Whether you’re trying to build a six-pack or just trying to tone your body, ab workouts are a terrific way to get in shape and strengthen your core. Plus, ab exercises require no extra equipment and can be done from just about anywhere.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
But there are many variations of ab workouts, so it can be hard to know which ones to try. To get a better idea of where to start, we talked to exercise physiologist Katie Lawton about six great ab workouts to add to your workout routine.
While these exercises all focus on your abdomen muscles, they also strengthen your entire core. Your abs are simply a component of the core muscle group, which includes the oblique muscles along your side, your gluteal muscles, certain muscles along your spine, your diaphragm, muscles of your pelvic floor and hip flexors.
Your core provides stability for your entire body and impacts your movements. Core strength even affects your posture and back pain. The bottom line: A healthy, strong core is important for your overall health.
Before getting down to the floor and getting your workouts in, though, Lawton has a few tips to remember.
Keeping these tips in mind, you can get started on all of these exercises. Be sure to wear comfortable workout clothing, but make sure your gear isn’t so loose it interferes with your movement.
And since these workouts all involve being on the floor, make sure you’ve got a yoga or workout mat that provides some padding and can keep you comfortable while you go through your reps.
Crunches are probably the most well-known of the major ab workouts, a variation on the classic sit-up. They’re also very simple to do, though you need to take care you don’t exacerbate any back and neck injuries.
“They’re a great workout that targets your abs and strengthens your core,” says Lawton. “But if you have any disc issues, complications or neck problems, you might want to skip crunches because of the stress that can be put on those parts of the body.”
A variation on the crunch exercise, tabletop crunches are crunches performed while holding both legs in a “tabletop” position: raised off the floor with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, as if your feet were resting on a tabletop.
“Anything where you can keep your spine neutral, flat and against the ground, is a good exercise,” Lawton says. “It’s a simple movement.”
To perform tabletop crunches:
Once you’ve mastered those first two variations of crunches, you can increase the difficulty level by adding more core work plus both upper and lower body work, too. Bicycle crunches not only engage your core but also add rotation to your workout which can be good for your spine.
“It’s good for spine health to add in a rotational component to any core exercise,” Lawton says.
To perform bicycle crunches:
“Planks are a great core workout because you keep a neutral spine throughout the process,” Lawton says. “And you’re engaging several parts of your body. There’s upper body strength, glute strength and some lower body strength involved.”
There are also different ways to modify a plank. You can perform either a low plank — where you hold your upper body up with your forearms — or the more difficult high plank, where you hold your upper body up with your hands and outstretched arms, like a push-up.
And if you find yourself eventually becoming a plank expert, there are additional movements that can be incorporated to make the workout even tougher.
To perform a plank:
A hollow hold might look a little silly, but it’s a great workout for your abs and requires both upper- and lower-body strength, too. It might take more work to master the “hold” part of this exercise, but that’s the whole point.
“You see a lot of this exercise in the CrossFit realm as it can help with pull-ups or kipping pull-ups,” Lawton says.
The hollow hold requires some extra focus on your core to make sure you’re correctly executing it. “When it comes to holding up your legs, some people tend to use their hip flexors more than their abdomen,” Lawton points out. “So make sure you’re engaging your core and keeping your lower back flat against the ground or you’ll risk possibly hurting your back or over-doing it with your hip flexors.”
To perform a hollow hold:
As strange as the name may be, the dead bug exercise is a great way to build ab strength while also utilizing movement to give the rest of your body a workout — even if takes a bit to get your coordination down.
“It’s like a hollow hold except you’re not just staying in that C-shape,” Lawton notes. “You’re moving that opposite arm and opposite leg. You see it a lot in physical therapy, but if do it for longer periods, it can be a really challenging exercise.”
To perform a dead bug: