If you’re on a muscle-building journey, you probably have an image on your head of how you want to look, and a six-pack is probably part of that image. Having strong abs is something every lifter wants, but in order to achieve this, you need to place the focus on all your core muscles, not only the abs! Your core is in charge of keeping you balanced during a wide variety of exercises, as well as giving you the support needed for difficult movements, particularly during strength training where you have to lift heavy weights, so you shouldn’t overlook core exercises if you want to get stronger abs.
You might be wondering, what is the best workout for abs? And how can I include core exercises along with them for better results?
Don’t worry, we’ll show you a list of some of the best and most effective core exercises for your ab workout so you can get stronger in no time, but first, let’s talk about the importance of core exercises when working towards your ideal abs…
Why you need core exercises if you want stronger abs
A well-defined set of abs looks amazing, but it isn’t everything! The abdominals are a muscle group located in the front part of your torso, between your ribs and your pelvis, and they mainly help you perform bending movements. When working out, you perform a variety of different exercises at different angles and move in different directions, so bending isn’t the only thing you need to do with your torso… So here’s where the core muscles come in. The core is a big group of muscles that include your abs as well as muscles on your hips, lower back, and stomach area, making up a big part of your torso. These muscles give you the strength and support to perform all kinds of movements that involve your torso while keeping your balance and helping stabilize your spine and pelvis, working as a solid base for your strength training workouts. It also helps you maintain a good posture and prevent back pain, so you definitely want to keep it strong!
Yes, your abs are an important part of your core, but only doing crunches and leg raises isn’t enough if you want to build a stronger core and more defined abs. You need to actually hit every muscle in your torso if you want to be able to keep progressing and getting better and more effective workouts each time, as well as perform more advanced exercises. Some movements can be dangerous without a strong core because having one helps reduce stress on your joints and avoid injury, so keep this in mind next time you’re planning on working on your abs!
The best core exercises for your ab workout
Now that you know the importance of core exercises for stronger abs… What are the best exercises for a good core workout? Well, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite ones so you can include them in your next core and ab strengthening workout:
Starting simple but strong, the plank is one of the staple exercises that you just can’t ignore if you want to build a stronger core. More specifically, the forearm plank will shift the focus from your arms to your core, requiring you to put more effort into maintaining your balance and your body stable. This beginner movement works your core and abs, particularly the rectus abdominis (known as the famous six-pack), the transverse abdominis, and the internal and external obliques, with help from the shoulder muscles. While the forearm plank is a basic but effective bodyweight variation of the plank, you can try more demanding variations such as the side plank or plank jacks, even adding weight if you’re up to the challenge!
How to do it: To do a forearm plank you first need to get in a plank position by going down to the floor with your face down. Place your toes on the floor and, instead of also placing your palms on the floor, you’re going to bend your elbows and use your forearms to hold yourself up. Your bodyweight should be resting on your forearms, with your elbows directly below your shoulders. Make sure that your body is forming a straight line from head to heels, with your head still facing down so you don’t strain your neck. Hold this position for as long as you can while tightening your abs and your core to keep your balance.
Advanced tip: Try different variations of the plank to challenge yourself. Like doing side planks, adding a dumbbell row while planking, or lifting one leg while planking. These variations will help you continue building effective core strength, but also improving your balance and stability at the same time.
The dead bug is another beginner exercise that is incredibly effective for building stronger abs and core, and you don’t need any equipment to do it! They’re easy to do while still being challenging to the middle section of your body, mainly working your inner core because you need those muscles as much as you need the external ones. These are the transverse abdominis and the spinal erectors, as well as your pelvic floor muscles, and both the internal and external obliques. This exercise is more focused on building total core strength and stability instead of just making your abs look good, so don’t overlook it!
How to do it: First, lie on your back with your hands up in the air, perpendicular to your body. Your legs should also be in the air, bent at a 90-degree angle as if you were sitting on a chair. This will be your starting position. Begin by slowly extending your left arm overhead and your right knee down until both are parallel to the floor without touching it, maintaining the other arm and leg balanced in the air. Make sure to contract your core and keep your torso straight so you don’t arch your back each time you lower your arms and legs. Hold this position for a moment, then return to the starting position and repeat by lowering your right arm and left leg, alternating sides each time.
Also known as the seated oblique twist, this movement targets both the external and internal obliques as well as the rectus abdominis, the erector spinae, and the transverse abdominis muscles. Core strength and nice abs are important, but you also need to train your core mobility and rotational movement if you want to get the most out of your strength training days and life in general, so make sure you include mobility exercises like the Russian twist in your workouts!
How to do it: First, sit on the ground with your knees bent while slightly leaning back, so your torso and thighs form a V shape. Keeping your back straight and contracting your abs, reach both of your arms out in front of you and clasp them together. Begin by twisting your torso to the right, going as far to the side as you can. Pause and hold the position for a moment before going back to the starting position and repeating on the opposite side. To make this movement more challenging, add weight by holding a medicine ball or a plate in your hands and trying to make it touch the ground each time you twist to the sides.
