Forget crunches — these 5 standing dumbbell exercises build stronger abs

a woman's abs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This standing dumbbell routine uses just five exercises to strengthen and tone your abs, and the best part is…you don’t need to get down on the floor and perform any crunches or planks. You simply need to find a space that allows you to move through each standing exercise comfortably and effectively.

The workout comes from online fitness trainer Shaina Fata and is easy to replicate thanks to her helpful demonstrations, which you can view below. In the video of her demonstrating the routine, Fata works with one pair of dumbbells and also uses one of the best kettlebells for one of the moves. However, if you don’t have access to both types of weight you can just use dumbbells for the full routine. 

If you regularly strength train at home then it might be worth considering adding a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells to your home gym. This style of dumbbell will come in handy for your gains as they allow you to move up and down weight from one device.

Now before you begin the workout, make sure the weight size you are working with feels manageable and challenging enough for each exercise in the routine, and take note of Fata’s form to ensure you are hitting the right muscles.

What is the standing dumbbell workout?

There are five exercises to work through and each will be demanding in their own way, so allow yourself short rest periods between each move. For the Unilateral Squat & Pivot, Triangle Slides, Uneven Raised Knee to Extend you will perform 10 reps per side. Meanwhile, you will do 12 reps of the Squat Dumbbell Raise and 14 reps of the Farmer’s Carry March. If you can, aim to complete three rounds of the workout.

The workout includes exercises that rely on your core for stability and it incorporates movements that will engage the abdominal muscles like the rectus abdominis and the obliques. 

You will notice that many of the exercises engage more than one muscle group, this is what we call compound exercises. In the isolation vs compound exercise debate, compound moves are favored by many as they offer a more efficient workout - one of the reasons we thought our readers might enjoy this standing ab routine! 

Check out the workout in full above.

Why progressive overload works

The beauty of incorporating dumbbells into your ab workouts is that you are adding an element of resistance which allows for progressive overload. This training technique is a beneficial way to stimulate muscle growth and improve strength. Dumbbells are also extremely versatile, meaning no matter a person's experience with weight training, anyone can pick up a weight suited to their fitness level and level up their ab workouts.

Almost all the exercises in this standing routine requires core stabilization to maintain correct form and balance. For example, the Unilateral Squat and Pivot, the Triangle slides and the Farmer’s Carry March engage the core muscles to help stabilize the body, contributing to greater muscle activation and strength gains in the abs. 

Additionally, performing an exercise like the Uneven Raised Knee to Extend with a dumbbell will engage your entire core including the rectus abdominis, obliques and transverse abdominis. 

As we mentioned before, the workout includes various compound movements. The more an exercise reflects your daily movements, the easier you will find daily tasks, such as pulling, bending and twisting. This is important for when we age and our strength and muscle begin to naturally decline. Therefore, spending time building on strength and power with efficient compound moves is of benefit to everyone.

It's important to note that if you want to build visible abs, this will take more than just one standing ab workout. You may need to consider reducing your body fat percentage, establishing a healthy diet and building a well-rounded fitness routine so that ab workouts are not the only form of exercise you engage in.

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.


Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.


She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.