Forget sit-ups — build a stronger core with this 5-move dumbbell abs workout

Woman doing sit-up with a dumbbell
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You don’t need to hit the gym to get a quality core workout done. If you have a set of dumbbells at home, or better still an adjustable dumbbell you can change the weight on, you can do this effective abs workout in just 20 minutes.

The workout has been created by Jenni Tardiff, Master Trainer at The Gym Group, and while the instructions below call for dumbbells you can easily sub in kettlebells or even full water bottles, if you don’t have weights to hand..

Along with your weights the other bit of kit that would be useful is a yoga mat to lie down on for the floor-based exercises. Otherwise you just need your gym kit and 20 spare minutes to tackle this five-move abs workout.

How to do the dumbbell abs workout

The workout is made up of four rounds of five exercises. Do each exercise for 45 seconds then rest for 15 seconds before moving on to the next move. This adds up to five minutes a round and 20 minutes in total, though it would be worth doing a few warm up exercises beforehand if you have time.

Tardiff has provided instructions for each exercise below, and it’s worth reading through them all and trying them out before you start the workout if you’re unfamiliar with the moves. Doing a round of each exercise without any weight would be a great warm-up for tackling the workout itself with your dumbbells.

1. Dumbbell Russian twist

  • Start sitting on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Grab your dumbbell and hold it with both hands in front of your chest.
  • Lean back slightly till you feel your core engage, then maintain your balance in this position.
  • Rotate to the right, moving the dumbbell towards your hip, then rotate to the left side.

2. Dumbbell toe touch

  • Lie on your back with your legs extended towards the ceiling. Hold your dumbbell with both hands and extend your arms above you.
  • Keep your core engaged and lift your head and shoulders off the floor reaching the dumbbell towards your toes.
  • Move back down slowly with control, then repeat.

3. Dumbbell deadbug

  • Lie on your back with knees above your hips and bent at 90 degrees, with your feet off the floor.
  • Extend your arms above your chest holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Keep your core engaged and slowly lower your right leg and left arm towards the floor, taking the dumbbell back behind your head.
  • Return to the start then lower your left leg and right arm.

4. Dumbbell plank drag

  • Start in a high plank with your hands under your shoulders and feet about shoulder-width apart. Place a dumbbell on the floor just behind your right hand.
  • Keep your core engaged and hips still while your left hand reaches under your body to grab the dumbbell.
  • Drag the dumbbell across to the other side and put your left hand down.
  • Repeat on the other side, reaching your right hand under to grab the dumbbell. 

5. Standing dumbbell side bend

  • Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in one hand by your side, place your other hand on your hip.
  • Bend at your side to lower the dumbbell down the side of your leg.
  • Return to standing upright then pass the dumbbell to your other hand and lower to the opposite side.

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Nick Harris-fry
Senior Writer

Nick Harris-fry is an experienced health and fitness journalist, writing professionally since 2012. He spent nine years working on the Coach magazine and website before moving to the fitness team at Tom’s Guide in 2024. Nick is a keen runner and also the founder of YouTube channel The Run Testers, which specialises in reviewing running shoes, watches, headphones and other gear.

Nick ran his first marathon in 2016 after six weeks of training for a magazine feature and subsequently became obsessed with the sport. He now has PBs of 2hr 27min for the marathon and 15min 30sec for 5K, and has run 13 marathons in total, as well as a 50-mile ultramarathon.

He runs 50-80 miles a week and races regularly with his club, which gives him a lot of opportunity to test out running gear: he has tested and reviewed hundreds of pairs of running shoes, as well as fitness trackers, running watches, sports headphones, treadmills, and all manner of other kit. Nick is also a qualified Run Leader in the UK.