Best workouts for abs to develop core strength and build a six-pack

The best workouts for abs build a strong core to improve your performance, aid balance, and prevent injury

Man doing a plank, one of the best workouts for abs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best workouts for abs help you build core strength and form an essential part of any workout routine. While it’s true that a good workout for your abs does help you develop a six-pack, there are many more benefits to incorporating abs exercises into your training plan. 

Developing your abdominal muscles improves stability, promotes good circulation, and positively affects your performance in a range of sports and workouts. That’s not to mention that a more robust core leads to improved posture and prevents lower back pain.  

It doesn’t take long for core training to show results, either. One study found that some aspects of core stability increased after just four weeks. Similarly, researchers found that core strength training can reduce back pain, while another group noted that strong ab muscles and core are crucial to preventing injury. 

So, whether you’re after the best abs workouts, the best lower abs exercises, or some of the best upper abs workouts, we’ve got you covered. Here are 12 great abs workouts to get you started.

The best workouts for abs: your ab-crunching moves

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. 

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

Ab Circles

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.

Plank

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

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

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

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

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.

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. 

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

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

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.

Toe Taps

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

(Image credit: Future)

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. 

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.

Double Toe Taps

For this move, the position is the same as for the toe taps above, but we add in a double tap. Tap down with each single leg, then tap both toes together so the rhythm is single, single-double.

These two toe tap exercises were put together by Sarah Overall, 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.

How to perform the best workouts for abs

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.

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

That said, there's more to the best abs workouts than the exercises alone. "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." 

That's why it's essential to focus on how to eat healthily alongside your great abs workouts to make the results of your hard work visible. It's also worth coupling your core training with the best exercises for weight loss if you want to torch fat. 

Ultimately, you need to be burning more calories than you consume. According to the UK's National Health Service (NHS) guide to understanding calories, women should eat 2,000 calories a day, while men need around 2,500.

These values will vary depending on your weight, height, and activity levels, are a reasonable estimate. To shift some fat, you should be looking to reduce your daily intake by around 200-400 calories a day, alongside your exercise regime.

Of course, we all know that it's much easier to say than it is to do. So, be sure to monitor your progress with a set of the best bathroom scales and keep your goals in sight.