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I tried the 20-minute Caroline Girvan abs workout — and it’s a killer

a photo of Caroline Girvan doing an abs workout
(Image credit: Caroline Girvan/YouTube)

There are some workouts that fly by in the blink of an eye, and there are others where you feel every single second. This 20-minute Caroline Girvan abs workout falls into the latter — it hurts, but if you’re looking to blast your core, I’ve found a way to do it, without any equipment. Girvan’s workout has a whopping 1.8 million views on YouTube, and a quick scroll through the comments shows how hard it is. Read on to find out what happened when I unrolled my exercise mat and gave it a go. 

If like me, you’re new to Caroline Girvan and her workouts, she is a personal trainer who has 1.39 million followers on her YouTube channel. As well as being a personal trainer, Girvan is an ultramarathon runner, a marathon runner, a triathlete and she’s completed an Ironman. In other words, she’s super-fit.

As a fitness editor, I’m always on a quest to find new ways to mix up my workout routine. For me, core strength is as much an aesthetic goal as a practical one — it’ll help me run stronger. In addition to this workout, I’ve tried the Pamela Reif six-pack ab workout, the Chloe Ting ab workout, and a seven-day Lily Sabri ab challenge, all to see the results. Think of me as your fitness guinea pig (if guinea pigs had abs). 

What is the Caroline Girvan 20-minutes ab workout? 

Girvan has lots of different ab workouts on her page, but this is a 20-minute, zero-equipment workout that can be done from just about anywhere. Like Girvan, I used an exercise mat, and if you’re looking to invest in one, we’ve hand-picked the best yoga mats for home workouts here. 

The workout is 20 minutes of exercise, with 45 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. The video is easy to follow along with, but if you prefer to read the exercises beforehand, here’s what you’ll be facing: 

Plank twist: Also known as plank hip dips assume the plank position on your forearms. Once you’re in the plank position, drop the right hip down to the floor, then the left hip. Keep dipping to each side. Girvan fully drops the hip down until it is practically touching the floor and does the whole movement very slowly and controlled.

Plank knee tuck on alternate sides: This exercise is sometimes referred to as Spiderman planks. Starting from a plank position, bring one knee out to your side to touch the elbow on the same side, then take it back to your starting position. Repeat on the other side. 

Dead bug: Start with your back and shoulders flat on the floor. Lift your arms straight above your shoulders and your legs in a tabletop position. Take a breath in and as you exhale, slowly lower and straighten your left leg and your right arm until just above the floor. As you inhale, bring them back into the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. 

Toe taps: Lying on your back in tabletop position, engage your core and lower your feet to the floor, so your toes tap against your mat. Once they’ve tapped, slowly raise them back to the starting position and repeat. 

Elbows alternative tuck to extension: Leaning your body weight on your elbows, bend your knees up towards your torso. As you pull one knee in towards your chest, extend the opposite leg outwards away from the body, then repeat on the other side. 

Reach to leg opener: For this exercise, start lying on your back, reach your arms up towards your toes, then lower your torso back to the floor, extending your arms out behind your head. As you lower your torso back, extend your legs down until they are a few inches above the ground, and take each leg out to the side, keeping your core engaged. Bring your legs back together and raise them back to the ceiling and repeat. 

Straight leg reverse crunch: To do a reverse crunch, lie on your back and straighten your legs to the ceiling. Engage your core and breathe in to lift your hips off the floor and your legs up and back over your torso. Breathe out as you lower back into your starting position. That's one rep. 

Leg lower to frog tuck: The first half of this exercise is a leg raise — starting flat on your back, with your legs up to the ceiling, slowly lower them down until they are a few inches from the floor, keeping your core engaged. Once they are a few inches off the floor, press your feet together and your knees out to the side, then bring your heels in to your body to frog tuck back to the starting position. 

Tabletop same leg extension (right): This is similar to a bicycle kick but on one side. Start by lying on your back, with your spine pressed into the floor and your legs in a tabletop position. Extend your right leg out until it is a few inches off the floor, then bring it back to the starting position. 

Tabletop same leg extension (left): Start by lying on your back, with your spine pressed into the floor and your legs in a tabletop position. Extend your left leg out until it is a few inches off the floor, then bring it back to the starting position. 

Opposite hand to foot chop (right): Start on your back with your feet pressed into the floor. Extend your right leg out away from your body, and extend your left arm behind your head. Lift your right leg and your left arm, chopping the left arm to the outside of the right leg as it reaches the top of the movement and is stretched up towards the ceiling. Repeat. 

Opposite hand to foot chop (left): Repeat the exercise above, but with the left leg outstretched, and the right arm reaching up to chop. 

Hip lift to alt twist: Lying on your back, raise your legs to the ceiling, and use your core to raise your hips up off the floor. As you do so, twist to the right. Lower back to starting position and repeat, twisting to the left this time. Warning: this one is hard!

Crunch with a pulse: Lying on your back with your feet pressed into the floor, engage your core and crunch upwards, pulsing for a few times at the top. 

Opposite elbow to knee crunch (right): From your starting position on your back, raise the right knee and cross it over your bent left leg. Put your left arm behind your head and crunch your left elbow to your right knee. 

Opposite elbow to knee crunch (left): Repeat the exercise above on the opposite side. 

Hug to hollow: Starting lying on your back, bring your knees up to your chest and hug your arms behind your thighs. From the hug, extend your legs out in front of you so that they are a few inches from the floor. At the same time, extend your arms out behind your head so that you are in a hollow hold. Pause for a few seconds, before bringing your knees up to your chest and repeating. 

Butterfly crunch with a pulse: At last, the final exercise! Start lying on your back with your knees out to the side and your feet pressed together. Crunch upwards, engaging your core, and pulse for a few times at the top. 

I tried the Caroline Girvan abs workout — here’s what happened 

As I mentioned above, this abs workout isn’t for the faint of heart. The first thing I noticed was that this is 20 minutes, yes, 20 minutes, of exercises that crunch and work into the abdominal muscles. Most of the other YouTube ab workouts I’ve tried have been half the duration of this one, and I really felt it in my core. I also noticed that the intervals of ‘work’ felt longer during Girvan’s workout — during some of the exercises, 45 seconds felt a challenge, especially with the breaks between exercises only being 10 seconds. 

Following a horse-riding accident as a teen, I suffer from sciatica but found this workout to be pretty gentle on the spine. I didn’t need to tweak many of the exercises and enjoyed how much of the workout was working on the back, so I could ensure my lower back stayed pressed against the floor. 

As an instructor, I enjoyed how Girvan’s ab workout was easy to follow, without the chatter or pausing you often experience in YouTube workouts. That said, beginners might want to pause and watch Girvan’s demonstration during the rest period to ensure they’re getting the technique right. 

All in all, this was one of the hardest free core workouts I’ve tried to date, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. A lot of Girvan’s exercises are Pilates-inspired, and it didn’t take long for me to feel that shake in my deeper abdominal muscles. I’ll definitely be trying Girvan’s 30-minute ab workout next, once my abs have recovered from this round, that is. 

Jane McGuire

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 four 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.