A Simple Beginner Ab Day Workout

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Hitting the gym for ab day is like a "best case/worst case" scenario—working your abs doesn't seem so bad going in, and certainly you look forward to seeing the results. But after just a few minutes of planks and sit ups, you may suddenly remember why ab day is so hard—it hurts!

The good news is, you don't have to torch your abs with advanced TRX pikes or hanging leg raises to enjoy core-firming results. In fact, you're better off starting with a beginner routine and building your strength gradually to help prevent potential injuries or the type of soreness that could sideline you from exercise for days. So, if it's been a while since you last work your abs, go ahead and start with this accessible and simple beginner ab day workout.

Ab Day Basics

One thing to keep in mind is that ab day doesn't actually have to be its own, separate workout. You can tack a few sets of exercises onto the end of another workout routine, or even do them before a cardio session. Or if you'd prefer, you can do them on their own. Just make sure you spend a few minutes warming up first to make sure your muscles are ready to react to the stimulus.

Additionally, keep in mind that all strength exercises work your core in some capacity, so you do not necessarily need to even add in extra sets or core-specific days unless you want to focus on that area of your body. After all, the point of ab day is to specifically work on targeting your core.

The main muscle groups you'll target include the internal and external obliques (the side abs), the rectus abdominis (the six pack), and the transverse abdominis (the deep, corset muscles of the abdomen). You may also hit muscles responsible for supporting your core, including your low back, hips, and glutes.

Because your abdominal muscles are responsible for supporting your torso, keeping you upright, and transferring energy between your upper and lower body, keeping them strong is vital to everyday health. In fact, weak abs contribute to low back pain and other injuries.

That's why, when you add an ab workout to your routine, you want to work on strengthening your abs in a well-rounded way that will fully support your core. In other words, you don't want to simply crank out 10 sets of sit ups, which primarily target the rectus abdominis.

Rather, you want to choose exercises that are going to target each of the abdominal muscles equally. In addition to tightening up your midsection, this approach may help safeguard you from back pain—or potentially even reduce any pain you're experiencing.

Beginner Ab Day Workout

If you'e performing this ab day workout at the beginning of your routine or as a stand-alone exercise session, make sure you spend about 5 to 10 minutes warming up by walking or jogging slowly and doing a few active stretches.

Once you are warmed up, plan on performing two to three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions per exercise, unless otherwise noted. If you're limited on time, choose three to four exercises from this list—selecting at least one each to target the obliques, transverse abdominis, and rectus abdominis.

Dead Bug Exercise

dead bug exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The dead bug exercise, which targets the transverse abdominis and spinal erectors, is a great way to help stabilize your core and support your spine. It will build strength in your transverse abdominis and help you build coordination for contra-limb movement, which is just a fancy way of saying moving your opposite arm and leg at the same time. Here is how to do this exercise.

  1. Lie on your back and extend your arms directly over your chest.
  2. Bend your knees and lift your feet from the floor so your knees and hips are bent at 90-degree angles, your knees directly over your hips.
  3. Tighten your core, and working to keep your torso fixed in place (no side-to-side twisting) extend your right arm backward, bringing your upper arm next to your ear as you simultaneously extend your left leg.
  4. Make sure this a slow and controlled action, with neither your right hand nor left leg touching the floor.
  5. Return your arm and leg back to the starting position, and repeat to the opposite side to complete a full repetition.

Bird Dog Crunch

dog position

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The bird dog crunch—which targets the transverse abdominis, spinal erectors, rectus abdominis, glutes—is actually very similar to the dead bug exercise, but it is performed on your hands and knees, rather than on your back. This change in position (and a slightly different movement) targets the glutes, low back, and rectus abdominis to a slightly greater extent than the dead bug exercise. Here is how to do this exercise.

  1. Start on your hands and knees on a mat. Your hands should be under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Engage your core, drawing your bellybutton toward your spine and checking to make sure your back is in a straight position. You should be able to "draw" a straight line from your tailbone to the top of your head.
  3. Lift your right hand off the ground and extend it forward, pointing to the front of the room as you simultaneously extend your left leg behind you, tightening your glute to press your leg back.
  4. Make sure your torso remains straight and steady throughout. As you reverse the movement to bring your arm and leg back to the center, "crunch" your abdominals to draw your right elbow to your left knee under your torso.
  5. Continue performing a full set of repetitions with your right arm and left leg before switching sides.

Forearm Plank

plank

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

You are probably familiar with the forearm plank, but there are a few things you need to check to make sure you are getting your form right. When done correctly, this targets the deep, stabilizing muscles of your core including the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, spinal erectors, shoulders, chest, thighs, glutes as well as the vast majority of the front half of your body.

  1. Start on your hands and knees on a mat and lower your elbows and forearms to the floor, so your elbows are directly under your shoulders.
  2. Step your feet back so your legs are fully extended and you're holding your body off the ground with the balls of your feet and your forearms.
  3. Engage your abdomen and check to make sure your body forms a straight line from your heels to your head. You don't want your glutes to be pressed up toward the ceiling or for your low back to sway.
  4. Make sure your neck is neutral so you are not craning or dropping your head.
  5. Hold this position as long as you can without losing your perfect posture, aiming for at least 30 to 60 seconds.

Crunch

The crunch—which targets the rectus abdominis—is a tried, tested, and true exercise to help strengthen your core muscles. But just because you may have been doing crunches since elementary school, you still need to double-check your form. Here's how.

