Forget the gym — I tried this 30-minute equipment-free core workout to blast my abs and obliques

a woman lying on the floor tensing her abs in a crunch
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Given that I know how tough doing a 10-minute abs workout can be, the idea of tackling a 30-minute one was a little daunting. But if you can push through a longer session like this, then the benefits for your core strength are all the greater.

You don’t need any equipment for this 30-minute abs workout from YouTube fitness trainer Caroline Girvan, although having one of the best yoga mats on hand is helpful if you’re on a hard floor, and it’s a no-repeat workout.

That means you won’t do the exact same exercise twice, which does help the time go by a little quicker in workouts I find — though with abs workouts, you still have to be mentally prepared to tackle several crunch variations.

Watch Caroline Girvan’s 30-minute abs workout

30 Min ABS WORKOUT at Home | No Equipment | No Repeat - YouTube 30 Min ABS WORKOUT at Home | No Equipment | No Repeat - YouTube
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During the workout you’ll be doing each exercise for 50 seconds and then resting for 10 seconds.

That’s for the first 25 minutes and moves in the workout at least, before you round things off with a plank challenge where you aim to hold the position for 4 minutes (or just as long as you can). 

It’s a tough finisher for sure, but there are no other planks during the workout, which instead focuses on the upper and lower abs, along with the obliques, through a mix of sit-ups, crunches, leg raises and holds. 

Feeling more than a little apprehensive, I gave the workout a go. Here are my main takeaways from the 30-minute core routine.

It’s not for beginners

This is a tough workout, and while you can add in as much rest as much as you like, it’s tough enough that I think beginners should steer clear and do something like this 20-minute standing abs workout instead. 

It’s not just the exercises themselves that are hard. It’s that you’re doing long sets and it’s a long workout, so if you’ve not already been doing some core work, you might well find your muscles are exhausted halfway through, leaving you’re unable to do much of the second half.

Feel free to take more breaks

Even if you have to stop several times during some of the exercises, this is still a very effective abs workout, so don’t be afraid to rest when you really need to. I took frequent breaks with some moves, while I was able to get through a full 50 seconds of others, and I felt that each exercise was effective. 

It’s also a long workout where you will be doing other moves that target the same muscles, so if you find you have to pause a few times, don’t sweat it, you’re still working wonders on your overall core strength.

Get your pacing right

Some moves are deliberately done at a slow pace, including slow bicycle crunches and sit-ups, which Girvan demonstrates, but it’s wise not to rush any move I found. Moving slowly and with control created more of a burn in my muscles than rushing and then quickly having to stop for a rest, or pushing so fast that I got the form slightly wrong.

One advantage of doing a 30-minute workout over a 10-minute one is you can be sure you’re getting bang for your buck in terms of core strength benefits without trying to cram in as many reps as you can, so take your time and move with control to maximise the time under tension for your muscles..

The workout starts straight away

There’s no preamble from Girvan, so when you hit play, be ready to go straight into the first exercise, which is double leg lowers. You don’t need to set much up, but think about positioning your laptop so you can see it when lying down — having to do an extra sit up to see the screen and what move is coming next during your rest period is not what you need when your abs are already burning.

You can listen to your own audio

Girvan doesn’t give spoken instructions during the workout, so you just need to see her demonstrations of each move and can turn down the soundtrack to the video and listen to your own audio if you prefer. I found a podcast to be a better distraction from my aching muscles than music.

It’s okay to fail a move completely

This is a long workout and the no-repeat structure means you’re trying a lot of different exercises. I found some so hard that I barely managed any reps of them during the session. 

But because there are many other moves that targeted the same muscles during the workout, I didn’t feel like any part of my core missed out overall. If a move is too difficult to do with proper form, it’s probably worth taking that minute as an extra break to refresh your muscles for the next exercise.

The plank challenge is a great finisher

By the time the plank challenge came around, I was actually delighted to see it — anything but more crunches and sit-ups was welcome. I didn’t hold a 4-minute plank, but did do a 2-minute one,. Remember — you’re only competing with yourself. If you can make it through the whole session again sometime, try and beat your plank time.

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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.