The Best Abs Exercises You're Not Doing

Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
When people think “abs” they usually think of endless crunches or sit-ups, but it’s really way more complicated than that.

What they really should be thinking about are moves that work the core — as in the entire core. These muscles are so much more than your six-pack (yes, everyone has a “washboard” they can be proud of, whether there’s some harmless padding on top or not), both in form and in function. Your core includes everything from the tops of your shoulders to the creases below your butt, from the outermost rectus abdominis (this is the muscle that looks like a six-pack) and side obliques to the deep stabilizers that support your spine. They’re also responsible for pretty much all coordinated movement — and non-movement — you do all day, from putting away groceries to sitting up at a desk.

Therefore, the very best “abs” exercises work all those core muscles in one of two ways (or both): by facilitating movement or by stabilizing against movement.

Ahead, we'll show you 16 moves that fit the bill. My advice (oh yeah, did I mention I'm a personal trainer?) is to choose three to five of these (ideally, one or two that target the front, sides, and back of your body, respectively) as a great core finisher to your regular workout.

To make it a core workout all on its own, do that same number of moves as a circuit, one after the other, and repeat it up to four times through.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Hip Lifts

Sometimes called “reverse crunches,” this small-but-mighty movement strengthens the core all around: back, front, and sides.

How-to: Lie on your back, hands stacked under your tailbone. Pick your feet up so your legs are aimed up toward the sky, knees slightly bent.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Hip Lifts (cont.)

How-to:
Engage through the core by pulling down through your bellybutton and lift your hips and butt up off the ground (they might not go very high, and that's ok!). Release the core tension to lower back down, and repeat. Try not to use any pumping momentum by swinging your legs. Do 15 to 20 reps.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Slider Plank Arm Circles

Once regular planks have gotten too easy, channel your inner Karate Kid to wax on and off on the floor.

How-to: Get a pair of paper plates if your floors are carpeted, or two folded hand towels or thick socks if you have a hard surface. Place your hands on/in your accessory, and come into a straight-arm plank.

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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Slider Plank Arm Circles

How-to:
One at a time, circle each hand as if you’re waxing the floor, while maintaining your strong plank — hips level to shoulders, glutes and core engaged.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Slider Plank Arm Circles

How-to:
Aim for 10 sets of circles if you can.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Kneeling Wood Chops

A hugely dynamic exercise, wood chops are awesome for your abs—and if you’re ever camping somewhere and need to split wood.

How-to: Grab a single dumbbell around 10 pounds. Come down on one knee as if you were going to propose. Hold the dumbbell in both hands by the handle. Twisting your torso slightly away from the up knee, raise the weight high above your head, tilting your head up slightly so it’s in your gaze.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Kneeling Wood Chops (cont.)

How-to:
With control, chop the dumbbell down and across your up knee, so it’s outside that hip; follow it with your head and eyes. Repeat 10 times before switching to the other side.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Supine Flutterkicks

“Supine” simply means on your back. But don’t think this one’s easy just because you’re lying down.

How-to: Come down on your back on a mat. Place your hands on top of each other underneath your tailbone to provide a bit of lower-back support.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Supine Flutterkicks (cont.)

How-to:
Raise your legs about 6 to 10 inches off the floor. Keep them straight as you flutter your feet up and down quickly, going for 30 seconds.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Supine Flutterkicks (cont.)

How-to:
Want more of a challenge? Lift your head and shoulders off the floor (look up rather than at your feet so you’re lifting rather than crunching).
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Dead Bugs

With a silly name and a silly-seeming movement, you’d think these would be easy. But nope.

How-to: Lie on your back and extend your legs and arms straight up toward the ceiling, so they’re at right angles with your torso (keep your head down).
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Dead Bugs (cont.)

How-to: Slowly lower one arm back overhead and the opposite leg toward the floor, stopping with each is at a 45-degree angle. With the same snail pace, bring the limbs back to the start. Now do the other side. Go for 10 to 15 total reps (each side together is one).
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Bear Crawls

A major function of the core is to enable coordinated movement by transferring power from the limbs. There’s nothing more limb-to-core-coordinated than getting down on all fours and crawling around.

