Forget sit-ups — this 10-minute standing ab workout builds real strength

woman holding dumbbells for ab workout
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When it comes to working your abs, not all exercises are created equal. While sit-ups and crunches feature heavily in a lot of the best ab workouts out there, they’re not actually the best when it comes to targeting the muscles in your midsection. 

As our resident personal trainer Sam Hopes explains, “Ab workouts are great at strengthening the muscle groups that make up your core musculature, but you could also build core strength and hit various other muscles using compound exercises. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you won’t be with the moves — a compound move simply refers to a multi-joint, multi-muscle exercises like squats and push-ups and can be done with or without weights at home or in your gym.”

But where should you start? If you’re bored of sit-ups and crunches, why not give this 10-minute standing ab workout, written by YouTube personal trainer, Roxanne, from the channel Workout With Roxanne? All you’ll need for the workout is a set of dumbbells or kettlebells, and your bodyweight. If you’re still working out from home, check out the best adjustable dumbbells on the market here. When it comes to selecting the right weight for your workout, remember that it should feel challenging, but not impossible by the final few reps. 

As Roxanne mentions in the workout description, this workout will help you build functional strength — that is, a strength that’ll help you in day-to-day activities, like going for a run, walking and sitting with better posture, carrying heavy bags, and lifting things down off a shelf. A strong core is far more than just an aesthetic goal; this workout is an excellent reminder. 

What is the workout? 

The workout follows the format of 45 seconds of work, followed by a 15 second rest. There’s 10 different exercises in total. If you’re a complete beginner, you can modify the workout to make it easier by doing 30 seconds of work, followed by 30 seconds of rest. 

You can follow along with Roxanne, watching the full workout video above, but if you’re looking to get a taste of what’s to come, we’ve picked out a few of the exercises here: 

Wood chops

You can do the wood chop using a dumbbell, a medicine ball, or on the cable machine in the gym with the pulley set to the highest point. Either way, start with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the dumbbell in both hands to one side of the body. For example, start with the dumbbell next to your left hip. Engage your abs, and lift and rotate the dumbbell above your right shoulder. As you lift, pivot your left foot so your torso to help the elevation. This is the lift part of the movement. 

Next comes the chopping part. Moving with control, lower the dumbbell back to your starting position, keeping your core engaged — there should be minimal movement from the trunk during this exercise. 

During this workout, you do 45 seconds on one side, before switching. Here’s more on how to do a woodchop, and what happened when this writer did 100 a day for a week

Knee crunches

This one is almost like a standing version of the jackknife exercise. Start by standing on your exercise mat, with a dumbbell in both hands and arms extended above your head. Bend and crunch one knee up to your torso, at the same time, bend at the elbows and crunch the dumbbell down towards your knee. Extend the dumbbell back overhead as you lower your foot to the ground, and repeat on the opposite side. Keep switching sides throughout. 

What are the benefits of compound workouts? 

Unlike normal ab workouts, where you’re likely to spend a lot of time lying on your yoga mat, compound exercises get you a lot more bang for your buck, as they target multiple muscle groups in the body. Not only does this mean your legs and arms are also getting a workout here, but also that you’re likely to get your heart rate up higher than you would in a normal 10-minute ab routine, burning more calories in the process. If weight loss is your goal, doing compound strength workouts like this one are a good place to start. 

As well as working your glutes and shoulders, this workout targets all of the major muscles in your mid-section, including your internal and external obliques, which are working hard during all of the twisting motions. The rectus abominis, or the ‘six-pack’ muscle along the front of the stomach, and the deeper transverse abdominis.

That said, one workout isn’t enough to help you build visible abs. A defined midsection requires some work — diet, hormones, stress and sleep should be addressed if the goal is to lose fat and build definition. Here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage and why it matters.

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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.