The goal of ab exercises isn’t all about sculpting a six-pack or chiseling your middle. The core of every day movements comes from just that — your core. You need a solid midsection to stand upright, stay steady on your feet and twist and turn sans injury. (Though scoring flat abs is certainly a sweet bonus!)
So how do you land a stronger core? Work it from every angle and switch up your routine often. That’s where these 50 anything-but-boring abs exercises come in. They’ll skyrocket your strength and stability — and help you score that toned midsection in the meantime. Say hello to going hardcore.
Take Your Core Workout Beyond Crunches and Sit-Ups
When it comes to improving core stability, the plank has your back (and your front!). By working your transverse abdominis — the deep core muscles that wrap around your middle — as well as your back, shoulders and glutes (yes, you should activate your butt, too), you get a full body burn in one isometric movement. But the best thing about planks: You can continuously switch them up and make your muscles work even more. Check out these creative twists on a typical plank routine and you’ll see what we mean.
Get total-body toned with this amped up plank. While performing a triceps push-up, bring your knee to the outside of your elbow, and switch sides on the next rep. Don’t drop or pike your hips through the entire move — your body should stay in a straight line from shoulders to ankles.
A slight twist on a high-low plank move, you’ll flow from a yoga sphinx pose (similar to a baby cobra) into a forearm plank. Try to minimize movement in your hips as you go.
A regular plank is tough in itself. But balancing on one arm? Talk about taking this core challenge up a notch.
Take your abs workout to P.E. class and army crawl your way across the mat. Stay low in a strong forearm plank as you slither your arms and legs forward. Then finish with a side plank to target your obliques.
Talk about tough! This pike-up plank offers a gymnastic element to build strength in your lower abs. The higher you pike, the harder the exercise…and the stronger your core.
Ask most fitness experts to break down the basics of a push-up and they’ll tell you it’s a moving plank. So learn how to master that solid, isometric position before you move onto the push-up part. When you do, you’ll build muscle in your entire upper body.
Foam rollers not only loosen up your fascia, they also add a stabilization challenge to ab exercises. In this side plank variation, you’ll feel your midsection fighting to keep your body steady.
8. The Snake
A chaturanga-inspired exercise often done on a reformer, you’ll take this move to the mat. Your obliques work to bring you upright, as the rest of your core stays tight to move you through the middle.
Do three moves for the work of one! This combination exercise not only targets your obliques and transverse abdominis, but also your hips and lats. A triple threat you’ll want to keep tackling.
Crush a core workout while also squeezing in some cardio. This two-for-one move will rev your heart rate, as you reach new calorie-torching heights. From the jack to the jump, it’s one quick ab-strengthening routine.
11. Ab Roller
Skip the infomercial-inspired equipment and grab a towel for this “rolling” move. As you slide the towel forward on the floor, you’ll sculpt your stomach. Just don’t forget to keep your pelvis in a neutral position.
12. Giant Clam
BOSU balls work great for bettering your balance — and improving your core stability. This take on a conventional clamshell further challenges your abs, as you aim to keep your hips lifted.
Chisel your core by mixing a push-up, row and T raise. Your midsection muscles work to keep your body in one long line, as you flow through the three-move mash-up.
14. Knee Tucks
Rowers aren’t reserved for cardio — though this will get your heart pumping. Hold a solid plank as you use your lower abs to drive both knees into your chest, without dropping or raising your hips.
Next Up: Crunches and Sit-Ups
Crunches and Sit-Ups
Press pause on your typical crunches and sit-ups routine and try these unique variations instead. Each of these exercises make the traditional moves anything but boring. Plus, they work your core in new ways, while hitting all sides.
It may look simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Keep your legs fully extended, knees straight and your back against the floor as you lift and lower your feet to the ground (or as close as you can go without arching your back).
16. Bird-Dog Crunch
Three things you need to remember here: Keep your hips square to the ground, your shoulders in line with each other and your back flat. And the one thing that’ll help you nail all three? A strong core.
17. Roll Up
Have a ball with this fun move that has you rolled up in a ball, moving forward and backward on a mat. The bonus to working your abs this way? You also get a nice back massage!
The key to good form during a glute bridge involves engaging your abs. And that’s what you’ll do during this move — and then some. After doing a regular hip raise, straighten your legs out into a hollow hold to get even deeper into your core muscles.
Go with the flow in this downward dog routine. You’ll target the front, back and side of your abs by moving your knee straight into your chest, back out behind you, then to your opposite elbow.
20. Jackknife Crunch
Start with your arms and legs straight out, then crunch up into a V position — only moving one arm and one leg (opposite sides). Your obliques, transverse abdominis and rectus abdominis, along with your hips and quads, will all get a workout.
21. Sit and Reach
Make your breath the focal point of this exercise and it becomes a moving meditation, while still working your abs. We’ll always take a mind and body workout in one.
22. Tabletop Control
Borrowed from the Pilates playbook, you need to maintain the c-curve (belly button pulled in toward your spin) to reap this move’s ab-sculpting benefits. Then, with a Pilates ring squeezed between your thighs, move your knees in toward your chest, then back down toward the ground to add additional muscle-building.
23. Crab Reach
Strengthening the sides of your core — aka your obliques — makes bending, spine stabilization and twisting all easier. This rock-star-like extension targets those muscles, while also working the back of your body.
Like a hollow hold on the ground, but taken to the next level, this exercise calls for the TRX duo trainer. Holding on to each ring, you’ll have to use your abs to keep your body up. If you’re feeling super confident, pick those feet up off the floor.
