Nine dumbbell ab exercises to strengthen and define your core muscle

We’ve pulled together nine dumbbell ab exercises from top fitness experts to help you build a stronger core

Man completing a dumbbell ab workout
(Image credit: Getty)

You might be wondering how to step up your ab workouts, well look no further than these nine dumbbell ab exercises to strengthen and define your core. 

If you’re not sure where to start with ab exercises, or just want to add a level of intensity to your core workout, then incorporating one of the best adjustable dumbbells into some common ab exercises can help. 

Dumbbells are versatile and easy to hold, making them a perfect addition to common exercises like crunches, cycles and even planks to increase the level of difficulty. If you’re looking for a toned tummy, better balance or just want to improve your core strength, then dumbbell exercises might be the right choice for you. 

We’ve asked some of the best fitness experts around what their go-to dumbbell ab exercises are, and how to perform them.

Emily Rutherwood
Emily Rutherwood

Emily Rutherwood is a Studio Manager at FS8 Oxford Circus (opens in new tab). Rutherwood began her career in the health, fitness and wellness industry as a qualified massage therapist before applying her interest in body biomechanics, injury prevention and movement and becoming a qualified personal trainer. She also teaches Barre and Pilates in both senior trainer and head trainer roles.

Jay Conroy
Jay Conroy

Jay Conroy is a Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach, as well as a fitness model. He has been featured in Men’s Health and is a semi-professional footballer who played for four years at Crystal Palace. 

Personal trainer
Aaron Wood
Personal trainer
Aaron Cook

Personal trainer, instructor and educator at Gymbox in Central London. Aaron has been coaching now around 9 years, 6 of them being with Gymbox. He coaches gymnastics, weightlifting and CrossFit via 1-2-1 and online athletes. He loves taking your average gym member and making them competitive and strong. At the risk of upsetting some, he says "Unpopular opinion, but I like the assault bike..." 

Why add dumbbells to your ab workouts?

Adding weight to your ab workout is an easy way to increase resistance and step up the difficulty of your sets without doing loads of reps. Dumbbells are easy to hold, hard to drop and can be found in every gym worth it's salt. You can also incorporate these exercises into your home workout routine if you want to buy a dumbbell for personal use. If you’re learning how to build muscle then dumbbell ab exercises will be useful and you’ll develop a stronger core.

A strong core is vital for stability when performing day-to-day activities or more challenging workouts and can help support your overall physical strength. The abs  are a component of your core muscles, but most of these exercises also engage deeper supporting muscles and back muscles, making them good for all-round core strength as well as ab definition.

We’ve spoken to three fitness experts: Emily Rutherwood, a personal trainer and a Studio Manager at FS8 Oxford Circus (opens in new tab), Jay Conroy, a personal trainer, coach and ambassador for Bio-Synergy (opens in new tab) and Aaron Cook, a personal trainer, manager and coach at Gymbox (opens in new tab). Each PT has given us their top three dumbbell ab exercises to help you step up your core workout this  

Nine dumbbell ab exercises

1.  Dumbbell dead bug 

Personal trainer Emily Rutherwood performing a dumbbell deadbug

(Image credit: Emily Rutherwood)

Personal trainer Emily Rutherwood performing a dumbbell deadbug

(Image credit: Emily Rutherwood)
  • Lie on your back with knees above hips 
  • Hold the dumbbell in neutral grip above chest keeping knees above hips 
  • Hold neutral spine to extend one leg towards floor 
  • Come back to starting position and alternate sides with control 

2.  Above the head abdominal crunch 

Personal trainer Jay Conroy at Bio-Synergy performing an above the head abdominal crunch

(Image credit: Jay Conroy)

Personal trainer at Bio-Synergy Jay Conroy performing an above the head abdominal crunch

(Image credit: Jay Conroy)
  • Engage your core and spine against the floor with your hands raised above your head 
  • Slowly curl your spine until you can’t raise your body any higher off the ground keeping your arm locked out and raised above your head 
  • The key is to always point your arm in a straight line towards the ceiling 

3.  Russian Twist 

Personal trainer from Gym Coach Aaron Cook performing a Russian twist

(Image credit: Aaron Cook)

Personal trainer from Gym Box Aaron cook performing a Russian twist

(Image credit: Aaron Cook)

