Best Exercises for Building Abs

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on January 28, 2024
12 min read

Abs is the shortened term for your abdominal or core muscles. The ab muscles are located in the trunk of your body under the chest and above your pelvis. Doing ab workouts can directly impact nearly every movement you do during the day including sitting up in a chair and walking across the room.

Ab workouts help you build strength throughout your entire body, improve your balance, and reduce your chance of injury while doing full-body movements like push-ups.

There are many different ab workouts that can help you get into shape. Several of these exercises don't need equipment and can be done from home including floor ab workouts, standing ab workouts, and easy ab workouts for the beginner. If you have access to a gym, some core exercises you can do using fitness equipment, like cable ab workouts and medicine ball workouts. 

As you get started building your strong and stable core, be sure to read the safety considerations at the end of the article to ensure you gain all the benefits of your ab workout while reducing your chance of injury. 

Easy ab workouts 

  1. Crunch

    Step 1: Lie on your back on the floor or on an exercise mat.

    Step 2: Place your hands behind your head. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. 

    Step 3: As you exhale, activate your abdominal muscles and tilt your chin slightly toward your chest. 

    Step 4: Continue activating until your torso curls toward your thighs. Your shoulders should lift up but your tailbone and lower back should remain on the mat.

    Step 5: As you inhale, lower back down slowly to the floor or mat. 

    Step 6: Repeat 8-10 times.

  2. Half Roll Back

    Step 1: Sit up on a mat, knees bent with legs and feet hip's width apart. Arms reach straight in front, shoulders down, and scoop abs in.

    Step 2: Curve your spine and lower your torso as far as you can keeping your feet on the mat and abs engaged.

    Step 3: Hold for 10 seconds.

    Step 4: Sit up to your beginning position.

    Step 5: Repeat 3 times.

  3. All Fours / Bird Dog

    Step 1: Begin kneeling with your hands on the floor. Your knees are under your hips and hands under shoulders. Press hands into the mat to avoid sinking into shoulders and chest. Pull abs in and lengthen the neck and spine.  

    Step 2: Reach your right arm forward, in line with your ear. Reach left leg back, hip height. Make sure both hips and shoulders are facing the mat.  

    Step 3: Hold for one count, then lower your arm and leg down at the same time.  

    Step 4: Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. 

    Step 5: Continue alternating sides 4-5 times

Side ab workouts

  1. Bicycle Crunches

    Step 1: Lie on your back with your legs bent 90 degrees and knees in line with your hips.

    Step 2: Place your hands behind your head, bending your elbows, which should be pointed out to the sides. 

    Step 3: Activate your abs to bring your shoulders up and off the floor.

    Step 4: Bring your right elbow to your left knee and straighten your right leg. Try to keep your left leg in place. 

    Step 5: Return to the basic crunch position.

    Step 6: Bring your left elbow to your right knee and straighten your left leg. Try to keep your right leg in place.

    Step 7: Alternate sides, 10 times on each side.

  2. Modified Side Plank

    Step 1: Lie on your right side on the floor or an exercise mat.

    Step 2: Stack your legs directly on top of each other. 

    Step 3: Support yourself with your right arm at a 90-degree angle, raising your torso. Your shoulder should be directly in line with your elbow.

    Step 4: Keep your hips and lower knees on the mat.

    Step 5: Activate your abdominal muscles to lift your hips off the mat. 

    Step 6: Keep your knees on the mat and your head in line with your spine.

    Step 7: As you inhale, lower back down to the mat.

  3. Heel Taps

    Step 1: Lay on your mat, knees bent and feet on the mat. Your legs and feet are hip's-width distance apart.

    Step 2: Keep your arms by your side as you curl your head, neck, and shoulder off the mat.

    Step 3: Without lowering back down, tap your right hand to your right heel.

    Step 4: Come back to center and tap your left hand to your left heel. This is one set.

    Step 5: Continuing alternating sides until you've completed 5-8 sets.

Weighted ab workouts

  1. Russian Twist

    Step 1: Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you.

    Step 2: Keeping your legs together and slightly bent, lift them off the floor creating a V shape. 

    Step 3: Lean back slightly and engage your core. 

    Step 4: Holding a weight in your hands, bring it in front of your chest.

    Step 5: Twisting at the waist, twist to the right and then left.

    Step 6: Keep alternating sides slowly until you've reached a set of 10. The Russian twist can also be done with a medicine ball.

  2. Renegade Row

    Step 1: Place hand weights on your mat, shoulder-width apart. 

    Step 2: Holding onto the weight handles, lift your body into a plank. Weights don't leave the mat.

    Step 3: Once you're in a plank, brace your ab muscles. Taking the weight with you, row your right hand up to your shoulder, elbow reaching toward the ceiling.

    Step 4: Lower right hand with weight down to the mat. 

    Step 5: Repeat with the left arm.

    Step 6: Alternate sides 5-8 times.

  3. V Sit With Weight Pass

    Step 1: Sit up tall and slightly lean back. Feet can stay on the ground or lift off the mat. Engage your core.

    Step 2: Hold a hand weight in your right hand in front of your chest.

