Forget crunches — this 4-move ab workout sculpts your core in just 12 minutes

a photo of a man with strong ab muscles
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When it comes to blasting your abs, you don’t need to spend hours in the gym to get results — in fact, you can get a great workout in less than 15 minutes. If you’re looking for a quick ab workout to target all of the muscle groups in your midsection, we’ve got you covered — simply grab a dumbbell and try this advanced ab workout. 

The workout, created by fitness trainer Elise from Elise’s body shop, works the muscles in the core using just four different exercises. The circuit is repeated three times and doesn’t require you to have all that much equipment, just a dumbbell — shop the best adjustable dumbbells here. 

As a reminder, if you’re new to exercise, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury, it’s a good idea to check your form with a personal trainer before trying this workout. In the description of this workout, fitness trainer Elise calls it an ‘advanced’ workout, so if you’re new to the exercises involved, start off without the dumbbell, or ensure you select a lighter weight. When it comes to choosing the right weight for you, the exercise should feel challenging, but not impossible, by the final reps. 

What is the workout? 

Ready to get started? Here are the four exercises involved in the workout. You will repeat the circuit three times

1. Single-arm sit-ups: 30 seconds on each side

To complete a single-arm sit-up, start by lying flat on your back, with your lower back pressed into the floor, and your legs extended away from you. Hold a dumbbell in one hand, with your arm outstretched above you. Engage your core, and lift your head, neck, and torso up off the mat, keeping your arm outstretched. At the top of the movement, you should be sitting upright, with the arm holding the dumbbell out above your head. Keeping your core engaged, lower back to your starting position slowly, and with control. 

After 30 seconds, switch the dumbbell into your other hand and repeat on the other side before moving on to your second exercise.

2. Pull-through drive: 1 minute

For this exercise, start in a high plank position, with your wrists stacked underneath your shoulders, and your core engaged with a dumbbell to one side of your body. Reach the opposite hand underneath your torso to grasp the dumbbell, and lift it underneath your body, placing it on the opposite side of your mat. Then repeat with the other hand. Once you’ve done two pull-throughs, complete two mountain climbers, bringing one knee to the opposite elbow, then the other. 

3. Pullover dead bug: 1 minute

For this exercise, start in a table top position, lying on your back with your arms extended above you, holding a dumbbell with both hands, and your knees bent. Extend one leg out away from your body, and at the same time, extend your arms behind your head, lowering the dumbbell to the floor, but not letting it touch the ground. Keeping your core engaged, reverse the movement, until you are back to your starting position. Repeat the exercise on the opposite side, extending the other leg away from you. Keep swapping legs for the entire minute, ensuring that your lower back stays pressed into the ground throughout.  

4. Side plank reach: 30 seconds on each side

For this exercise, start in a side plank position on your elbow, with your hips straight, and one leg stacked on top of the other, with your core engaged. If this is too difficult, lower the bottom leg to the floor. Hold a dumbbell in the top hand outstretched above you. Engaging your core, twist the dumbbell underneath your body, then extend it back above your head. Keep repeating this twisting motion for the full 30 seconds, then switch to the opposite side. 

What are the benefits? 

One of the benefits of this workout is that it engages all of the different muscles in your midsection, helping you sculpt a strong core. As well as the outer ‘six-pack’ muscles most of us focus on when working out (the rectus abdominis), these exercises target the deeper transverse abdominis and erector spinae and superficial muscles like your external obliques.

They are also all compound exercises that help build a strong core, protect your body from injury, and support movement. Far from being just an aesthetic goal, your core muscles are essential when it comes to helping your trunk rotate, flex, and more. They also protect your spine from injury and help improve your posture. 

Whether you’re a runner or a CrossFit fanatic, working on your core strength can help you run faster and lift heavier weights. Working your core improves your balance and stability, which is important for all sports. 

It goes without saying, no amount of planks, sit-ups, or crunches can give you visible abs. If visible abs are your goal, you’ll need to focus on achieving a low body fat percentage, and factor in your diet, regular exercise, hormones, sleep, and stress — all of which contribute toward how much body fat you store. And you can’t spot-reduce belly fat, so we recommend reading up on how to calculate your body fat percentage and why it matters here.

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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.