How-to: Start on all fours, on your hands and up on the balls of your feet.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Bear Crawls (cont.)

How-to: Walk yourself forward the length of your room, or if you’re short on space, four paces.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Bear Crawls (cont.)

How-to: Then reverse direction, bear-crawling your way back (or do four paces back). Repeat for 30 seconds total time.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Golf Swings
Teeing off actually requires quite a bit of core coordination as the body goes from the backswing to the follow-through. This slo-mo version of the movement targets the most core-heavy portion.

How-to: Stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Golf Swings (cont.)
How-to: Clasp your hands and hold them off to one hip. Keeping your arms straight, pivot your feet and deliberately send your arms up to the sky over your opposite shoulder, as if you were swinging a golf club in slow motion.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Golf Swings (cont.)
How-to: Pivot back as you return your hands to the hip.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Golf Swings (cont.)
How-to: Do 10 reps on one side, then switch sides, as shown. This can be made harder by holding a weight such as a medicine ball or single dumbbell.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Cross Connect
Think core work mean you have to be on the ground in some way? Think again. The core has to work in upright activities like walking and running as well, and this exercise helps to train and strengthen in that regard.

How-to: Stand tall with your hands behind your head.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Cross Connect (cont.)
Alternately raise one knee high and across your body while twisting from the upper torso to bring your opposite elbow toward it. (You may not actually connect.)
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Cross Connect (cont.)
Keep your elbows wide; don’t bring them in around your head to make it happen.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Squat Chops
Another standing core move, here the upper and lower body move while the core stays strong and stable.

How-to: Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Raise your hands straight overhead and clasp them. Squat back and down, weight in your heels and sending your butt back as if you were sitting in a chair, while simultaneously chopping your arms down in front of you and between your knees.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Squat Chops (cont.)
Push your feet firmly into the ground to stand up, sending the arms back overhead. Repeat 10 times. To make it more challenging, hold a medicine ball or single dumbbell (or really anything else that’s heavy and graspable) in your hands.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
The Plank
It wouldn’t be a core exercise roundup without it. Before you roll your eyes and click on, there’s a secret to a perfect plank you might not know. Ready?

You have to use your butt.

Think about it for sec. You’re holding yourself up on your forearms and toes only. The part of the body that’s farthest from those two points is your booty, which is the heaviest part of anyone’s body (the glutes being the biggest muscles and all). So, as soon as you pop up into a plank, squeeze those cheeks and don’t let go.

How-to: From your stomach, place your forearms flat on the ground, so your elbows are directly below your shoulders. Kickstand one toe, then the other, and clench that tush. Pretend you’re gripping a $100 bill and you don’t want anyone to steal it. Hold for up to a minute, then rest before repeating. (There’s no huge benefit to holding it any longer, because you’ll just get fatigued and lose your form.) Also, forearms are better than hands, because most people’s wrists will give out before their cores will.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Up Up, Down Down
When minute-long planks become a cinch — and it will happen — try adding movement, which pushes those core muscles to stabilize even more (read: work harder).

How-to: Start in a forearm plank. Carefully pick up one arm and place the hand so it’s right under your shoulder; press up and let the second arm follow, so you’re now up in a straight-arm plank (that’s the “up up” in the name).
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Up Up, Down Down (cont.)
Lower back down, leading with the same arm, then the other, so you’re back on your forearms (the “down down”). Repeat with the opposite hand leading. Do 10 total (5 each side). The trick: Really engage your glutes and core, so your hips don’t sway or dip side to the side.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Plank Hip Dips
This variation adds a bit more oblique action to the usual plank, while still requiring stabilization through the front and back core muscles.

How-to: Begin in a forearm plank.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Plank Hip Dips (cont.)
Keeping your feet planted and rotate your hips to one side, maintaining a hovering position above the ground.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Plank Hip Dips (cont.)
Right yourself back through center plank, leveling the hips, then rotate the other hip under you. Do 10 sets.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Bird Dogs
A staple of yoga and physical therapy alike, bird dogs are basically core coordination 101 — but don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re easy.