  1. Lie on your back on a mat with your knees bent and your feet planted.
  2. Cross your hands across your chest. This helps prevent you from using your arms to pull your head and neck forward.
  3. Engage your core focusing on using just your abdominal muscles.
  4. Lift your head, neck, and shoulders away from the mat, curling forward slightly, without pulling your chin to your chest. (Try to keep your head and neck in a steady position). The goal is to lift your shoulder blades a few inches off the floor.
  5. Lower yourself slowly back toward the mat, stopping just before you touch down.
  6. Keep your abs engaged as you continue adding repetitions.

Seated Oblique Twist

oblique twist with medicine ball

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

You may commonly see the seated oblique twist performed with a medicine ball or dumbbell for added resistance. But, there's no reason you can't start with an unweighted version to help build strength in your obliques and rectus abdominis. Here's how to perform this move.

  1. Sit tall on a mat with your knees bent, your heels on the floor.
  2. Clasp your hands in front of your chest and your abdomen.
  3. Engage your core and lean back, keeping your spine and neck straight and neutral until you feel your abs tighten up to hold you in place. (You should be at a roughly 45 to 60 degree angle). Your thighs and torso should be making a "V" shape.
  4. Keep your back straight and twist as far as you can to the right. (Your right elbow will align behind your right hip).
  5. Return to center before twisting as far as you can to the left, then back to center again. This completes one repetition. As you build strength, you can hold a medicine ball in your hands as you twist.

C-Curve

C-Curve

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The C-curve, which targets the rectus abdominis, is a popular Pilates move that more-or-less takes you through the top half of a situp. By building strength with the C-curve and the crunch separately, over time, you will be able to transition to a full sit up with proper form.

  1. Sit on a mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place your hands behind your thighs and point your elbows outward.
  3. Tighten your core and sit up tall, focusing on extending your spine and achieving good posture.
  4. Inhale and pull yourself even taller.
  5. Exhale, and vertebrae-by-vertebrae, lower your back toward the floor as you keep your shoulders and head forward to create a C-shaped curve with your body and lengthen your spine.
  6. Inhale when your low back engages with the ground.
  7. Reverse the movement, and return to the starting position.

Spine Twist

spine twist

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Another exercise that works on spinal rotation to target the obliques while also engaging the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis is the spine twist. The exercise is straightforward, but details are important. Particularly, you want to pay close attention to your posture and keep your spine elongated and tall throughout the exercise.

  1. Sit on a mat with your legs extended in front of you.
  2. Take a breath in and engage your core muscles.
  3. Take a second to really "grow tall" through your spine, trying to create space between each vertebrae.
  4. Check to make sure your ears are "stacked" and aligned with your shoulders and hips.
  5. Extend your arms out to the sides from your shoulders, your palms facing down.
  6. Twist your spine on your next exhale, as far as you can to the right, keeping your hips steady.
  7. Inhale and return to center before exhaling to twist as far as you can to the left. This is a single repetition.
  8. Keep in mind, all of the motion should be coming from your spine and torso, not your hips or shoulders.

Bridge

bridge position

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The bridge—which targets the spinal erectors, transverse abdominis, and glutes—is often thought of as more of a glute and low-back exercise, but the abs are significantly engaged as well. It is exercises like this that help strengthen all of the muscles of the core.

  1. Lie on your back on a mat with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place your hands at your sides on the mat, palms down.
  3. Take a breath in, and as you exhale, engage your core and glutes and lift your hips, pressing them toward the ceiling.
  4. Stop when your body forms a straight line from your shoulder blades to your knees.
  5. Lower your hips slowly back toward the floor, stopping just before they touch down to complete one repetition.

A Word From Verywell

While beginner exercises are generally safe to be performed at home without supervision from a professional, if you're unsure of how to perform a particular exercise, it's always best to seek feedback and instruction from a trainer.

Also, if you have low back pain, injuries, or ailments that might make it hard to perform certain movements, ask for clearance from a healthcare provider or physical therapist before trying new exercises. Meanwhile, if a particular exercise causes pain, stop the movement and try something else.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is a 10-minute ab workout a day enough? 

    The length of your ab workout depends on your goals. When your ab routine is paired with a well-rounded exercise plan that uses functional strength training and cardio, adding 10-minutes of abs to your daily routine is likely more than enough to reach your goals. Because your abs are constantly being used, these endurance-focused muscles can be trained more often when it's done at a moderate intensity level.

    If you plan on training your abs harder or with higher levels of resistance, a longer workout may be necessary. That said, for intense ab work it's advisable to allow days of rest between workouts, just as you would for other muscle groups. Beginners will also see greater results from less time simply because the stimulus is new and the body's response will be more obvious.

  • Do abs need rest days? 

    Whether or not you give your abs a rest day depends on how hard you are working your abs. For moderate-intensity, endurance-focused ab routines, a daily round of ab exercises is likely OK.

    That said, if you are working your abs harder, with longer routines, more resistance, and more strenuous exercises with the goal of building significant strength and size, it is best to allow a day of rest between ab routines. These days are important for allowing your muscles to heal, recover, and grow stronger.

  • Do squats work abs? 

    Squats definitely work the abs—or more specifically, the core. One 2018 study found that squats elicited greater muscle activation of the spinal erectors compared to the plank, and similar activation of the rectus abdominis and external obliques. This is because when performing squats, you must engage your deep core muscles to stabilize your torso and maintain proper form.

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2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lynders C. The critical role of development of the transversus abdominis in the prevention and treatment of low back painHSS Journal. 2019;15(3):214-220. doi:10.1007/s11420-019-09717-8

  2. Van den Tillaar R, Saeterbakken AH. Comparison of core muscle activation between a prone bridge and 6-RM back squatsJ Hum Kinet. 2018;62:43-53. Published 2018 Jun 13. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0176