Forget crunches — this 10-minute bodyweight ab workout sculpts a strong core without putting pressure on your back

Woman performing bicycle crunches
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When it comes to working your abs, not all exercises are created equal — if you’re looking for a quick 10-minute workout that doesn’t involve heading to the gym or reaching for a set of the best adjustable dumbbells, I’ve found exactly what you’re looking for.

In fact, this workout only requires you to do six bodyweight exercises to sculpt your core, so all you’ll need is yourself, an exercise mat, and some water. The workout, created by personal trainer and Sweat app founder Kayla Itsines, requires you to do three rounds of a bodyweight circuit.

As a reminder, if you’re new to exercise, you’re pregnant, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury, this might not be the right workout for you and your body. It’s always a good idea to check your form with a personal trainer if you are a beginner to ensure you’re not putting yourself at risk of injury. 

What is the workout? 

This is a bodyweight workout, so all you’ll need is a bit of space and perhaps one of the best yoga mats to lie on the floor. You’ll do each exercise for 30 seconds, and three rounds in total. If you need to, take a quick break between circuits to reset and ensure you’re working hard. 

Ab bikes: 30 seconds

To do a set of ab bikes, start by lying on your back and engage your core, thinking about sucking your belly button into your spine. Lift your legs to a tabletop position, with a 90-degree bend in your knee. Place your hands by your temples, and lift your head and neck off your exercise mat — ensure you’re not pulling on your neck, your hands should be resting behind your head, not pulling it up. 

Engage your core, and tap your left elbow to your right knee — it doesn’t matter if they don’t actually touch. Without lowering your head, neck, and legs back down to the ground, switch sides and tap your right elbow to your left knee. Keep switching sides for the entire 30-seconds.

High knees: 30 seconds

Start by standing on your exercise mat to do high knees, with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Engage your core and raise one knee up to your torso, then the other. Do this as quickly as you can, almost as if you’re jogging on the spot. If this is too difficult, slow the move down and lift one knee, then the other, taking out the jogging element. 

Lateral lunge and knee up: 30 seconds

Begin by standing tall, with your feet no more than hip-width apart. Engage your core to help keep your back straight throughout the movement. Take a big step out to the left and maintain an upright torso, sink your hips back and lower into the lunge. Ideally, your left leg should eventually be bent at a 90-degree angle. As you step out of the lateral lunge, bring your left knee up to your torso, and twist your right elbow to touch your knee. Keep alternating sides for the entire 30 seconds. 

Plank jacks: 30 seconds

To do this exercise, start in a high plank position, with your core engaged and a straight line from your head to your heels with your back straight. Hold the plank and jump both of your legs out to either side of your yoga mat, then back into a high plank position — keep jumping your legs in and out, holding your core and keeping your pelvis steady throughout. If the jump is too much, step one leg out and then the other. 

Alternating bent-leg jackknife: 30 seconds

For this exercise, start by lying on your back with your core engaged. Put your hands behind your head on either side of your temples and lift your head and neck off the ground — make sure you’re not pulling on your neck. Lift one leg off the ground toward the ceiling, and reach to touch your toes with the opposite hand — it doesn’t matter if you can’t reach your toes. Keep your core engaged as you lower both back to your starting position and repeat on the opposite side. 

Straight leg raise: 30 seconds

For this exercise, place your hands under your glutes and press your lower back into the ground — to do this, think about engaging your core. Lift both legs up to the ceiling, and then slowly and with control lower them down until they are hovering a few inches off the floor. Keeping your core engaged, raise them back to the starting position. 

What are the benefits?  

There are several benefits to working out using just your body weight — not only does it mean you can fit workouts in without the need for extra equipment, but it can also help sculpt strong muscles using functional exercises.

Bodyweight exercises often mimic real-life movements, like side-stepping around someone on the pavement or getting up out of bed. If you’re more experienced, you might need to add a set of dumbbells or best kettlebells to your workouts to build muscle. 

However, there’s still a place for bodyweight exercises in your routine. Bodyweight workouts help put the muscles under tension, which results in muscle tissue damage to help the muscles grow. Plus, bodyweight exercises can help beginners work on their technique, before progressing to weight training.

Bodyweight workouts also help build a strong core, as your abs have to remain engaged throughout. A strong core has several benefits — it can help protect your spine from injury, improve your balance, and sit, walk, and run with better posture. 

If you do suffer from lower back pain, it’s a good idea to check your form with a personal trainer to ensure you’re not putting your back under pressure. If you are looking to build visible ab muscles, you’ll need to focus on your overall body fat percentage — 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.