Advanced Ab Workout for Super Core Strength

Before you launch into the advanced ab workout, you will want to ease into it with some basic core exercises to warm up the abdominal muscles. A plank is a great way to begin.

The plank provides a simple and effective core warm-up because it engages all the muscles of the core from your toes up to your head. Holding the plank requires the activation of all the major ab muscles as well as many stabilizer muscles that are often ignored.

If you want to work your abs some more, you can also try the 10-Minute Summer Ab Circuit Workout.


Plank (Warm-Up, Part One)

plank exercise

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Begin in the basic plank position. Your torso will be in a straight line from head to toe and avoid any drooping or sagging of the hips or shoulders. Also, avoid arching your back or hanging your head.

Warm up by maintaining the plank for at least 60 seconds while maintaining control. If you start shaking or losing form, drop to your knees and rest a few seconds and continue until you've completed a full minute.

If the basic plank is too easy, after 60 seconds, add a few arm and leg lifts to the next 60 seconds. Every 15 seconds, alternate lifting one arm out in front of you for 10 seconds, repeating on the other side. Then switch to the legs. Lift the toes 5-10 inches off the floor, hold for 15 seconds, and repeat with the other leg.


Side Plank (Warm-Up, Part Two)

side plank

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After completing one to two minutes of the basic plank, you can move on to the side plank. The side plank is important for completing a full warm-up because it targets the lateral core stabilizers, including the obliques and transverse abdominis, but it can help improve the lateral stability of knee and hip joint as well.

This is helpful for preventing and reducing knee pain in athletes who don't do a lot of lateral movements in their sports. For example, if you only run forward, bike, or do things like elliptical trainers, you will rarely work your lateral stabilizers. This exercise can help keep them strong and balanced.

Do the side plank as pictured with your torso in a straight line from head to feet. Hold the position for 30–60 seconds while maintaining control and then switch sides. If you lose balance, start to shake, or find your hips starting to sag, stop, rest for a few seconds, and continue.

If the basic side plank is too easy, you can add to the difficulty by lifting your top leg 5–10 inches from your lower leg, holding it for 10 seconds while maintaining your balance. Then lower it for 5 seconds and repeat. Don't forget to do both sides.


Bicycle Crunch

Bicycle Crunch

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Easing into the advanced ab workout means starting with the bicycle crunch to target the rectus abdominis and obliques. It tops the list of the best exercises to build strength and endurance in these muscles according to a popular abdominal exercise research study published by San Diego State University.

The bicycle crunch is fairly easy to do, but many people get it wrong. To do it properly, lay flat on the floor and keep your lower back pressed to the ground. Rest your hands behind your head without pulling on your neck.

Bring your knees up to about a 45-degree angle and slowly go through a bicycle pedal motion, as pictured. First, touch your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee. Perform the exercise in a slow, controlled motion. Repeat 10–25 repetitions on each side.


V-Sit Ab Exercise

V-sit abdominal exercise

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The V-sit ab exercise is a tough, yet effective abdominal and core exercise that works the rectus abdominis, the external obliques, and internal obliques. This exercise also engages the hip flexors.

To do the V-sit, start in a seated position on the floor, contract your abdominal muscles and core, and lift your legs up to a 45-degree angle as pictured. Reach your arms straight forward or reach up toward your shins as you are able.

Maintain good core posture and a strong spine while you hold the position for several seconds. Rest and repeat several times. As you get stronger, hold the position longer.


Seated Twists with Medicine Ball

Seated Oblique Twist

Matt Henry Gunther

Seated twists with a medicine ball are a more advanced exercise that work the core and abdominal muscles, particularly the rectus abdominis and the external and internal obliques.

The starting position has you sitting at about a 45-degree angle and holding a medicine ball firmly with both hands in front of you. Start the movement by contracting your abs and slowly twisting from your torso to your right and tap the medicine ball on the floor beside you.

Then quickly, but with a controlled motion, contract your abs and twist your torso and touch the medicine ball to the other side. Repeat 10-20 reps and rest.

Choose the right medicine ball for optimal conditioning. If it's too heavy, your form will suffer and you may start swaying or rocking from side to side. Always start with a lighter medicine ball when you first begin doing this exercise and build up after your form is perfect.


Plank on an Exercise Ball

Plank on Balance Ball

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Performing a plank on an exercise ball is a challenging core workout for anyone. Holding this position on an unstable surface forces you to dynamically engage more abdominal muscles across the entire core from shoulders to toes.

To maintain a solid posture, you will be constantly adjusting your stabilizers and will have much greater muscle activation throughout the abs.

To get a bit more intense, rather than holding steady, try making slight circles with your upper body, first clockwise and then counterclockwise, and you will feel a bit more burn. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Rest and repeat.


Ab Hold

ab hold

 standretGetty Images

One deceptively difficult, but very simple and effective ab exercise, is the basic ab hold. All it requires is a floor and some determination.

Start on the floor with your feet outstretched (more difficult) or your knees slightly bend with your heels on the floor (a bit easier). Contract your core, lift your upper body from the hips so your shoulders are about 10 inches off the floor.

When you are first trying this exercise, place your hands behind your head with elbows out to the side. As you gain strength, stretch your arms out along your sides with palms up, and simply hold that position for up to a minute at a time. Ouch. It's a good one.


Dragon Flag

Dragon flag

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We can thank martial arts master Bruce Lee for giving us the dragon flag ab exercise. This is arguably one of the more advanced bodyweight exercises you can do to build a strong core and powerful abs.

Because of its difficulty, it is not recommended for beginners, and it is extremely important to do it correctly. Sloppy or half-baked form won't help your abs, and it just might harm your neck and back.

Check out the detailed article about the dragon flag to learn the proper way to do this movement, and a video to learn about progressions before you try it.


Single Leg Bridge

Single Leg Bridge Exercise

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The single leg bridge exercise is a good way to wrap up your core workout in order to keep your core strong and balanced. The single leg bridge is a bit more challenging than the basic bridge exercise.

It targets and strengthens the gluteus maximus and hamstrings, but done properly, it is also a terrific core strengthening exercise that targets the posterior chain and the back of the body.

Don't mistakenly think this one is easy—most people get it wrong. The key is to keep your hips level throughout the movement. Most people will allow one side of the pelvis to drop slightly, which decreases the effectiveness of the exercise. Keep an eye on your hip bones or place your hands on your hips to ensure they are level and flat.

Start by laying on your back, hands by your sides, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor, directly under your knees. Lift your hips up into a basic bridge position and contract your core and glutes. Slowly raise and extend one leg. Keep your pelvis raised and level.

Work up to​ 30 seconds while maintaining control. If you lose form, or your hips drop, rest and work on the other side.

1 Source
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  1. American Council on Exercise. American Council on Exercise (ACE)-sponsored study reveals best and worst abdominal exercises.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.