How-to: Come down to all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Bird Dogs (cont.)
Extend one arm straight forward and the opposite leg straight back, foot flexed. Hold for a moment or several, focusing on making the longest line possible from fingertips to sole of foot while keeping shoulders and hips square to the ground. Bring both limbs back in, not touching down if you can help it, and repeat. The longer you hold the limbs out, the harder it is.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Bridges
As already mentioned, the core includes a whole bunch of muscles other than that front six-pack. Bridges particularly target the posterior — or rear — part of the core, including the spine-supporting muscles and, yep, the glutes (this will be a theme).

How-to: Lie on your back, arms along your sides. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, heels as close to your butt as you can get ‘em.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Bridges (cont.)
Press your feet hard into the floor (don’t let the heels pop up), and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up, so they’re fully extended and your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Hold for a few seconds or longer, then lower down for a moment before pressing up once more. Do 10.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Chorus-Line Bridges
Once you’ve mastered the standard bridge, kick it up a notch (literally) by adding kicks. You guessed it: Adding movement makes it harder on the core.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Chorus-Line Bridges (cont.)
How-to: From a strong bridge position, shift your weight into one foot so you can pick up the other, extending it so that the leg is straight and the thighs are still parallel.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Chorus-Line Bridges (cont.)
Now, go from bent knee to straight knee without anything else changing — at all. Replace that foot right next to the other one, then shift and extend the second leg in the same way. Repeat for 10 sets (both legs = 1 set).
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Side Planks
The side plank is similar to the standard plank, in terms of requiring the muscles to work in coordination with each other to support the body, but it puts more onus on the oblique muscles (the ones along the sides of your waist).

How-to: Lie on your side, elbow bent and aligned under the shoulder, and forearm perpendicular to the body. Stack your feet and bend your knees slightly.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Side Planks (cont.)
Press the side of your foot into the floor to pop up, so you’re resting on that foot and the forearms; extend the top arm along you body (easier) or up to the sky (harder). If this is too tough to hold for at least 10 seconds, come down and bend the lower leg; pop up again so you’re resting on the side of the knee and the forearm. If the straight-leg version is too easy, lift the top leg up and hold it in the air.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Plank To Side Plank
Once you’ve mastered planks, front and side, why not put ‘em together? For this one, you’ll be on straight arms, so take care with your hand placement to protect your wrists — or even come up on a fist if your wrists don’t like being bent.

How-to: Start in a straight-arm plank, hands right under shoulders and glutes squeezed. Have your feet about hip-width apart.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Plank To Side Plank
Rotate to one side, lifting the opposite arm up to the sky and rolling onto the edges of your feet. Try to move as one unit, in a straight line from head to toe and not letting the hips drop at all. Do 10 reps (side-to-side is one).
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Walkouts
In case you haven’t caught on, a major function of the core is to stabilize. This full-body exercise works the core, back, and shoulders all together, with some mobility-based flexibility thrown in, because who doesn’t have tight hamstrings?

How-to: Start standing.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Walkouts (cont.)
Hinge at the hips to place the hands on the floor (bending your knees if you need to).
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Walkouts (cont.)
Take small steps forward with your hands until you’re in a straight-arm plank, hold for a moment, and then walk your hands back to your feet. Roll up to stand and repeat 10 times.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Russian Twists
These should really be called “twist-resistors,” since that’s more of the point here. (No idea why they’re Russian, though.)

How-to: Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Clasp your hands, fingers interlaced, and pull your bellybutton in toward your spine to lift your shoulders up off the ground.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Russian Twists (cont.)
Move your clasped hands to touch the outside of one hip, but keep your shoulders broad and square, resisting the urge to let your waist twist. Move your hands to the opposite hip, maintaining your form and not letting your shoulder blades drop. Repeat 10 times. Too easy? Hold a medicine ball or weight in both hands and move it from hip to hip, instead.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Leg Raises
Crazy: There is no such thing as lower abs, at least in terms of being able to “work” them. The primary abdominal muscle is the rectus abdominis, or six-pack muscle, which starts just under the ribs and ends just above the pelvis. If you’re contracting the “lower” portion, you’re contracting it all. However, there is definitely a benefit to doing certain exercises touted as being for the “lower abs,” particularly this one, because it forces the core to stabilize so beautifully and completely.

