This abs workout for beginners sculpts a strong core in 4 moves and 20 minutes

Male torso with six-pack muscles standing against white background
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you need a beginner's guide to strengthening your core workouts, you’re in safe hands with Technogym talent trainer and Barry’s Bootcamp instructor Harry Sellers

“When it comes to sculpting a strong and defined core, dumbbells can be your best friend,” he tells us. “While traditional ab exercises like crunches and planks are effective, adding dumbbells to your routine can take your ab workouts to the next level.”

This four-move beginner’s ab workout torches even the most developed ab muscles, but remember to scale up or down accordingly to suit your current fitness level. And if you experience pain, don’t be a soldier. Stop and listen to your body. 

What is the 4-move abs workout for beginners?

Exclusively for Tom’s Guide, Sellers put together his favorite ab exercises into a quick beginner-friendly core workout you can do from home or in the gym. Want to achieve those washboard abs you’ve always dreamed of? Here are Sellers' top exercises and tips.

1. Dumbbell oblique twists

Man on a Technogym bench performing a dumbbell oblique twist

(Image credit: Technogym)

Oblique twists are excellent for targeting the obliques, and adding dumbbells increases the intensity. Aim for 3 sets of 15-20 twists on each side. Learn how to do Russian twists here.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit on the floor or a bench with your knees bent and feet flat.
  • Hold a dumbbell with both hands close to your chest.
  • Lean back slightly to engage your core, then twist your torso to the right and touch the dumbbell to the floor.
  • Return to the center and twist to the left, repeating the movement.

Progression: To make the exercise harder, bring your feet slightly off the floor or bench.

2. Dumbbell side bends

Man performing a dumbbell side bend against grey backdrop

(Image credit: Technogym)

“Side bends are fantastic for working the oblique muscles,” Sellers explains.  “Here’s how to perform them with dumbbells.”

Aim for 3 sets of 12-15 reps on each side.

  • Stand up straight with a dumbbell in your right hand, your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your core engaged, slowly bend to your right side as far as you can without leaning forward or backward.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the left side.

3. Dumbbell sit-ups

Man performing a dumbbell sit-up against grey backdrop

(Image credit: Technogym)

A dumbbell sit-up is a great way to target your abdominal muscles and engage your hip flexors. Learn how to do sit-ups in more detail here. Aim for 3 sets of 12-15 reps on each side.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart.
  • Hold the dumbbell with both hands close to your chest, ensuring a secure grip.
  • Keep your elbows pointed forward.
  • Slowly roll your spine off the floor, lifting your upper body off the ground.
  • Use your abdominal muscles to initiate the movement rather than relying on momentum or pulling with your arms.
  • As you lift, keep the dumbbell close to your chest. Avoid letting it drift away from your body.
  • As you reach the top of the sit-up, exhale and contract your abdominal muscles, squeezing them to complete the movement. Your chest should be close to your thighs at the top of the sit-up.
  • Pause briefly at the top of the sit-up to emphasize the contraction of your abdominal muscles; this is where you’ll feel the most tension in your abs.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat.

4. Dumbbell alternating leg raises

Man performing dumbbell alternating leg raises on Technogym bench against grey backdrop

(Image credit: Technogym)

Sellers explains: “The alternating leg extension in boat pose is a challenging yoga exercise that engages your core muscles and improves balance and stability.” Learn how to do leg raises in detail here. Aim for 3 sets of 15-20 reps.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to perform it.

Starting position (boat pose):

  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
  • Place your hands on the floor beside your hips with your fingers pointing toward your feet.
  • Lean back slightly and engage your core muscles as you lift your feet off the ground. Your shins should be parallel to the floor and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Keep your chest lifted and your spine straight, creating a V-shape with your torso and thighs.

Alternating leg extensions:

  • While maintaining the boat pose position, inhale and slowly extend your right leg forward, keeping it parallel to the floor.
  • At the same time, exhale and bring your left knee toward your chest, hugging it with both hands.
  • Hold the extended leg and the knee-to-chest position for a moment to engage your core and maintain your balance.
  • Inhale as you release your left knee and extend your left leg forward while simultaneously bringing your right knee toward your chest. Hold this position briefly before switching legs again.

4 tips for strengthening your core workouts

Sellers says: “Incorporating dumbbells into your ab workout routine can help you develop a stronger and more defined core. These exercises target various areas of your abdominal muscles, making them an excellent addition to your fitness regimen.”

Here are some tips to get the most bang for your buck.

1. Maintain proper form

“Correct form is crucial to prevent injury and ensure you’re targeting the right muscles,” Sellers says. “Whether you’re doing crunches, planks or any other ab exercise, focus on maintaining good posture and engaging your core muscles throughout the movement.”

2. Breathe correctly

According to Sellers, breathing “rhythmically” is crucial during your ab exercises. “Try to exhale as you contract your abdominal muscles (the hardest part of the exercise) and inhale as you release or relax,” he says. “This controlled breathing helps you maintain stability and prevents straining.”

3. Start slowly

If you’re a beginner to exercise, especially ab exercises, start with the basics and gradually progress as your strength improves. Going too hard too soon can lead to strain or injury, especially if you’re unused to contracting your core. 

4. Focus on quality, not quantity

It’s not about how many reps you can do, but how effectively you perform each rep,” says Sellers. “Ensure that you’re using the right muscles and that your form is correct. Once you can perform an exercise with perfect form, then consider increasing the number of reps or the resistance.”

More from Tom's Guide

Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

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.