The best abs workouts to build core strength without weights

You don't need any equipment for the best abs workouts, just some time and space to strengthen your mid-body muscle

Woman holding a plank position
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best abs workouts help target your core, a section of mid-body muscle, and build ab muscle without weights. Whether you're after visible muscle or want a stronger core, these moves will help you reach your goals. 

Your core, which includes the rectus abdominis (otherwise known as the six-pack ab muscle), improves your circulation, workout performance, and stability. You could use one of the best ab rollers (opens in new tab) to develop strength, or take on this routine instead.

There are multiple muscles in your core, and several muscle groups in your abs, and we've designed this routine of the best abs workouts to target them all, so you can build practical, comprehensive muscle in a single session. 

Although there are some workout staples like planks and crunches, there are plenty of alternative workouts for abs to keep things interesting, including ab circles, Russian twists, and mountain climbers. 

The best workouts for abs

The following exercises offer a good workout for your abs and require no equipment. You should repeat the bodyweight-only moves for between 30 and 60 seconds, depending on your level of experience. 

If the thought of 60 seconds of core training sounds daunting, start with 30 seconds per move and gradually increase the time across sessions. The important thing is to focus on your form, so practice the movement to build muscle and avoid injury.

Reverse Crunches

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. 

Ab circles

Woman performing ab circles

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Seated on the floor with hands behind the body for stability or raised in front of your chest, bring your heels together and raise your legs off the floor.
  • Keeping the back straight and head high, this should immediately engage the abs.
  • Make a controlled sweeping clockwise circle with the feet in front of you, tensing the obliques (the muscles at the side of your stomach). 
  • Stop at the bottom of the move and repeat in an anti-clockwise motion.

Plank

Forearm plank

(Image credit: Future)

When performed correctly, the plank (opens in new tab) 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

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.

  • Lay flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground and 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.

Scissor sit-ups

Woman performing scissor sit-ups

(Image credit: Future)

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 for a deeper ab workout.

Russian twist

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 (opens in new tab) and the best adjustable dumbbells (opens in new tab).

  • 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). 
  • 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. 

Butterfly crunch

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.
  • Hold this position, then slowly lower back.

Deadbug

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.

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

  • 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.
  • 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.

Mountain climbers

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. 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.

  • 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. 

Standing ab crunch

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.

Toe taps

Woman doing toe taps, one of the best workouts for abs

(Image credit: Future)

These toe tap exercises were put together by Sarah Overall (opens in new tab), an experienced personal trainer. She advises that it is important to avoid arching your back, so contract your tummy by pulling your navel to your spine.

If your back loses contact with the floor and begins to arch, leave out the double and repeat the singles. If you want an additional challenge, lift head and shoulders slightly off the floor to a crunch position and look directly upwards. You should be able to fit an apple between your chin and chest.

  • Lie on your back with your arms alongside your hips, raise your legs, and bend your knees so they are in line with your hips. Tilt your pelvis upward, ensuring your back is flat against the floor.
  • Keeping the 90-degree bend in the knee, lower your right foot to the floor and “tap” the toe. Return the right leg to the start and repeat with the left leg. 

How to perform the best abs workouts

The most essential component of the best workouts for abs is your form. Even if you complete fewer reps, getting the technique perfected will make it easier to increase your muscle strength without injuring yourself.

During exercise, especially resistance training, you contract and release your muscles. For example, during a sit-up, you are contracting the abdominals on the way up 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. However, it's not always easy to tighten the muscles around your stomach and other organs, especially if you're just starting out.

To contract your abs, squeeze your stomach muscles until they feel tighter and you experience a deep burn. This is the feeling you should be going after while working out.

FAQs

How do you get a toned stomach?

The best abs workouts help build core strength and ab muscle, but that's only part of how to get a toned stomach. "More often than not, those looking to get visible abs will look past the most important factor: nutrition," explains professional fitness trainer Elliot Burton (opens in new tab)

"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." 

That's why it's essential to focus on how to eat healthily (opens in new tab) alongside your great abs workouts to make the results of your hard work visible. It's also worth coupling your core training with a high-intensity HIIT workout for fat loss (opens in new tab).

An automotive and technology writer by trade, Leon keeps in shape by lifting heavy objects inside and riding various machinery outside. Leon is an Editor who has written for Wired Uk, The Sun, Stuff Magazine, and Fit&Well's sister title, T3. Now though, Leon is working for The Gear Loop covering just about everything from hiking to kayaking. 


With contributions from