- We asked 13 top trainers to share their favorite ab workouts.
- Learn what other muscle groups these workouts engage and how these muscles all work together.
- Take note of which workouts you’d like to add to your routine.
Who doesn’t want washboard abs? The six-pack is the hard-to-achieve gold medal of dedicated everyday gym rats.
We’ve gathered experts from around the country to share their tips on achieving great abs. Some of these are beginner level, some moderate, and some advanced. It’s better to learn the proper form and do less than it is to do many reps of these with terrible form.
These workouts may not be what you expect, so buckle in and track these workouts, as well as your progress, by signing up for an Exercise.com PRO plan today.
13 Workouts for Your Abs From Top Trainers
Lynda Salerno Gehrman gave us some great advice we want to start out with:
“The best tip for any abdominal exercise is to actually engage the abdominals! Recognize that you don’t have one “ab muscle.” Learning to engage the different layers simultaneously will mold your muscles to deeply support your spine first, move your torso, and look better.
To work your abdominal muscles in harmony, engage the following [three] layers cumulatively:
- Engage the pelvic floor, or Kegels, internally upward.
- Engage the deep layer of transverse abdominals back to the spine, and wide across the torso. These stabilize the spine and flatten the abdominal wall.
- Recruit the rectus abdominals and obliques on top of the transverse to initiate the exercise or movement. These are the superficial muscles you can see.
You can apply this firing pattern order into ANY abdominal centric exercise. Sometimes the best way to discover finding this patterning is to work against gravity. Such as in a plank or quadruped position.”
– Lynda Salerno Gehrman, Pilates Director & Founder of Physio Logic Pilates & Movement. Instagram: @lyndalogic.
#1 – V-Ups
One of my favorite abs exercises is called V-ups! Lie down with hands above the head and legs straight out. Then, bring both arms and legs together creating a V shape. The torso must come off the ground with bringing the arms up.
It’s one of my favorites because it hits the lower and upper abs together and if done properly it will increase the heart rate, giving it a cardio effect as well.
– Reggie Chambers, Certified Celebrity and Personal Fitness Trainer
#2 – Downward Woodchops
It’s important to work more than just the rectus abdominis since your core is comprised of a lot of different muscles, and I think obliques are really underestimated in how they help with your overall strength. Downward woodchops, whether from standing or kneeling, are really great for getting the abs to work together with the obliques to strengthen the body in the transverse plane.
– Rui Li (NASM CPT, CES, FNS), President-CEO of New York Personal Training. Follow her on Instagram: @heart_nypt.
#3 – Side Planks
This exercise has been shown to be one of the best to target our inner layers of abdominal muscles, especially one we call the transversus abdominus. These are like planks but just on one elbow/hand — foot/knee of the same side. So, you are facing to the side. Just like with prone planks, these can be modified in all kinds of ways by raising the arm facing up or the leg. I have seen people do these with their feet on a ball or a bench. I have seen people add weights to their hands.
These can also be incorporated into push-ups or other movements. These are just extremely versatile and they benefit so many muscles. They should be in just about everyone’s go-to list of abdominal exercises. These can also be modified for any person and there is much less risk of repetitive spinal motion. Same as with the basic plank, work towards at least a 60-second hold on each side.
– Aaron Hackett, DPT, CCI, STMT-1 Doctor of Physical Therapy, Corporate Wellness Consultant and owner of Aevitas PT and Wellness based in Utah, USA. Visit Aevitaspt.com and follow him on Facebook.
#4 – Suitcase Carries
– Robert Herbst is a personal trainer, health and wellness expert, and powerlifter (18-time World Champion, 33-time National Champion, member of the AAU Strength Sports Hall of Fame). Visit www.w8lifterusa.com.
#5 – The Hundred
I love this exercise because it works the entire body, and you can always make it more challenging if it starts to get too easy. . . . [Y]ou are also working your breath, control, coordination, flow, and concentration. Additionally, you can work on your quality of movement and work on lengthening instead of just holding this exercise which can be one of the difficult parts of this exercise.
– Jacqueline Hinton, Los Angeles based Pilates Instructor & CEO of Good Citizen, Home of The Original Pilates Loops. Visit GoodCitizenLA.com or follow her on Instagram: @jackiehhinton.
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#6 – Ab-Wheel Rollout
When I train abs, I usually look to attack my abs through rotational movement, anti-rotation, lateral flexion, and sagittal flexion. However, the one that I think rules above all is the Ab-Wheel Rollout.
