12 Great Ab Exercises to Work the Muscles of Your Core

Ab exercises—also known as abdominal exercises—target the muscles that line the front and sides of your middle and lower torso. Those abdominal muscles include the rectus abdominus, the external obliques, internal obliques, and the deepest layer, the transverse abdominus.

But these are not the only muscles that support and move the middle of your body. Muscles in your back (such as the lats and the erector spinae), hips (hip flexors and gluteal muscles), and pelvic floor muscles also contribute to core movement and stability.

Training your core provides several benefits. A strong core can help prevent injury, improve muscular endurance in the midsection, and even improve performance in sports such as running. Keep in mind, however, that ab exercises alone are not likely to reduce body fat in the belly area. Combine a comprehensive program of physical exercise with a calorie-controlled, nutritious diet to lose fat.

Each of the exercises below will work the core, but they vary in intensity. They are ranked in order of intensity, starting with beginning-level exercises and working up to more advanced movements. Some require equipment such as sliding discs, a medicine ball, or an exercise ball. Options are provided for some, and many can be performed without any equipment at all.

Pelvic Tilt

pelvic tilts

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The pelvic tilt exercise helps to increase awareness of the muscles in your core. It's a great place to begin if you are just learning ab exercises. You'll perform this version of the exercise on the floor or on a mat.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor. In this neutral position, the natural curve of your lumbar spine will lift the lower back slightly off the floor.
  2. Exhale and gently rock your hips toward your head. As you do this, you'll feel your lower back pressing into the floor.
  3. Stay here for a few breaths. When you're ready, inhale, and return to your neutral position. Repeat 5–10 times.

Pelvic Tilt on a Ball

The pelvic tilt can also be performed on an exercise ball in an incline position. This variation is slightly more advanced than a basic pelvic tilt because you have to balance on the ball.

  1. Lie in an incline position on a large exercise ball, with the hips down and head supported lightly by the hands.
  2. Without rolling on the ball, contract the abs and pull the hips in towards the ribcage.
  3. Try not to squeeze the glutes but, instead, focus on originating the movement from the core.
  4. Lower the hips and repeat for 1–3 sets of 15 reps.

Bird Dog

Bird-Dog Exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The bird dog is a great overall core exercise that not only strengthens the abs and back but also involves the glutes and improves balance and stability. For a more advanced version, try this move on the toes instead of on the knees.

  1. Begin on hands and knees with the back straight and the abs engaged.
  2. Lift the right arm up until it is level with the body and parallel to the floor.
  3. At the same time, lift the left leg up and straighten it until it is also parallel to the floor.
  4. Hold for a moment, then lower and repeat on the other side, this time lifting the left arm and right leg. Continue alternating sides for 1–3 sets of 10–16 reps.
  5. Keep the move slow and controlled, and try to keep your body straight throughout the movement.

Bicycle Crunch

Bicycle Crunches

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The bicycle crunch is one of the most effective moves for the abs, including the rectus abdominis and the obliques. You'll start by lying on your back on the floor or on a mat.

  1. With your hands gently holding your head, slowly raise your knees to about a 90-degree angle, lifting your feet from the floor.
  2. Exhale and perform a slow bicycle pedal motion, bringing one knee up towards your armpit while straightening the other leg, keeping both elevated higher than your hips.
  3. Rotate your torso so you can touch your elbow to the opposite knee as it comes up.
  4. Alternate to twist to the other side while drawing the opposite knee towards your armpit and extending the other leg until your elbow touches the alternate knee.
  5. Continue to alternate sides for 10–15 repetitions.

Modified Bicycle Exercise With Discs

The traditional bicycle crunch requires both attention to detail and a very strong back to target the abs without putting a strain on the back. If the full version is too challenging, try this modified version, done with paper plates or gliding discs.

  1. Lie on your back with paper plates under both heels, knees bent. Place the hands behind the head to support the neck.
  2. Contract the abs to lift the shoulder blades off the floor and rotate the left shoulder toward the right side.
  3. At the same time, slide the left heel out until the knee is straight or slightly bent, concentrating on the right side of the waist.
  4. Bring the left heel back and slide the right heel out as you rotate the right shoulder to the left, squeezing the left side of the waist.
  5. Keep the elbow back and in a fixed position, focusing on rotating the entire torso.
  6. Repeat for 8–16 repetitions

Plank

Plank Pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The traditional plank exercise is great for strengthening the core. The basic plank or one of its many variations is often included in total-body workouts as well as workouts that simply target the abs.