Your core not only includes your abs to the front or your lateral muscles but also your back muscles, which is why you need to include this in your core workouts. The bird-dog is essentially an inverted dead bug, but the change of position and the shift in weight helps you focus on different muscles from other angles. This exercise targets your abs and lower back, specifically the erector spinae, the rectus abdominis, and the obliques, as well as your glutes and thighs, making it great to challenge your balance, coordination, and core strength.
How to do it: For the starting position, get on your hands and knees while keeping your back straight and your neck in a neutral position, with your head looking down. Begin the movement by raising and straightening your right arm and left leg until they’re parallel to the floor and completely extended. Make sure to tighten your core during this part of the movement to help you keep your balance. Pause for a moment, then go back to the starting position and repeat with your left arm and right leg. Continue alternating throughout the exercise.
This full-body exercise is perfect for days where you want to train your whole body while still keeping the focus on building a stronger core. That is because this multi-step movement requires that you activate your core to get up and down while maintaining your balance, helping you develop your stability, mobility, and overall strength. While it targets almost every major muscle group and other small stabilizers, it’s particularly great for developing a stronger core and better spinal stabilization, as well as increasing mobility. This is considered an advanced exercise and it’s done with a kettlebell, so you should start practicing the steps without weight first to get used to the movement and then add some light weight to keep progressing.
How to do it: The first step is lying on the floor face up with a kettlebell in your right hand and your arm pointing up without locking it, so that the weight is in the air. Your left leg should be down on the floor while you bend your right leg, and your left arm extended on the floor next to you. Begin the movement by pushing yourself up with your left arm to a sitting position, keeping the kettlebell up in the air. Lift your hips off the floor and place your left leg behind your body until you’re kneeling on your left side. Take your left hand off the floor to come into a kneeling stance, right leg up and left leg down, keeping both bent at a 90-degree angle. Push through your right foot to drive yourself up and stand straight with your right arm up and the kettlebell over your head. Hold for a moment, then reverse the movement step by step to go back to the standing position and repeat. Finish your reps and switch to the other side.
Going back to the more basic exercises, the flutter kicks will definitely give you a good core and ab burn for your strength training days! This movement targets your core stabilizers, particularly the lower rectus abdominal muscles, as well as your hip flexors, lower back, and legs while mimicking the swimming movement on the floor. It’s a great and effective movement to work on your abdominal wall and overall core strength, and it’s particularly beneficial for those who walk, jog or run regularly.
How to do it: First, lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms extended next to both sides of your body, keeping your palms facing down. Use your core to lift your upper body, with your heels about 6 inches off the floor, and begin the movement by fluttering your legs, rapidly kicking your feet up and down one at a time in a quick, scissor-like motion. Remember to keep your core engaged throughout the whole movement, and don’t go too fast so you don’t lose your balance or coordination.
It may look easy, but it’s more challenging than you think! This killer exercise targets multiple areas of your core at the same time, including your transverse abdominis, the rectus abdominis, your oblique muscles, and the hip flexors, as well as some back and leg muscles. The V-sit movement involves the inward contraction of the upper section of your abdominal region, instead of just tightening your core muscles to perform the movement. This is also a great exercise for challenging your balance since you need to make a V shape with your body without falling to the sides or losing your form, so make sure to include it in your core strengthening routine.
How to do it: To do a V-sit, lie flat on the floor with your arms to your sides. Lift your upper body and your legs slightly off the floor and keep this starting position by tightening your abs and core. Begin by lifting your legs as high as you can without bending them, and lift your torso towards your legs to form a V shape with your body. Extend your arms in front of you so that they’re parallel to the floor, helping you stay balanced, and keep your core engaged throughout the whole movement. Keep this V shape for a moment, maintaining a straight back so you don’t round your shoulders, then go back to the starting position and repeat.
This intermediate exercise is amazing because you can make it more challenging by just going further into the movement since you’ll need to recruit more muscles and work harder to get back to the initial position. It targets your core muscles, including the erector spinae, the internal and external obliques, and the rectus abdominis, as well as your upper back and shoulder muscles during the contraction. If you want a killer core strengthening workout, ab rollouts will do just the trick, helping you lengthen your core and work on its strength and flexibility.
How to do it: For this movement, you’ll need an ab wheel (or a stability ball). Kneel, place the wheel centered in front of you, and grab it by the handles on each side, leaning slightly forward so that the wheel is underneath your shoulders. This will be your starting position. Begin by rolling the wheel forward, keeping your core tight and engaged throughout the movement so you don’t lose control of the wheel. Go as far forward as you can, keeping your form without arching your back, and then reverse to the starting position and repeat. You can also perform this movement with a barbell or a pair of dumbbells, or even an exercise ball for more of a stability challenge.
And there it is! Some of these exercises are great for beginners, while others are better for those who already have a strong core and want to keep challenging their strength and balance. And there are many, many more core exercises that you can try depending on what you have at hand or what you prefer, so don’t be afraid to try new things and add these and more into your next strength training workout!
If you need help with core exercises or want more ideas for ab workouts, check out the Fit With Iulia app! Iulia plans new goal-focused workouts each week to help you get better and more effective results. Try your first workout for free by downloading the Fit With Iulia app, choosing a goal, and starting your first workout with Iulia – no subscription required!