    Step 3: Reach the right hand out to the side. Do not move the torso and legs.

    Step 4: Bring the hand weight center and switch it to your left hand. 

    Step 5: With the weight in the left hand, open to the left side.

    Step 6: Alternate sides 5-8 times.

Upper ab workouts

  1. Roll Up

    Step 1: Lay down, legs straight together, arms back. 

    Step 2: Curl your head, neck and shoulders up.

    Step 3: Continue rolling up while reaching hamstrings into the floor and scooping abs.

    Step 4: Round upper body over legs, arms parallel to the legs.

    Step 5: Roll down and slowly lower to the beginning position.

  2. Plank Toe Touch

    Step 1: Begin in a full body plank, core muscles pulled in. Hands are under your shoulders and feet are hip's-width apart.

    Step 2: Begin lifting your hips up and reach your right hand to your left toes. 

    Step 3: Lower back down to the starting plank position.

    Step 4: Lift up hips as you reach your left hand to your right toes.

    Step 5: Lower back to starting plank position.

    Step 6: Alternate 8-10 times on each side.

  3. Toe Reach

    Step 1: Lay on the mat and reach your legs straight up to the ceiling. Keep your legs together and your spine pressed into the mat.

    Step 2: Reach your arms toward your toes. 

    Step 3: Pull the abs in as you curl your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat.

    Step 4: Pulse the upper body up, reaching hands to toes and keeping the movement small.

    Step 5: Without lowering the head, neck, and shoulders all the way down, keep pulsing up 10-12 times.

Standing ab workouts

  1. Standing Side Crunch

    Step 1: Stand hip's-width apart, abs engaged, and hands behind your head.

    Step 2: Lift your right knee to the side and up while bending your right elbow to your knee at the same time.

    Step 3: Lower your foot down and stand up straight.

    Step 4: Repeat on the left side.

    Step 5: Alternate sides, 8-10 times on each side.

  2. Standing Crossover Toe Touch

    Step 1: Stand slightly wider than hip's-width apart, with your arms out to the side.

    Step 2: Bend over and reach the right hand to the left toes. Right leg stays straight and the left knee bends slightly. Your hips will shift back. Keep your chest open.

    Step 3: Return to standing position.

    Step 4: Repeat with the left hand touching the right toes.

    Step 5: Alternate sides, 10-12 times each side.

  3. Standing March Knee Tap

    Step 1: Stand hip's-width apart. Make a circle with your arms in front of your chest, right hand on top of the left hand. If you need help with balance, hold onto a chair with one hand.

    Step 2: Pull your abs in and bring your right knee to your hands. Try not to lower your hands to your knees.

    Step 3: Lower your right foot down.

    Step 4: Lift your left knee to your hands.

    Step 5: Alternate legs, 10-12 times on each side.

Cable ab workouts 

  1. Standing Cable Crunch

    Step 1: Face away from a cable machine, feet hip's-width apart, knees slightly bent. 

    Step 2: Hold the cable pulley rope with both hands overhead.

    Step 3: As you pull the rope forward, draw your belly button toward your spine, and tuck your rib cage down toward the floor. 

    Step 4: Slowly lift up making sure the cord doesn't pull you back.

    Step 5: Repeat 8-10 times.

  2. Cable Twist

    Step 1: On a cable machine, attach a handle at shoulder height to the cable pulley.

    Step 2: Face away from the cable system with your left leg forward in a slight lunge position. 

    Step 3: Hold the handle in both hands in front of you, arms straight. 

    Step 4: Slowly twist to the right.

    Step 5: Rotate forward, keep hands in front of you.

    Step 6: Repeat 6-8 times.

    Step 7: Switch sides. Right leg in front, left leg behind in a slight lunge position.

    Step 8: Holding the handle and keeping arms straight, twist upper body to left. Try to keep the hips as still as possible.

    Step 9: Repeat on the left side 6-8 times.

  3. Kneeling Cable Crunch

    Step 1: Kneel in front of the cable machine, facing it.

    Step 2: Hold one end of the rope in each hand, hands by your face.

    Step 3: Keeping your hands by your head, bend your torso to the ground. Keep your lower body still.

    Step 4: Lift back up to the starting position, without letting the cable pull you up.

    Step 5: Repeat 8-10 times.

Ab workouts with a medicine ball

  1. Mountain Climbers

    Step 1: Start in a plank position, with your hands balancing on the medicine ball. Make sure the ball is in line with your shoulders.

    Step 2: Pull your abs in as you bring your right knee to your chest. Keep the rest of the body and ball as still as possible.

    Step 3: Return right leg to plank position.

    Step 4: Bring your left leg to your chest. Keep the heel as close to your hamstring as possible.

    Step 5: Return left leg to plank position.

    Step 6: Alternate sides, 8-10 times each side.

  2. Ab Toss Rollup

    Step 1: Lay on the mat, knees bent and feet on the ground. Hold the medicine ball at your chest.

    Step 2: Pull your abs in as you lift the chest up and shoulders off the mat. 

    Step 3: Lift up until you're almost seated but still using your abs to hold you up. 

    Step 4: Toss the ball in the air above you and catch it.