Whether you’re doing it on your knees or standing (applying full body weight), the activation I get each and every rep is of a higher quality than any other core exercise. I’m primarily working the rectus abdominals (the six-pack) through the whole motion.
–James Shapiro, NYC-based Personal Trainer and owner of Primal Power. Website: primalpower-fitness.com. Instagram: @primalpowerfitness.
#7 – Total Ab Workout
My personal favorite ab exercises would be the butterfly crunch, side plank hip dips, v-sit up, and Russian twists. Each of these has a distinct area where you mostly feel the work while performing the exercises, but most importantly, each one can be modified so anyone can do them starting at the beginner stage and through advanced.
- The Butterfly Crunch works the rectus abdominus or the six pack muscles. The move is good because it leaves the hip flexors out of the equation and works strictly the abs from top to bottom.
- The Side Plank Hip Dips work your transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis, obliques, and quadratus lumborum, with extra emphasis on the obliques. After doing a few of these I am automatically longer and leaner and tighter in the midsection. Plus they also give the glutes some bonus work!
- V-Sit Ups work the entire core, abs, obliques, back we get it all with this one. I love it because it shows just how powerful the core is since you are using mainly just core muscles to move the entire body.
- Russian twists work the oblique muscles but involve all the core muscles. The twist feels amazing on the spine and the move gives the waist a nice slim feeling.
– Jessica Haas, Certified Personal Trainer at Simply Fit 4 Women. Follow them on Facebook
#8 – Side Crow (Parsca Bakasana)
I recommend [this exercise] to my advanced clients. This stretches the lower back and the hip extensors, which consequently helps the opposing hip flexors, especially the psoas, contract efficiently. Core-wise, this exercise works the external oblique, transverse abdominis, and the rectus abdominis.
In addition to the core, this isometric strengthening exercise works the pectoralis and erector spinae. I recommend clients hold this pose 4 sets for 15 to 60 seconds per side.
This exercise speaks for itself. I like it because as a kid coming from a powerlifting, strength type of background, this exercise really humbled me and revealed to me a whole new realm of strength, core training, and balance.
– Robert Eyler, Lifestyle Consultant & Owner of GetFit42. Instagram: @GetFit42
#9 – Dead Bug
– Chris Cooper, NSCA-CPT and owner of AMP Training. Follow him on Facebook.
#10 – Windshield Wipers
How: Use the arms as stable support, Start with the legs straight up and then lower first to one side then to the other, slowly with complete control. Try to keep the legs from bending or from touching the surface. . . .[B]eginners [can] do this exercise with knees bent at 90 degrees until you can demonstrate complete control in the lowering motion without your shoulder blades coming off the ground (5 to 8 times).
– Meghan Kennihan, Personal Trainer, Run Coach, and Endurance Junkie. Visit Trainwithmeghan.com and Instagram: @TrainwithMeghan.
#11 – Hanging Leg Raises
I like this exercise because it is very challenging, and it incorporates a lot of muscles in addition to your abdominals. You begin with your hip flexors and then work your rectus abdominis, and even engage your latissimus dorsi — the whole time working your hand grip/forearm strength. It took me years to master, but that’s why I love it even more.
– Ambyr Chatzopoulos, Certified Personal Trainer and founder of AmbyrFyt Training
#12 – Mountain Climbers
I like mountain climbers as they are a great way to get the heart and lungs pumping. For an exercise that is designed for the abs, you can get a whole body workout in just a few minutes. The mountain climber is a compound exercise that targets multiple joints and muscle groups at the same time making it a great total body exercise.
To perform mountain climbers you need to get yourself into a press-up position and, while keeping your back straight and head up, alternate your knees forwards in a running motion. This is a great exercise for building power in runners as it targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
You will also hit your arms, shoulders and back muscles while you hold yourself in this isometric contraction. Your core will be working overtime trying to keep the body balanced and stable. . . . [I]f you really want to target the obliques, try bringing the knees to the opposite elbow. Your abs will have to work extremely hard to keep you stable.
– David Baillie, David Baillie, Personal Trainer, Veteran and owner of Front-Line Fitness. Follow him on Facebook.
#13 – Planks
Most people would have no problem with the correct form, and planks can be easily modified for beginners and advanced performers. You can also make planks more dynamic, simply by abducting the legs or moving up and down, building muscular endurance in the arms.
– James W. Lewis, Exercise Physiologist and author of Exercises for Older Veterans with PTSD. Visit JamesWLewis.com.
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Editor’s Note: These answers have been edited for clarity.