Skip to main content

Forget sit-ups — try these 8 ab exercises to blast your core

a photo of a woman performing the renegade row exercise
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If one of your 2022 fitness goals is to build a stronger core, I’m here to tell you to stop doing crunches. Not only are they one of the five exercises you should stop doing, from an abs perspective, but they are also only targeting a very small section of your abdominal wall. 

While we’ve already rounded up some of the best ab workouts to add to your routine, as well as the ab exercise that's better than sit-ups at targeting your inner core muscles, if you’re bored of your normal routine, adding weights to your ab workout is a sure-fire way to up the intensity. 

Of course, it’s important to note that abs aren’t just made on the mat. In fact, no matter how many woodchops and kettlebell swings you do, if you’re not fueling your workouts correctly, you’re unlikely to get the results you crave. Often, the biggest ab gains come when ab workouts are paired with full-body strength training, cardio, and good nutrition. 

The best ab exercises with dumbbells that’ll blast your core 

For all of these exercises, you’ll need at least one dumbbell. If you don’t have any dumbbells to hand, we’ve found the best adjustable dumbbells for weightlifting at home. 

When it comes to selecting the correct weight, the exercise should feel challenging by the final rep, but not so challenging that you feel like you’re compromising your form as you move. 

Aim for five rounds of the following circuit, with a 60-second rest between sets.

Dumbbell swing 

Reps:15 

Why? A dumbbell swing is the same as a kettlebell swing, just with a different weight in your hands. A swing works muscles in the upper and lower body, as well as your core, so is a great move to add to your ab workouts for a cardio boost. 

How: To do a dumbbell swing, start with your legs shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in both hands. Bend slightly at the knees and hinge at the hips as you pull the dumbbell back between your legs, then drive your hips forwards and squeeze your glutes as you swing the dumbbell up to shoulder height. Keep your core engaged throughout the movement. 

Plank with a dumbbell pull-through 

Reps: 16, 8 each side

Why? The dumbbell pull-through works your core harder than a traditional plank, as the dynamic movement element is forcing your abdominal muscles to work harder to stabilize your body. 

How: To do a dumbbell pull-through, get into a plank position, with a dumbbell beside you, for this example, the dumbbell is on the right. Staying solid in the plank, with your core muscles engaged, move your left hand underneath your body to grab the dumbbell and move it to your left-hand side. Then, placing your left hand back on the floor, reach your right hand underneath your body to drag the dumbbell back to the right side. Keep moving the dumbbell from side to side, while holding the plank

Low to high woodchop 

Reps: 15 reps each side

Why? This is another full-body workout that’ll get your heart rate up. This exercise keeps your core activated for the entire movement, as your trunk is working hard to stabilize you during the movement. 

How: Starting with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell with both hands. Start holding the dumbbell to the right side of your body, by your right hip. You are then going to swing the dumbbell up above your head, twisting your body to the left side as you do so. Bring the dumbbell back down to it’s starting position and repeat this woodchop movement, before moving onto the other side. 

Russian twists 

Reps: 20 reps 

Why? Russian twists are a brilliant exercise when it comes to targeting your upper and lower abs, your obliques, and your spine. As you are twisting in this move, you’re also working on your balance and stability. 

How: To do a Russian twist, start by sitting on your mat, and lowering your torso back until you feel like you’re working your core muscles. Once you feel your core muscles are engaged, raise your feet off the floor, keeping your knees bent. Holding a dumbbell in front of you, slowly twist to one side, lowering the dumbbell a couple of inches off the ground in line with your hip, then rotate and repeat on the other side. Keep switching sides, keeping your core engaged. 

Single-arm dumbbell push press 

Reps: 20 reps, 10 each side 

Why? This exercise mainly targets the upper body, the pectoral muscles in your chest and your triceps to be precise, but your core is also working to stabilize you throughout the movement. 

How: Stand on your exercise mat, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Start with a dumbbell in your right hand, with your right elbow bent and the weight resting on your shoulder. Keep your left hand on your hip, and a slight bend in your knees. Lower the hips, as if you’re going to squat, then as you rise back up, straighten your right arm above your head, before lowering back to your starting position. Do 10 reps, then swap to the other side. 

Leg drops 

Reps: 20 reps, 10 per side 

Why? Leg drops are a great move when it comes to targeting all of the muscles in your core, especially your rectus abdominus, also known as your lower abs. 

How: Start lying on your back, with your arms and legs in a tabletop position. Hold a dumbbell in your extended arms, making sure they are outstretched over your chest, not your head. Engage your core, think about sucking your belly button into your spine, and make sure your lower back is pressed into the mat. Slowly extend and lower one leg at a time, until it is a few inches off the floor, before raising it back to starting position. Keep the entire movement slow and controlled. 

Jackknife pullover

Reps: 15 reps

Why? The jackknife exercise is designed to target all of the abdominal muscles and is particularly good at targeting the transversus abdominis muscle, which is the deeper core muscles. 

How: Start by lying on your back, holding a single dumbbell between your hands. Raise your head and neck off the ground and your legs a couple of inches off the floor, so you are in a “V” positon. From here, crunch upwards, raising your knees to your torso and bring your arms down as if you’re reaching the dumbbell to your ankles, before stretching out to the starting position.

Renegade row 

Reps: 16 reps, 8 per side 

Why? Another plank move, but this time, you’re working your upper body as hard as your core. 

How: To do a renegade row, start in a plank position with a dumbbell in each hand. Holding the plank with a strong core, bend at the elbow to row one arm back at a time, pulling your elbow to the ceiling until your wrist is near your ribs. Keep swapping sides.

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.