Best workouts for abs: The best exercises to build core strength (and get a six-pack)

The best workouts for abs can help you to a slimmer, more toned stomach

Woman doing one of the best workouts for abs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best workouts for abs aren't just for people looking to get a shredded six-pack in order to look like an action hero or a model. They're also very useful for all sorts of people every day, to improve your core strength, to get better at sport or just to maintain a healthy foundation for your body that little bit longer. 

Training for a fun-run and want to improve your running? One study found eight weeks of core training improved balance, endurance and running economy in college athletes. For older exercisers, Korean scientists found older people engaging in abdominal training to improve weight distribution and stability in later life. As a result, older men and women with better core strength are much less likely to suffer falls or injuries. 

The stronger your stomach muscles, the easier you’ll find almost every other form of exercise. It's a little bit like a building, with your core as a foundation: achieving a personal best bench press or hitting a record number of pull-ups is only really achievable with stronger abs. Want to learn how to do push-ups properly, or how to get a slim waist? You'll need a strong core to understand how to go about it. 

So, searching for and undertaking the best abs workouts will not only pay dividends when it comes to achieving a dream body, it will also create a solid platform for smashing those overall fitness goals, whether it’s running or cycling further, performing more reps in a workout or simply shaping up around the midriff, the best workouts for abs are a great place to start. 

How to perform the best workouts for abs

Not getting injured is the most important thing here. There's a tendency to try and do lots of reps as part of a very intense exercise session before you learn the right forms and techniques, and we urge you not to do this. Take your time, learn how the moves work and build up to any really intense exercise. 

When you exercise, especially during resistance training, you're contracting and releasing a set of muscles. For example, during a sit-up, you are contracting the abdominals on the way up, and leaning back and releasing them on the way down. It's vital to learn how to contract any muscle correctly if you are to achieve visible results, but many find contracting the main muscle groups that protect your stomach and internal organs particularly difficult.

With this in mind, it pays to work on contracting your abs correctly, squeezing your stomach muscles until you feel that they are activated. It is this squeeze that you should aim for during each workout and the deep burn is a great sign you are working your target muscle groups and not incorporating other areas that could not only blunt results, but also cause harm.

The best workouts for abs: your ab-crunching moves

Reverse Crunches (30 to 60 seconds)

Man demonstrating how to do a reverse crunch, one of the best abs workout moves

(Image credit: Future)

Rather than bringing your body up from the floor to your legs as you would in a traditional crunch, the reverse crunch hits the abs hard by adding the weight of your lower body into the mix. They're a particularly great workout for upper abs.

Lay flat on your back, arms out to the side and palms pressed into the floor for balance. Bring your knees together and raise your feet off the ground so your shins are parallel to the floor below. From here, breathe in and tense your abdominal muscle, tilting the pelvis so your knees travel towards your chest.

Don’t allow momentum to ruin the move, so avoid swinging your legs towards your chest. This should simply be a controlled tensing of the abs to tilt the pelvis. Return the legs to the start position in a controlled manner and repeat, ensuring the move is slow and controlled throughout. 

You'll find variations on this move plus common mistakes to avoid in our comprehensive how to do a reverse crunch guide.

Ab Circles (30 to 60 seconds)

Seated on the floor with hands behind the body for stability, bring your heels together and raise your legs off the floor. Keeping the back straight and head high, this should immediately engage the abs.

Now make a sweeping clockwise circle with the feet in front of you, tensing the obliques (the muscles at the side of your stomach) and ensuring everything is controlled. Stop at the bottom of the move and repeat in an anti-clockwise motion. Repeat this for 30 to 60 seconds, depending on your level.

Plank (30 to 60 seconds)

Forearm plank

(Image credit: Future)

When performed correctly, the plank targets the core muscles that help stabilize the body, but it is tempting to incorporate the shoulder and back muscles to help. 

To perform a plank correctly adopt a press-up position but lower your weight onto your forearms, rather than the palms of your hands. Keeping a straight line running from head to toe, keep the back flat, squeeze your bum muscles throughout and ensure the core muscles are tight. Hold this position but keep the mind trained on the core muscles and don’t let the hips sag. 

Bicycle Crunches (30 to 60 seconds)

Man doing bicycle crunch ab exercise

(Image credit: Future)

This move targets the upper abdominal muscles and obliques. In order to really see the benefit from this exercise, ensure you slow things right down. Often, bicycle crunches are performed incorrectly, with many rotating the legs as if they were actually riding a bicycle.

For best results, lay flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground – pull in your navel to target those abs even further. Place your hands behind to your temples (avoid craning your neck) and bring your knees in towards your chest, lifting your shoulder blades off the ground. 

Straighten one leg out in front of you and twist your body towards the opposite bent knee, touching the knee with your elbow. Repeat on the opposite side but keep things slow and controlled.

Like this move? See our extensive how to do a bicycle crunch guide for more form pointers and variations to try.

