exercise because it also targets your arms, shoulders, chest and upper back. This time, reduce the range of motion slightly. Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and engage your stomach. Hold your kettlebell by the horns and position it close to your chest. Keep your elbows tucked, then rotate the weight to your right, just above your head. Pause, pass the weight past your chest height, and repeat on the other side. Imagine creating semi-circles as you move. 

3. Kettlebell lunge rotations

Engage your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and hip flexors by lunging while rotating your torso. Hold the kettlebell by the horns at chest height. Lunge with your right leg forward and lower your left knee to the floor, keeping your toes tucked under. Twist over your front leg with a tall spine, then to the opposite side, and back to center. Push through your front foot to stand, then repeat on the other side.

3-move standing kettlebell ab workout to try 

Ready to bring your kettlebell exercises together? 

 Pyramid: 2,4,6,8 reps

Time cap: 15 minutes 

Start with the first exercise and perform two reps, then move to the second and third exercises and do the same. In the next round, perform four reps of each move, then six and so on. Continue for as many rounds as you can, always adding two reps per exercise per round. Rest when you need it, and keep a time cap of 15 minutes. You could shorten the workout if you're looking for a workout finisher, or extend it if you have more time to play with. Avoid resting during the exercises and save it for between rounds if you can. 

More from Tom's Guide

Here are a few more ways to build core muscles using kettlebells.

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.