    Step 5: Holding the ball at your chest, lower down to the mat with control.

    Step 6: Repeat 6-8 times.

  3. Medicine Ball Slams

    Step 1: Stand slightly wider than hip's-distance apart. Hold the ball with both hands at your chest and pull your core in.

    Step 2: Give a slight bend to the knees then push through your heels and lift up onto your toes. At the same time, straighten your arms and lift the ball up, almost completely above your head.

    Step 3: Slam the ball down between your feet using the core and upper body as you move into a slight squat.

    Step 4: Squat fully to the ground and pick up the ball with both hands. Keep your chest open and back straight, abs are pulled in.

    Step 5: From the squat, return back up with heels lifted, arms straight with the ball almost above your head.

    Step 6: Repeat 6-8 times.

Floor ab workouts

  1. Plank

    Step 1: Place your hands on the floor, directly underneath your shoulders.

    Step 2: Extend your legs behind you, about hip's-width distance.

    Step 3: Engage your core, including your butt, and tuck your tailbone.

    Step 4: Hold for a set amount of time or as long as you can.

  2. Leg Lift

    Step 1: Lie on your back on the floor or an exercise mat with your legs extended out. Keep your back flat on the surface at all times.

    Step 2: Lift your legs up toward your face, hinging at the hips. 

    Step 3: Stop when they are at a 90-degree angle.

    Step 4: Keeping your legs together, lower them slowly to the floor. Keep your back as flat as possible throughout the movement, then repeat from step 2.

  3. Supine Dead Bug

    Step 1: Lie on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet on the floor 12 to 18 inches away from your butt.

    Step 2: Contract your core muscles, including your Kegels and abs.

    Step 3: Lift both arms and both legs off the floor with elbows in line with the shoulder. Your knees should be bent to 90 degrees with hips in line with knees.

    Step 4: Maintain your core muscle activation while slowly lowering your right leg and left arm to the floor.

    Step 5: Stop about a few inches above the floor.

    Step 6: Lift your arm and leg back up with control.

    Step 7: Repeat with your left leg and right arm.

    Step 8: Continue alternating each side.

Ab workouts can easily be done at home or in a gym. The types of exercises you want to do and your overall lifestyle will help you determine which is best for you.

Ab workouts at home

Ab workouts at home can be convenient since it doesn't require you to travel. It's more cost-effective, as you won't have to pay a gym membership fee, and there are plenty of at-home ab workouts that don't require any equipment. If your time is limited or you care for others in your home, like young children or elderly parents, working out at home can be a great option. For those who find a gym environment uncomfortable, staying home for your ab workouts can still give you great results.

From the above list, these are great ab workouts you can do from home:

  • Crunch
  • Bicycles
  • Roll Up
  • Plank Toe Touch
  • Standing Side Crunch
  • Standing March Knee Tap
  • Plank

If you opt to purchase small home workout equipment, you can add hand weights and a medicine ball. The following exercises are a great addition to your home ab workouts:

  • Russian Twist
  • Renegade Row
  • Medicine Ball Slams
  • Mountain Climbers With Medicine Ball

Ab workouts at the gym 

A major benefit from going to a gym for ab workouts is the social environment. You have an opportunity to make relationships with others who are working toward fitness goals, and that can help you stay accountable to yours. Being able to ask other members or staff members questions on correct form or additional workouts can be a great help to your own fitness. A gym will also give you access to numerous pieces of fitness equipment that most people don't have at home. 

If you decide to do your ab workouts at the gym, here are a few that can get you started (detailed above):

  • Standing Cable Crunch
  • Cable Twist
  • Kneeling Cable Crunch
  • Ab Toss Roll Up
  • V Sit With Weight Pass

Before you begin a new workout routine, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor. Ab workouts shouldn't be painful. It's likely you will feel a little sore afterward, but if you experience any sharp or long-lasting pain, check in with your doctor. 

Always do a warm-up before an ab workout to help prepare your body for the movements. A simple warm-up is to march in place while swinging your arms to activate the core. Start with a few exercises with low reps. Once you feel comfortable with the movements and your form, you can gradually increase the amount and duration.

Make sure you understand the proper form for any ab workouts you do, since poor form can lead to injury. If you need help, talk to a fitness professional, look at example photos, read written instructions, and watch videos if available. 

 

 

Your ab muscles are important to your overall well-being and quality of life. Strong ab muscles can help improve balance, coordination, posture, and stability. Ab workouts can easily be done at home with little to no equipment or at a gym with a wide variety of equipment. Ab workouts are beneficial to almost everyone, however before beginning any new exercise, check with your doctor first.

How often should you work out your abs per week?

According to the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, each week adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity, like ab workouts. 

Do sit-ups give you abs?

Sit-ups, otherwise known as crunches, can help you get stronger abs but won't alone give you "defined" abs. Doing a variety of ab workouts combined with aerobic exercise and a healthy diet will help improve the appearance of your ab muscles.

Which is the most effective ab exercise?

Challenging your ab muscles consistently with a variety of exercises will make your abs stronger. Some of the most effective ab workouts are the plank, mountain climbers, roll up, and bicycles.