26. Half Get-Up
Transitioning from the floor to your feet takes some core stability, and this exercise has you moving on up. Keep squeezing those abs so you don’t lose solid body alignment and it’ll make the get-up easier.
Another variation to the glute bridge, you need to brace your core to lift your hips to the sky. Keep your abs engaged as you separate your knees and target your glutes even more.
Next Up: Standing Ab Exercises
Standing Ab Exercises
You don’t need a mat to mold your middle. Get on your feet to strengthen your core for these next 10 exercises. Most of these moves require your abs to act as stabilizers, keeping you upright and sturdy on one or two legs.
Low-impact doesn’t mean low intensity. Prepare to feel your heart rate rise and your obliques burn as you pull your knee into your chest and stay grounded on one foot.
Take your abs workout off the mat for this move that mimics a regular bicycle crunch — except in upright form. You’ll work your obliques and rotational muscles so you’re ready to move in any direction.
It’s time to kick your core exercises up a notch. This punch-and-kick combo requires stability so you can stand on one leg, plus you need to use your abs to pull your knee in and extend your foot out.
Besides bicycles and ab twists, you can sculpt the side muscles of your midsection with this barre-inspired exercise. Light weights make it more challenging, and dropping it low in the squat targets your legs, too.
You may have spotted a landmine at your gym — that barbell attached to a rotating base. Now it’s time to pick it up and work your middle. This ab-centric exercise builds strength in the transverse plane of motion, so you can twist with ease.
You’re not exactly standing on your feet here — but you are standing on your hands. And that works your core way harder. Want to do a handstand sans wall? This move is a step in the right direction.
33. Tuck Jumps
Catch some air to carve some abs. While you’ll burn out your legs on the leap, you’ll also use your abs to pull your knees into your chest and crush this tuck routine. Here’s to you hitting new heights — and snagging powerful muscles in the meantime.
Balance is all about those abs, especially when you’re holding a big slam ball. Brace your belly to bring the ball down to your foot and back up to stand.
Grab a partner and have some fun with this standing ab exercise. It requires you to turn your upper body, keeping your core tight while you go. When you twist, hand off a water bottle, weight or whatever you have on hand. (A bottle of wine will do, too.)
Hang tight…your abs are about to get super strong. Tuck your knees up toward your chest to work your rectus abdominis (those six-pack-sculpting muscles).
Next Up: Sneaky Ab Exercises
Sneaky Ab Exercises
Just because you tend to associate these moves with other muscles, doesn’t mean your abs aren’t involved. As you work your legs and arms, you’ll also fire up your core with these 14 less traditional ab exercises. They create the full-body routine you need to get totally toned.
Yes, that booty back, knees bent, hips to the floor move you often associate with working your legs. It also engages your abs. To perform a squat properly, with your body upright, you need to keep your core tight. Inhale as you lower to the ground and exhale as you stand to help you do just that.
Not only do you sculpt your shoulders here, but because of the balance challenge your lifted leg adds, you’ll also strengthen your core. Double duty work at its finest.
39. Kettlebell Swing
Sure, kettlebell swings make your backside work to the max. But you also need to keep your abs engaged as you lean down, then exhale to stand — all with a flat back. Your core should be burning.
Your back and arms may handle the brunt of the work in this move. But to execute it more efficiently, be sure to brace your belly, keeping your entire body tight.
This creative three-for-one kettlebell move will certainly impress. Pop the heel of one foot to get your abs in gear — they’ll work to help you maintain your balance.
42. Donkey Kicks
To keep your back flat during this glute-strengthening move, you need to engage your abs and pull your belly button up toward your spine — try not to loose that neutral spine position through the entire exercise. Consider your abs sculpted and your butt lifted.
We love a good combo move and this one brings the benefits threefold. It takes some serious core strength (plus power from your legs and arms) to move from a squat to a plank to a push-up and repeat. Consider this your go-to when you want max benefits in less time.
The secret to a strong deadlift: bracing your core. Inhale on the downward motion and exhale when you come up. This keeps your abs tight, taking the pressure off your lower back. Your abs will also fire to maintain a neutral spine during the lunge and pull.
Take a cue from gymnasts — a group that gives us some serious ab envy — by working with a pair of parallette bars. In order to pull your legs through the middle of the bars, you’ll need to use your abs (and arms).
Embrace the burn in this full-body plyometric move that delivers cardio and strength. The reason it’s on this list of ab exercises? Core strength and stability keep you from flipping over in that donkey kick, while also helping you perform the perfect push-up.
Here’s a cardio move that’ll strengthen your core in no time. Start with a donkey kick, then swivel on one foot and swoop your leg through to kick your foot to the side. Working in all planes of motion, you’ll swiftly sculpt your midsection while squashing major calories.
Do an overhead movement — especially with a heavy weight — and you’ll see why it works your abs. In order to keep your spine neutral as you lift, you must engage your midsection muscles. Your core also comes into play to keep your pelvis neutral in the lunge.
49. Punch Sequence
Pack a one-two punch to get your abs in fighting shape. As you use your hips and legs to put power behind your jabs, crosses and hooks, your core keeps you stable, allowing you to pivot and execute each motion with extra force.
Throw a rotational movement into any routine and you’ll whittle your middle. With this combo move featuring a secret weapon — a towel — you keep your abs engaged through the squat and lunge. Feel your abs fire even more as your move the towel to the outside of your leg in the lunge.
Want more exercise inspiration — this time for your backside? Check out these 50 Butt Exercises to Sculpt Stronger Glutes.
Originally published July 2017. Updated January 2018.