Personal trainer at Gymbox Aaron Cook performing a Russian twist

(Image credit: Aaron Cook)
  • You will start from a tall seated position with your feet tucked slightly into your bum. The dumbbell will be resting in a goblet position on your sternum (your breastbone) 
  • To increase intensity, you can lift your feet off the floor, but to maintain control I prefer to maintain contact with the floor even if it is lightly 
  • A common issue seen with Russian twist is the arms and shoulder initiate the movement (very similar to the party game 'pass-the-parcel'). Instead, we need to focus on rotating through the trunk while maintaining the dumbbell in the center of our chest
  • Rotate through the trunk facing left and right while maintaining a tall spine  

4. Dumbbell jackknife

Personal trainer at FS8 Oxford Circus Emily Rutherwood performing a dumbbell jackknife

(Image credit: Emily Rutherwood)

Personal trainer at FS8 Oxford Circus Emily Rutherfood performing a dumbbell jackknife

(Image credit: Emily Rutherwood)
  • Lying down, hold dumbbells in a neutral grip overhead and extend legs 
  • Exhale and curl dumbbells forwards feet 
  • Lower shoulders and legs, extend arms overhead whilst maintaining neutral spine 

5. Cycling with dumbbell 

Personal trainer at Bio-Synergy Jay Conroy performing the cycling with dumbbell exercise

(Image credit: Jay Conroy)

Personal trainer at Bio-Synergy Jay Conroy performing the cycling with dumbbell exercise

(Image credit: Jay Conroy)
  • While laying on the floor raise your legs as if you were about to start cycling  
  • Hold your dumbbell with both hands at either end using your opposite elbow to touch your opposite knee 
  • Now in a cycling motion kick out with one leg while raising the opposite knee back up towards you and engage that opposite elbow to touch it 

6. Plank Dumbbell Pull Through 

Personal trainer at Gymbox Aaron Cook performing plank dumbbell pull throughs

(Image credit: Aaron Cook)

Personal trainer at Gymbox Aaron Cook performing a plank dumbbell through

(Image credit: Aaron Cook)
  • A perfect hollow body plank position is rule number one - where you are pressing through the ground so your shoulders are rounded, the pelvis is tucked under and legs are long and tight 
  • With this movement, you will have a light to medium load dumbbell around torso height parallel to your body 
  • With the arm that’s furthest away, you will reach under your body to grab the dumbbell by rotating slightly through the torso while maintaining tight hips and legs 
  • You will then place the dumbbell on the opposing side of where it started with the least amount of deviation from your plank 

7. Dumbbell kneeling/standing oblique

Personal trainer at FS8 Emily Rutherford performs a dumbbell kneeling/standing oblique

(Image credit: Emily Rutherwood)

Personal trainer at FS8 Emily Rutherford performs a dumbbell kneeling oblique

(Image credit: Emily Rutherford)
  • Kneeling/standing, hold a dumbbell in one hand and place the other hand behind the head  
  • Side bend and lower the dumbbell towards the hip 
  • Exhale and squeeze upper ribs to hip to return to starting position 

8. Static lunge with twist 

Personal trainer at Bio-Synergy Jay Conroy performs a static lunge with twist

(Image credit: Jay Conroy)

Personal trainer at Bio-Synergy Jay Conroy performs a static lunge with twist

(Image credit: Jay Conroy)
  • Get yourself into a strong low lunging position while leaning as upright as possible with your upper body
  • Raise your hands outright to one side keeping your arms as straight as possible 
  • If you’re turning left, keep your right hand above the right
  • While not moving your legs, or lower body, turn and face the other direction except turn your hands over so now your left hand is on top and your left is underneath 

9. Dumbbell Toe Touches 

Personal trainer at Gymbox Aaron Cook performs a dumbbell toe touch

(Image credit: Aaron Cook)

Personal trainer at Gymbox Aaron cook performs a dumbbell toe touch

(Image credit: Aaron Cook)
  • We begin by laying on our back with our legs perpendicular to the floor reaching for the sky 
  • Here we will make sure the quads and glutes are engaged with feet pointed
  • You will then take your dumbbell and hold the dumbbell on your shins with your shoulders slightly on the floor  
  • You will then begin to raise the dumbbell as high as you can towards the feet before returning down with control 

Looking to find out the ins and outs of why core muscles are important? We have the answers and can suggest other ways to strengthen your midsection muscles without requiring weight, such as this core yoga routine.