Forget sit-ups — these 6 exercises will help you sculpt your abs

an image of a woman holding a high plank
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When it comes to working your mid-section, not all exercises are created equal, so ditch your sit-ups and crunches, and try these six advanced ab exercises if you want to really work your midsection. This workout, created by fitness trainer Elise, the founder of Elise’s Body Shop, really works your obliques — the muscles that run along the side of the body. 

The internal and external oblique muscles are important muscles in the trunk. Strong obliques are far more than just an aesthetic goal — they help support the ribcage and pelvis and allow the body to twist from side to side, and flex the trunk forward. These movements are essential in day-to-day life, and ignoring the obliques can lead to back pain or injury. Strong obliques will also improve your posture, and allow you to walk, run and lift with better balance.

As a reminder, if visible abs are your goal, you’ll need to look at your body fat percentage. Here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters. Ready to find out more? These six exercises help sculpt strong oblique muscles using just your body weight. 

6 advanced exercises that torch your obliques

Elise recommends you do each exercise for 30 seconds, so set a timer and get ready to sweat! Repeat the circuit four times through. Take a minute break between each circuit if you need to. 

Looking to up-the-ante? Work for 45 seconds or even 60 seconds. 

1. Side Plank Rotate

To do rotating side planks, start in a side plank position — lie straight out on one side, legs stacked. Rest your forearm flat on the floor and ensure your elbow is in line with your shoulder. Engage your abs and raise your hips and knees from the floor, keeping a straight line from head to feet. Only your forearm and foot should be in contact with the ground. Don’t allow your hips to sag and keep looking straight ahead.

Raise your top arm to the ceiling, engage your core, and twist to rotate your arm underneath your body. Then reverse the movement so your arm is extended over your body again. 

Work for 30 seconds on one side, but switch the side you are planking on each set.

2. Kickouts

For this exercise, start by sitting on your bottom, with your legs outstretched in front of you. Your arms should be by the side of your body, with your fingers facing toward your toes. 

Lean back until you feel your core engage, and twist your legs to the side, so one hip and glute are lifted off the ground. Lift your knees up towards your torso. Extend your legs out away from your body, and at the same time, lean your torso back so your abs engage. Then, crunch your legs back into your body, raising your torso up towards your knees. 

Keep crunching on one side for the entire 30 seconds. Switch sides for each set. 

3. Partial Get-Up Sit-Up

The partial get-up, or half-Turkish get-up, is a great core exercise. Start by lying on your back, with your legs straight. Keeping your right leg straight, bend your left leg, placing your foot flat on the floor. Hold your left hand up to the ceiling, with your arm outstretched above your body and make a fist. Place your right arm out to the side, with your right hand pressed into the floor. 

In one movement, push down through your left foot, and punch upward. Press your right elbow into the floor, so that your torso raises up. Your right leg should remain straight. 

Keeping your hand on the floor, press down into your hand and lift your forearm so you lock out your elbow. Pause here, then reverse the steps to return to your starting position. 

As with the previous two exercises, switch which arm you lead with each circuit.

4. Plank Toe Tap

For plank toe taps, start in a high plank position, with your palms pressed into the floor, stacked underneath your shoulders. Your core should be engaged, and there should be a straight line down your back. Shift your weight onto your left side, and bring your right leg underneath your body, then out to your right side. 

At the same time, twist your torso, lift your right hand off the ground, and tap your left foot. It doesn’t matter if you can’t quite reach it. 

Step back to your starting position, and repeat on the opposite side. Keep switching sides for the entire 30 seconds. 

5. Crossing Chop

For this exercise, start by lying on your back, with your arms and legs outstretched away from your body. Engage your core, keeping your lower back pressed into the ground, lift your right arm and your left leg up towards the ceiling, crunching them to touch if you can — it doesn’t matter if they don’t reach. 

Only go as far as you can without your lower back peeling off the mat. Work on one side for 30 seconds, and switch each set. 

6. Plank Drive

This exercise is also known as a Spiderman plank. Start in a low plank, with your elbows underneath your shoulders, and your forearms extended in front of you. Engage your core, thinking about sucking your belly button into your spine, and lift your left leg off the floor. Bend your left knee to touch your left elbow (it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t reach), then extend it back to your starting position and repeat on the right side. 

Keep swapping sides for the entire 30 seconds. If you’re looking to make this exercise harder, raise it into a high plank. 

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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.