There are endless ways to work your abs, with both targeted abs exercises and total-body movements that require your whole midsection be engaged to keep you stable. You can work your abs with weights or without. But no matter how you do it, to make sure your core is strong and able to do its job—both in everyday life and during your workouts—it’s important to work all the muscles, not just one or two.
Quick refresher on the abdominal muscles: They include the transverse abdominis, the deepest muscle in the abdominal wall that’s key in stabilizing the spine; the obliques, which run along the sides of your trunk and are used primarily in twisting and turning movements; and the rectus abdominis, which sits on top of all the other smaller muscles and tissues, and forms what you think of as “abs.” There are a handful of other muscles located in the abdominal area that contribute to a well-functioning core, but these are the main ones that bear the brunt of the weight and tend to be the focus of most abs exercises and workouts.
While some abs exercises may engage one muscle a little more intensely than another, none of these muscles typically ever work alone. They do their jobs together to form one strong unit and help you power through everything from a run to a really heavy lift.
The abs workout below includes a handful of bodyweight exercises that together show all your abs muscles some love. In less than eight minutes, you can challenge and strengthen these important muscles. But prepare yourself: You’re going to feel the burn pretty quickly. That’s normal. Continuing to work through that burn—keeping those muscles under tension for longer—will help you strengthen them. However, if you feel a sharp pain or find that these exercises irritate your lower back, stop doing them and talk with your doctor before doing this or any other workout. (And if you’re looking for core exercises that help with lower-back pain, you can find great ones here.)
You can do this workout on its own, but it’s also a great complement to your regular workout. Do it at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a strength or cardio workout to give your abs some extra work. If you only have a few minutes, you can also just do one or two rounds of the exercises instead of the full workout. Basically, you should feel free to use this abs workout however it works best for you and your routine—there’s really no wrong way.
Do each exercise for 30 seconds. Move quickly from one move to the next and avoid resting in between. (If you need to take a break, though, that’s totally fine, particularly if taking a break will ensure that you doing each move with proper form.) Do three rounds, or four if you’re up to it.
- Dead Bug: 30 seconds
- Forearm Plank Rock: 30 seconds
- Plank Up-Down: 30 seconds
- Lateral Plank Walk: 30 seconds
- Bird Dog Crunch: 30 seconds
1. Dead Bug
- Lie face up with your arms extended toward the ceiling and your legs in a tabletop position (knees bent 90 degrees and stacked over your hips). This is the starting position.
- Slowly extend your right leg out straight while simultaneously dropping your left arm overhead parallel to the floor. Keep both a few inches from the ground. Squeeze your butt and keep your core engaged the entire time, lower back pressed into the floor.
- Bring your arm and leg back to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side, extending your left leg and your right arm.
2. Forearm Plank Rock
- Start in a forearm plank with your forearms on the floor, elbows directly underneath your shoulders, hands facing forward so that your arms are parallel, and legs extended behind you. Tuck your tailbone and engage your core, butt, and quads.
- Rock your entire body forward a couple of inches so your shoulders go past your elbows toward your hands.
- Rock back a couple inches. That’s 1 rep.
- Make sure to keep your core, butt, and quads engaged the entire time.
3. Plank Up Down
- Start in high plank with your palms flat on the floor, hands shoulder-width apart, shoulders stacked directly above your wrists, legs extended behind you, and your core and glutes engaged. Place your feet hip-width apart.
- Lower your left arm down so that your forearm is on the floor. Then do the same with your right. You should now be in forearm plank position.
- Place your left hand back on the floor to extend your arm and follow with your right arm, so that you end back in high plank. That’s 1 rep.
- As you move, keep your hips as still as possible so that they’re not swaying from side to side. To make this easier, try widening your legs a little more.
4. Lateral Plank Walk
- Start in a high plank position with your palms flat on the floor, hands shoulder-width apart, shoulders stacked directly above your wrists, legs extended behind you, and your core and glutes engaged.
- Take a step to the right starting with your right hand and right foot and following with your left hand and foot, maintaining a plank position as you move. This is 1 rep.
- Do a set amount of reps in one direction, and then repeat the same number moving in the opposite direction.
5. Bird Dog Crunch
- Start on your hands and knees in tabletop position with your wrists stacked under your shoulders and your knees stacked under your hips.
- Extend your right arm forward and left leg back, maintaining a flat back and keeping your hips in line with the floor. Think about driving your foot toward the wall behind you.
- Squeeze your abs and draw your right elbow and left knee in to meet near the center of your body.
- Reverse the movement and extend your arm and leg back out.
- Continue this movement for a set amount of time, then repeat with the other arm and leg.