Forget crunches — this standing ab exercise sculpts your core with just 4 moves

a photo of a woman with strong abs
(Image credit: Getty/FreshSplash)

While sit-ups, planks and crunches all have a place in the best ab routine, if you always do your ab workouts lying on an exercise mat, you’re missing out on some of the functional benefits of a standing ab workout. Not only are standing ab workouts great when there’s no floor space in the gym, they increase strength in the hip flexor muscles and pelvic floor, as well as working the deep transverse abdominis. 

If you’re looking for a quick ab workout to target your core, or use as a finisher for your next bodyweight workout, we’ve found it. The workout, created by qualified personal trainer, Caroline Idiens, can be done with or without one of the best adjustable dumbbells. If you’re new to ab workouts, or returning to exercise following an injury, it’s best to opt for the bodyweight variety, but if you’re looking to up the intensity, grab a dumbbell and give this one a try. 

What is the workout?

The workout consists of four different exercises — you do each exercise for one minute in total, 30 seconds on each side, with a 10 second rest between each exercise. Idiens suggests you complete three or four sets. Here’s the exercises:  

Knee to elbow tap

For this exercise, start in a standing position, with your feet hip-width apart, your core engaged, and a dumbbell in your right hand, extended above your head and your left arm out to the side. Engage your core, and crunch your right elbow in towards your left knee. Pause, then extend both back to your starting position. Complete 30-seconds on one side, before switching to the other. 


Holding a dumbbell in both hands in front of your chest, engage your core and rotate your torso round to the left, then the right. Keep switching directions, moving slowly and with control. Keep your core engaged throughout — the movement should be coming from your core, not your back.  

Oblique crunch

For this exercise, engage your core and hold a dumbbell in your right hand. Lower the dumbbell down your leg on the right side reaching towards your knee. Pause here, then slowly return to your starting position. Complete 30-seconds on one side, before switching to the other.  

Seated leg lift

Sit on your exercise mat with your legs extended out in front of you and a dumbbell upright on the mat. Engage your core and lift one leg off the ground, lifting it above the dumbbell and lowering it down onto the opposite side of the dumbbell. Pause, then lift it back to your starting position. Ensure the movement is slow and controlled, and coming from your abs, not your legs. 

Remember, when it comes to selecting the right weight for you and your body, the exercise should feel challenging, but not impossible by the final few reps. The weight should never be so heavy that you feel like your form is compromised. If you’re a beginner, drop the weight and do a bodyweight workout to build core strength.

What are the benefits? 

Strong abdominal muscles are far more than just an aesthetic goal — they can protect your spine from injury, help you walk and sit with better posture, improve athletic performance, and help reduce lower back pain. If visible ‘six-pack’ muscles are your goal, however, you’ll need to focus on your body fat percentage, not endless ab workouts alone. Your diet, stress levels, hormones, and sleep all factor into your body fat percentage — here’s what you need to know, and how to calculate your body fat percentage.

As mentioned above, standing ab workouts have an additional benefit in that they work on functional ranges of motion. Unlike crunches or sit-ups, which also target the abdominal muscles, standing rotation exercises mimic movements you might make in your day-to-day life, like lifting something down from a shelf, or passing something to someone stood next to you. Read more about what functional training is, and why you should be focusing on it 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.