How-to: Lie on your back, placing your hands underneath the sacrum (lowest part of the spine). Keeping your back flat, raise your feet up toward the sky, ideally straight and together (though a micro-bend in the knees is cool, too).
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Leg Raises
With control, keep the legs extended and lower them slowly, as one unit, toward the ground — stopping the moment you feel your lower back wanting to pop off the floor. Hold and hover the legs for a moment; then, raise them back up to the sky. Do 10 reps. The slower you go on the raise and the longer you hover, the harder it is.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
U-Ups
Sit-ups and crunches have gotten a lot of trainer backlash of late, mainly because they involve repeated spinal flexion (bending at the waist), which our bodies are already great at, since we sit and slouch so much — so why train your muscles to do something you don’t want them to do in day-to-day life? But that's not really what's going on.

This move might look kind of like a sit-up, but the goal is actually the opposite: to control the limbs from the core as they extend out and away from it.

How-to: Lie on your back, arms on the ground overhead, legs straight.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
U-Ups (cont.)
Simultaneously raise your arms so the fingers and toes are pointed toward the sky, forming right angles with the torso. Keep the head down.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
U-Ups (cont.)
Slowly extend both your arms and legs out at between a 30- and 45-degree angle to the ground (don’t let the lower back pop up). Hold; then, bring back together at 90 degrees. Do 10.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Windshield Wipers
This one trains the obliques in particular to hold stable even as they want (desperately) to twist. Start with a small movement and get bigger with the windshield-wiper action as you get stronger.

How-to: On your back, place your arms flat out on the ground like a T. Raise your legs up, feet to the sky.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Windshield Wipers (cont.)
Keeping your legs glued together, lower them slowly to the side, going only as low as you can control without your hip lifting off the ground.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Windshield Wipers (cont.)
Bring your legs back to center, then over to the other side. Do 10 sets. If keeping the legs straight isn't happening yet, bend your knees.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Supermans
Another one for the back of the core, these also have a posture benefit by unfurling tightness in the chest that can lead to a forward shoulder hunch.

How-to: Lie on your stomach on the floor, arms extended overhead.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Supermans (cont.)
Keeping your head neutral (nose toward the floor), squeeze your glutes, back, and shoulder blades to lift your arms and legs up off the floor. Hold for a beat, then lower down.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Swimming
A progression from supermans, this exercise makes the rear core muscles both stabilize against and coordinate movement. (Yeah, it’s not easy.)

How-to: Lie on your stomach, arms extended overhead, neck neutral. Lift up both arms and legs off the floor and alternately raise and lower the opposite arm and leg, kinda like you’re doing a swimming flutter kick with all your limbs.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Swimming (cont.)
Count 10 sets.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Reverse Hypers
For so many people, lazy or inactive glutes are a huge factor in core weakness. This move is great to target those muscles as well as the spinal stabilizers that become stretched out from slouching in chairs.

How-to: Lie face-down atop a bench, so that your torso is supported and your legs are hanging off from the hip-crease down, toes resting on the ground.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Reverse Hypers (cont.)
Hold on with your hands, and engage through the glutes to lift both of your legs simultaneously, until they’re parallel or very slightly past parallel with the bench. Hold for a second or several; then, lower your legs down without letting your feet actually rest on the ground. Repeat 10 times. The longer you hold at the top, the harder it is, but don’t hold so much that you feel pinching in your lower back.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Mountain Climbers
Core exercises are just about contracting, resisting, and holding—they can be aerobic, too, like this one.

How-to: Start in a straight-arm plank.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Mountain Climbers (cont.)
Walk your feet in slightly, so your butt pikes up toward the sky. Pick up one foot and drive your knee in toward your chest; then, quickly replace that foot and drive the other one up.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Mountain Climbers (cont.)
(It’s kind of like running in place with high knees, but your hands are on the ground.) Too much for your shoulders? Place your hands on a bench or another slightly elevated surface.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
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