These three ab exercises can be tailored to your fitness level and target all abdominal muscles.
If ab exercises make you think about wanting to look better in your jeans, you’re not alone. But there are other reasons why strong, toned abs should be on your wish list to stay in shape.
Technically, the abdominal muscles are made up of five main muscles:
Straight abdominals: Located between the rib cage and the pelvic bone, they are more commonly known as “six abs”.
External obliques: They are located on the sides of the rectus abdominis and allow the torsion of the trunk.
Internal Obliques: These also flank the rectus abdominis, but inside the hip bone, and also aid in twisting motions.
Transverse abdominals: These are located behind the obliques and help stabilize the core. They are also sometimes called the corset muscles.
Pyramidal: This small triangle-shaped muscle is located in the pelvis and helps maintain internal abdominal pressure.
Together, these muscles are responsible for your ability to bend or curl up.
But these muscles are just part of your core — muscles that essentially form the base of your body and help keep it in place. All movement originates in the core, so it’s important to incorporate some form of core-focused exercise into your daily routine. The trunk also includes the erector spinae muscles, which help stabilize you when standing or sitting, lifting, or rotating your upper body.
It is by working all these muscles, the abdominals and the muscles of the spine, that you will obtain a more sculpted belly. Most importantly for your overall health and functioning, this core strengthening improves balance, posture and mobility, while reducing the risk of injury and certain types of chronic pain (such as in the lower back). Bottom Line: Stronger abs will make aging a little easier in general.
But that doesn’t mean you have to start doing sit-ups on your bedroom floor. The biggest mistake is to believe that you have to do sit-ups to train your core.
Better is a mixture of isometric exercises (static, like the plank or the sitting position on the wall, which allows a muscle to strengthen by stabilizing) and dynamic exercises. Even better: focus on movements that engage all core muscles, not just those that focus on the rectus abdominis.
And remember: Just because you don’t have visible abs doesn’t mean you don’t have strong abdominal muscles. Don’t be fooled by what social media defines as a strong abdominal belt. There are people who don’t have washboard abs but can 100% carry more weight than this Instagram model.
How to do exercises to strengthen your abs
Here are three workouts that each target all abdominal and core muscles. You can choose the Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced circuit depending on your fitness level, progressing to the more difficult moves. Repeat the exercises for each circuit three times to complete one workout. Rest as little as possible between movements (no more than 90 seconds). Aim to complete the workout, whatever level you choose, twice a week. When you’re ready to increase the intensity, do it three times a week.
Note: If you have any injuries or health conditions that may limit your ability to exercise, consult your physician before beginning a new workout.
Exercises for beginners
1. Dead insect
Lie on your back, arms outstretched, shoulders stretched up to the sky. Bend and raise your knees to form a 90 degree angle. (Shins should be parallel to floor.) Contract abs and press lower back into floor. Hold this position for as long as possible, up to 45 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds. Repeat the exercise two more times.
Place your hands and knees on the floor, then place your forearms on the floor to support your body weight. The elbows should be placed directly below the shoulders; the hands can be holding each other (forearms angled towards each other) or flat on the floor (forearms parallel to each other). Step your feet back so that your body forms a straight line, parallel to the ground, from shoulders to ankles. Contract your core and hold this position for as long as possible, up to 45 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds. Repeat the exercise twice.
3. Side Plank
Start in a plank position. Place the right elbow directly under the middle of your chest, facing forward, then raise the left hand to the waist, stacking the left foot on the right foot (so that the left leg is also stacked on the right leg). Raise your left arm skyward, keeping your hips lifted and your glutes tight. Hold the position for as long as possible, up to 45 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds. Repeat two more times, then switch to the other side and repeat.
Start by sitting in a V position on the floor, balancing on your buttocks, legs extended diagonally in front of you and arms extended diagonally behind you (so that your limbs form a V). Bring the right elbow towards the left knee, keeping the chest open and extending the right leg. Repeat the exercise on the other side, bringing the left elbow towards the right knee. Do as many reps as possible while maintaining correct form, up to 20 reps.
2. Passing the board on the elbow
Return to the side plank position. Raise your upper arm to the sky. (If this is too difficult, modify the exercise by placing the lower knee on the floor, the leg pointing behind you). Slightly bend at the waist to reach the floor and pass your upper arm through the gap between your side and the floor. Return to your original position and repeat the exercise. Do as many reps as possible while maintaining correct form, up to 20 reps. Repeat on the other side.
3. Side plank from knees to elbows
Start in a side plank position with your right elbow resting on the floor, keeping your hips lifted and your glutes tight. Extend the left arm overhead, then slowly bring the left knee to touch the left elbow, bending the body inward. Go back to the start. Do as many reps as possible while maintaining correct form, up to 20 reps. Repeat the exercise on the other side.
1. Hip taps
Start in a plank position (forearms resting on the floor and supporting the weight of the body) with the hips slightly elevated in a dive position. Drop the left hip to the floor, return to hip position, and drop the right hip to the floor. Keep alternating to do as many reps as you can while maintaining correct form, up to 18 reps.
2. Squat Thrusts
Start in a standing position with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Lower your butt into a squat position. Quickly place your hands on the floor and jump your legs up to get into a plank position. Jump the legs back to the squat position and return to the standing position. (If the jump is too difficult, modify it by stepping back instead). Do as many reps as possible while maintaining correct form, up to 15 reps.
3. Side high knees
Start standing. Bring the left knee towards the chest and the palm of the right hand towards the ear, in a runner’s position. Quickly switch arms and legs (like jogging) and take a step to the left. Continue alternating for three steps, which is one set. Go back the other way for three steps; this is a second series. Do 12 sets in total, six on each side.