Ab workouts generally go one of two ways: They feel far too easy (making you question how effective they really are) or they’re so difficult, you’re panting out of breath after just three reps. (No? Just me?) But that’s not to say abs movements should be pushed to the wayside. Instead, look for simple workouts that challenge multiple muscles in your body for a sweat sesh that bolsters results.
Not sure where to start? Ahead, a few of the industry’s top trainers share their favorite abs exercises that go above and beyond to work shoulders, glutes, legs, too. Trust us, you’ll want to work these into your next gym day.
1. Bicycle crunch with weights: Sitting on the floor with one light weight in each hand (think: three to eight pounds), curl back with your chin to chest. “Bend your right leg to a 90-degree angle, hovering off the floor,” instructs Pure Barre VP of training and technique, Katelyn DiGiorgio. “Extend the left leg to hover above the floor, keeping it straight. Rotate right and reach the weights past your right thigh.” When performing this movement, execute small crunches up to the right for 30 seconds before switching legs and moving to the left. “Bicycle the legs as you curl side to side and repeat there for 30 seconds as well,” says DiGiorgio. “This exercise targets all major movers of the core and the weights in the arms to add some bonus shoulder work.” FWIW: Here’s the right way to do a crunch:
2. Plank with a renegade row: “This move can be super impactful for multiple areas in your body, including your rectus, obliques, glutes, and back,” says Flywheel director of talent development Carrie Kaschak. “Planks are also great for creating definition and strength in your shoulders and can also create noticeable fatigue in the glutes and quads.” When you add a renegade row with medium-sized weights to the classic movement, you’ll further engage your upper back and core, not to mention pump up your heart rate.
To perform the movement, Kaschak says to set up in a plank position with legs about hip-width distance apart, arms extended beneath the shoulders, and hips in alignment with shoulders. “Engage the lower abdominal region by drawing your belly button slightly forward,” Kaschak instructs. “Ensure you are not sagging in the lower back and creating a U-shape with the lower spine.” Using medium-sized weights, alternate pulling each weight alongside your body, with your elbow pulling straight up and back from plank position for a low row. “At the top of the motion, your palm faces towards your hip, elbow is high, and thumb is even to your hip bone,” Kaschak says. “Squeeze the center of your back and minimize hip and shoulder rotation.” If you need to modify the movement, you can drop to your knees, but keep the same alignment mentioned above in the lower spine.
3. Classic plank: You might dread this simple movement, but its results are undeniable. Set up the move by coming onto your forearms and the balls of your feet, ensuring that they’re hip-width distance apart with your hips as high as your ribs, but not higher. “Grip your glutes, pull your abs in tightly, and exhale sharply as you hold the position,” says Bar Method master trainer Kate Grove. “Aside from working the abs, planks also work the glutes and back muscles, lengthen the hamstrings, and sculpt the quads.” Here’s the right way to do one.
4. Side elbow plank with hip dips: “This exercise is really great for toning and building muscle from your upper back all the way down to your legs,” Rumble boxing trainer Moise Scott says. “Whichever arm you choose, you are using that entire side to keep yourself lifted off the ground.” He explains that holding any plank engages every muscle in your body, as you’re fighting against the pull of gravity, which is extremely challenging. The result? Lean, strong muscles from head to toe. “Adding the hip dip (dipping your hip as close to the ground as possible without touching) increases the stress on your core which of course gives better results,” he adds.
5. Sit-up with a cross punch: “This move will create heat in the oblique and rectus regions of your abdominals, as well as fire up the shoulders,” says Kaschak. To set it up, sit on a mat with a pair of light weights and position the dumbbells at your chest, keeping your elbows pulled inward towards your sides. “Lower to the floor using a C-curve spine technique—think about sinking the lowermost part of your back first, then the middle, and stopping short of releasing your shoulders completely to the ground,” she instructs. “Exhale and reverse the motion to come up to seated.” At the top of the movement, still slightly leaning back, twist both right and left with arms directly in front of your body. “Add a punch to each direction with palms down,” Kaschak instructs. “When you do this move several times through, your shoulders will certainly feel it just as much as the abs.”
6. Straight leg clam: Ignite your core and booty with this take on a classic abductor movement. “Lay down flat and put thin support underneath your sits bones to engage a pelvic tilt,” Grove explains. “Extend your legs into a pike position and place your hands behind your head with your elbows out of peripheral vision. While looking up, lift your ribcage up towards the sky on tempo. Make a small bend and extension of the legs for maximum burn.”
7. Panther shoulder taps: While Scott says this is a really fun exercise, it’s one you’ll likely hate during the process. “The concept is to stabilize your body by holding a bear plank (on your hands and toes, back straight and core engaged, knees 90 degrees and held right under your hips), and to only move your arms to tap your opposite shoulder,” he explains. “The hardest part is keeping your entire body still. But if done correctly, your shoulders and abs should get a nice burn.”
8. Wide second lunging windmill combination: Last but not least, we have this total body burner. To set up the movement, bring your feet out wider than your hips and turn your toes out slightly, with your arms extending into a ‘T’ at shoulder height. “Let the chest shift forward slightly (hinged posture) as you lunge side to side,” DiGiorgio says. “Repeat for 30 seconds, then keep lunging side to side; adding windmill arms, reaching opposite hand to opposite ankle.” After 30 more seconds, she says to add a small skier hop for another 30 seconds. “The total body engagement and small skier hop in this exercise work the abs laterally from a standing position, while strengthening the inner and outer thigh muscles.”