I tried this dumbbell abs workout that sculpts your core in 15 minutes

Dumbbell abs workout: Woman with abs holding two dumbbells
(Image credit: Getty/ Mike Harrington)

If your current core content needs a refresh, this dumbbell abs workout will fire up your abs and inspiration in just 15 minutes. Variety is the spice of life, so if Russian twists and sit-ups are no longer doing it for you, why not mix it up?

Although I understand the attraction towards rippling washboard abs, every muscle within your core network has a unique purpose, like stabilizing your movement and preventing injury. So, while it’s tempting to focus on blasting those abs, targeting various core muscles will build a strong and more efficient engine. 

This dumbbell abs workout does just that and comes from Caroline Girvan, who has raked in over 2 million views with this workout alone. It consists of 15 exercises with 50 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest. And the best bit? None of the exercises are repeated, so you can max out on every exercise without revisiting it later. Phew. 

If you haven’t got any equipment to hand, I just tried Chris Hemsworth’s 200-rep bodyweight workout, and it’s equally as fiery. Equipment ready? I grabbed one of the best adjustable dumbbells and best yoga mats and jumped into this dumbbell abs workout — here’s what happened. 

What is Caroline Girvan’s 15-minute dumbbell abs workout? 

Caroline explains, “this no-repeat dumbbell abs workout is a targeted routine for the abdominal muscles and core with just one dumbbell.” She recommends not going too heavy so you can focus solely on using your core to lift. 

The follow-along workout is available on YouTube, but I’ve provided a snapshot below so you know what to expect:

Workout: 50 seconds work/ 10 seconds rest

Straight arm crunch

Lie on your mat with your arms straight behind you and legs extended, holding the dumbbell in both hands. Avoid flaring your ribs or lifting your lower back off the ground. Engage your core. Lift your mid-upper back off the mat and drive your dumbbell forward above your head. Keep your chin tucked into your chest and arms straight with a slight c-shape through your spine. Reverse back down.

Side reach crunch

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor. Extend the dumbbell above your chest using both hands. Engage core. Lift your upper back and twist to your left, tapping the dumbbell towards your outer left thigh. Return to your starting position and repeat on your right side. Arms must stay extended. 

Tuck to hollow

Lie on your back with arms and legs extended, arms outstretched behind your head, holding the dumbbell in both hands. Lift your arms and legs off the floor, toes pointed. Engage your core. Bend your knees and simultaneously reach forwards, touching the dumbbell just above your feet and forehead towards your knees. Reverse back. 

Pass through 

Sit with your knees bent and feet planted. Engage your core, lean back and lift your feet off the floor with thighs parallel to the mat. Bend your right knee and simultaneously extend your left leg, then pass the dumbbell under your bent leg into your left hand. Bend your left knee, extend your right leg and pass the dumbbell under your left leg. 

Sit up to alt woodchopper

Lie on your back with arms and legs extended, arms outstretched behind your head and holding the dumbbell in both hands. Perform a sit-up (learn how to do a sit-up) without lifting your legs off the floor, reaching your dumbbell overhead, then twist to your left and tap your dumbbell to your left hip. Return to an overhead position then roll down onto your back and repeat on the other side. 

I tried Caroline Girvan’s 15-minute dumbbell abs workout — here’s what happened

Whether you perform one round or double up, brace yourselves for a burn with this dumbbell abs workout. I picked a 16.5lbs (7.5kg) dumbbell for the routine — a life choice I regretted three exercises in, afterward, and two days later.

I geeked out on Girvan’s intelligent programming, as many online ab workouts roll through the standard sit-ups and Russian twists without much imagination. This workout deviates from a traditional core workout and will put you in creative holds, crunches and twists using a crushing 50:10 ratio — I can confirm 10 seconds doesn’t (and will never) feel like rest in my humble opinion. 

The slow sit-up is particularly savage. It adopts the time under tension (TUT) technique which places the working muscle under contraction for longer during a rep. The theory is that your muscles ultimately work harder, optimizing muscle growth and strength. The entire workout focuses on slow and controlled movement, so I recommend keeping a keen eye on Girvan to help tighten your form.

The routine is crunch heavy. For example, the first three exercises consist of straight arm crunches, toe reach crunches, and crunch pulses which I just about kept up with and cursed the entire way through. There’s also a lot of twisting, so if you know your lower back is an issue, opt for this tried and tested standing abs workout instead. Another trick is to pick a few exercises from the routine and repeat them in a circuit, skipping anything that aggravates your back. Overall, it was a harsh lesson — never doubt short workouts again. 

If you fancy yourself a bit of a core connoisseur, we challenge you to give the Lily James 600 rep ab workout a go, try this 15-minute abs workout with a million views  and also check out how I did ab wheel rollouts every day for a week — here are my results. Also find out what happened when our fitness editor did 100 dead bugs for a week.  

Next: I did 50 Russian twists every day for a week — here’s what happened. I also did 50 Bulgarian split squats every day for a week — and the results surprised me. We asked Peloton if you can do the Peloton rowing workouts on your own rowing machine — here's what they said.

Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.