Scissor sit-ups (30 to 60 seconds)

It’s too easy to cheat with a traditional sit up, with many using momentum or incorporating other muscles to cheat on every rep. To mitigate this, we’ve selected the scissor sit-up, which leaves you no choice but to really work those abs! It's a particularly good lower ab exercise.

Lay on the floor but raise the shoulders off ground, now tense your abs and lift the heels off the floor, too. Once stable, cross one foot over the other, before swapping feet. Slowing down the movement will make this even harder, but it is a sure fire way of ensuring the abs are firing throughout. 

Russian Twist (30 to 60 seconds)

Seated Russian trust with dumbbell

(Image credit: Future)

The Russian Twist is one of the best workouts for upper abs. Once mastered, this is a great exercise to start adding some weights, as this promotes the gradual overload that stimulates muscle growth and strengthening. If you don't own any already, take a look at our guides to the best kettlebells and the best adjustable dumbbells.

Adopt a sit-up position with knees slightly bent and heels on the ground. With a straight back and shoulders retracted, rotate the torso to the left until the fingertips touch the ground (or twist as far as you can if holding something heavy), but ensure this twisting motion is undertaken with the abdominal muscles, rather merely rotating the shoulders (that’s cheating!). Rotate in the opposite direction and tap the floor to the right of your hips and continue this movement and repeat until the time period is over. 

Targeting the waist, Russian Twist is one of the moves in our 30-day killer curves challenge - give it a try!

Butterfly Crunch (30 to 60 seconds)

butterfly crunch best workout for abs

(Image credit: Future)

The Butterfly Crunch can be an awkward move to master at first, but it's one of the best exercises for lower abs - so it's worth mastering.

Start by lying back on the ground and bring the soles of your feet together, knees splayed out either side. Raise your head and shoulders from the ground slowly, keeping your hands either side of your head. You'll feel that crunch in your core. Hold this position, then slowly lower back.

Repeat as many times as possible for 30 to 60 seconds.

Deadbug (30 to 60 seconds)

deadbug best workout for abs

(Image credit: Future)

The Deadbug is a great move for exercise beginners, and although it looks simple, when done properly it's a great lower and upper ab workout. Plus it can help strengthen back muscles and boost posture. 

Lie on the ground, back flat on the floor. Your arms should be right above you in the air, and legs should be up in the air with knees at a 90-degree angle. Slowly lower your left leg straight out in front of you, until it's just inches from the ground. As you do so, lower your right arm behind you towards the floor. Then, pause, and bring both your left leg and right arm back to their start position. Then, do the same with your right leg and left arm.

It might be confusing at first to go with opposite arm and leg, however, in time, it does get easier!

Throughout the move, keep your lower back pressed against the ground, and be sure to go nice and slowly. 

Mountain Climbers (30 to 60 seconds)

mountain climber best workout for abs

(Image credit: Future)

Mountain Climbers are a great way to work obliques, the muscles that run either side of your core. 

Start in a plank position, with your shoulders above your wrists, body straight, and body balancing on your toes. Then, slowly, bring your left knee towards your right elbow. Pause, engage your core, keep that back flat, and return the left leg to the start. Next, do the same with your right knee, bringing it towards your left elbow. 

Throughout the movement, keep your back flat and core tight, and ensure your shoulders are directly over your wrists/hands. A lot of people lean back when doing this move to make it easier, but you won't be reaping the core benefits of this move if you do so.

Standing Ab Crunch (30 to 60 seconds)

standing ab crunch best workout for abs

(Image credit: Future)

Off the ground now and into a standing position. Whilst a crunch lying down is all well and good, the Standing Ab Crunch really works those obliques. Plus it's up there in the best exercise for upper abs category.

Stand tall with feet shoulder width apart. Place hands behind your head. Next, lift your left knee toward your left elbow, bending your torso, so the knee and elbow can come closer together. Slowly lower back to the start and repeat on the other side.

Throughout, keep your gaze forward so as not to arch your back round and much like most moves, go nice and slowly to really reap the full effects.

Focus on diet: get the most out of the best abs workouts

“More often than not, those looking to get visible abs will look past the most important factor: nutrition," explains professional fitness trainer and content creator, Elliot Burton

"You can do as many crunches as you like, but if your body fat percentage is too high, they simply won’t be visible. And when it comes to lowering your body fat percentage, what you’re eating – and how much you’re eating – is key.” 

Don't embark on a crash diet to achieve these goals, but take a long, hard look at your existing nutritional intake. 

Torching body fat is, at its simplest, a case of ensuring you are burning more calories than you take onboard via a healthy, balanced diet. As a really rough guide, the UK's NHS recommends 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 for men. This, of course, depends on height, weight, current fitness levels and the amount of activity you do during a 24-hour period, but it is a good place to start. In order to shift some fat, it is usually a case of reducing this daily intake by 200-400 calories per day. 

It seems very simple when it's put like that. Of course, we all know that it's much easier to say than it is to do. You should start by looking into how to eat healthily and find out how to lower cholesterol. And, of course, keep track of your progress with the best bathroom scales