You don’t need planks or crunches to build core muscle — use this 3-move kettlebell abs workout

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

Park the overprescribed crunches, planks, or Russian twists and sweep aside the standard bodyweight core exercises. Give your next abs workout a refresh with these three kettlebell abs exercises worthy of building your upper body. 

The routine takes 15 minutes to complete and you only need to master three moves. But set your expectations now; this kettlebell workout will torch your midsection, but remember to adopt a regular and consistent exercise routine to build muscle definition or improve strength over time, adapting load and difficulty as you get stronger. 

If you’re ready to get moving, grab one of the best kettlebells for weightlifting and give these upper-body exercises a go. 

What are the 3 kettlebell abs exercises?

We recommend watching the videos to learn how to do each move before you jump into any new workout regime. Kettlebells are versatile strength and conditioning tools, so there are many ways to hold them. Swat up on the different grips using our guide explaining how to hold a kettlebell

We’ve put together this routine to give your whole core a searing workout using one medium to heavy kettlebell. You can double up if you want to increase the overall load but you won’t need to for this workout. You could also load the weight to one side of your body and switch halfway through the reps.

We love unilateral training (loading one side of the body at a time) for isolating the left and right muscle groups while recruiting your various core muscles for stability; this can help outtrain potential muscular imbalances lurking and teach your body to recruit, coordinate and balance better. 

Amazon Basics kettlebell: now $24 @ Amazon

Amazon Basics kettlebell: now $24 @ Amazon
Save money on the Amazon Basics kettlebell in a range of weights. We strongly recommend buying chalk or grip gloves as the grip isn't top notch, but for the price, this does the job for kettlebell beginners.

1. Kettlebell in-and-outs

Choose any kettlebell and lay it on its side or upright with the horns facing upward. Sit with your hands on the floor close to your hips and slightly lean back, bracing your stomach and maintaining a neutral spine. Lift your chest and sit tall. Keeping your legs straight and pressed together, sweep your legs up and over the kettlebell, moving from side to side. You can bend your knees to make it easier. 

The exercise recruits the lower abdominal muscles, hips, hamstrings and quads, lower back and obliques, and you can slightly rotate your hips as you move to help activate your waist. For a seriously fiery alternative, practice placing your hands behind your head. 

2. Kettlebell butterfly sit-ups

The butterfly sit-up is just like a regular sit-up — sitting on the ground and moving between laying on your back and driving upward into a seated position, over and over, until your abs are screaming. 

However, butterfly sit-ups remove the hip flexors from the equation and help isolate your abs and deeper core muscles — the transverse abdominis. Be mindful of your lower back during the exercise, and try to press your feet into the ground. 

To do them, bring the soles of your feet to touch and allow your knees to fall outward. You can position your hands behind your head or across your chest to begin with, then when you feel confident, hold a kettlebell to your chest to increase the resistance. 

3. Kettlebell sit and press

Writer Sam performing the Z press using a kettlebell in starting position

(Image credit: Future owns/ Sam Hopes)

Sit on an exercise mat with both legs extended, then brace your stomach and lift your chest, maintaining a neutral spine. Imagine a string at the crown of your head, pulling your torso upward. At the same time, press the backs of your legs into the mat. Hold a kettlebell at your chest, press the weight overhead, then return to the starting position.

Although the move feels like an overhead press, hitting your triceps, shoulders and pecs, the move recruits your lower back, hip flexors, hamstrings and core muscles to keep you stable and help drive the weight. 

To progress the exercise, lay on the ground with the kettlebell at your chest and legs extended, perform a sit-up and press the weight overhead. Slowly roll back down to the starting position as you lower the weight to your chest.

For those with niggly or tight hamstrings, slightly elevate your hips using a yoga block or cushion to take some pressure off. 

How to do the 3-move kettlebell abs workout

We recommend one of the best yoga mats and a kettlebell. Here’s the workout. 

15-minute EMOM: Every 90 seconds x 10 rounds 

  • Kettlebell in-and-outs x 10-12 reps
  • Kettlebell butterfly sit-ups x 10-12 reps
  • Kettlebell sit and press x 10-12 reps

Set a rolling 15-minute timer. Perform 10-12 reps of the exercises above back-to-back within 90 seconds, then take the remainder of that time to rest. Repeat for 10 rounds, totaling 15 minutes. The quicker you finish, the more rest you’ll have, but don’t compromise the quality of your reps to finish in time. 

Scale the reps as necessary, but once you’ve completed the first round, stick to the chosen reps and hit them consistently for the remaining rounds. It’ll hold you accountable and keep your rest time consistent, too. Aim to rest for no longer than 20 to 30 seconds to keep the intensity high, and challenge yourself with your weight selection. Finishing too early? Don't be afraid to increase the load or reps.

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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.