  1. Begin face down on a mat with the legs extended behind you and hands planted beneath your shoulders.
  2. Lift the body by extending the arms and engaging through the entire length of the body. Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
  3. Engage your abdominal muscles, drawing your navel toward your spine. Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending.
  4. Hold this position for 10–30 seconds or as long as you can.

If a traditional plank is too difficult, try a forearm plank. The position is almost the same, but the arms are bent instead of straight. Your weight rests on the feet and the elbows instead of the feet and palms.

Side Plank

Woman on yoga mat doing forearm side plank

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The side plank is an advanced and challenging move that targets the obliques as well as the core. You can do this move with your weight resting on the forearm, as shown, or on the hand which is slightly harder.

  1. Lie down on the right side, resting on your forearm. The legs should be straight, hips stacked and feet resting one on top of the other.
  2. Press into the forearm to lift the hips off the mat.
  3. Hold your body in a straight line for 30–60 seconds or more, repeating 2–3 times on each side.

Once you are comfortable doing this exercise on your forearm, left the body higher by extending the arm and resting the weight on your palm with a straight elbow.

Side Plank with Leg Lift

Side Plank Leg Lift

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This side plank with leg lift is a variation of the traditional side forearm plank. The idea is to increase the intensity by adding a leg lift and by taking the arm overhead. You'll really challenge the core as well as the lower body. If you cannot perform this side plank variation with straight legs, modify it by bending the legs and leaving more of the lower leg on the floor (as shown).

  1. Lie sideways on your mat, resting on the left forearm and the left hip. Lengthen the legs beneath you.
  2. Take the right arm straight up towards the ceiling with the palm facing forward.
  3. Press into the forearm and squeeze the obliques to lift the hips off the mat.
  4. At the same time, lift the right leg up a few inches, then lower it. Keep the body stable as you continue to lift and lower the top leg 8–10 times. Repeat on the other side.

Need a challenge? Perform this same exercise in a straight-arm side plank position instead of a forearm side plank.

Medicine Ball Slams

overhead medicine ball slams

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

If exercises on the floor are not comfortable for you, there are some great ways to work your core while standing up. The medicine ball slam is one of them. Part of the challenge of this exercise is that your whole body is active and your heart rate will elevate much more so than during most core exercises.

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold a medicine ball in both hands. Engage your core, and squat down slightly to prepare.
  2. In one powerful motion, power up through the balls of your feet, extending your knees and hips and lifting the medicine ball overhead.
  3. Now, use your core and arms to slam the medicine ball straight down between your feet with as much force as you can. As the ball slams down, your body lowers into a squat.
  4. Pick the ball up, then immediately move into the next slam by powering the body up again, lifting the ball overhead, and slamming it to the floor. Repeat 10–12 times.

Spider Walks

spider walk

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Holding a plank position can get a little boring, but you can spice things up a bit with these spider walks. You'll begin in a plank position but move the body forward while keeping it low, like a spider.

  1. Engage your core and glute muscles and bring the left knee up towards the left elbow, then plant the left toes down. At the same time, walk your right hand forward.
  2. Shift your weight and bring the right foot up towards the right elbow and plant the right toes down. Walk your left hand forward.
  3. Staying low to the ground, alternate bringing the left and right feet forward so you are crawling, keeping the body low and stable.

Medicine Ball Oblique Twists

seated oblique twists

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This exercise can be done with or without a medicine ball. Try it first without weight, then add resistance when you are ready.

  1. Sit on the floor with the knees bent and feet raised, so that the lower legs are parallel to the floor. Hold the medicine ball with both hands in front of your torso.
  2. Rotate your upper body to the right and touch the medicine ball to the floor beside you.
  3. Then move through center and rotate to the left, touching the medicine ball to the floor on the other side of you.
  4. Continue to alternate sides until you have touched the ball on each side 5–7 times.

If keeping the feet off the floor is too challenging, do this exercise with the feet on the floor.

V-Sit

Woman on yoga mat doing a v-sit exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This exercise looks simple, but it is quite challenging. It is usually not recommended for those with back or neck problems. You'll begin seated on the floor or mat.

  1. Engage the abdominal muscles and slowly lift your legs up to an extended position at a 45-degree angle to your torso. Your body will begin to look like a V-shape.
  2. Reach the arms forward so that they extend down alongside your shins. Maintain a strong spine and relaxed shoulders.
  3. Hold the position for 5–10 seconds or for as long as possible.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat 2–4 times.
Was this page helpful?
Article 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. Huxel Bliven KC, Anderson BE. Core stability training for injury preventionSports Health. 2013;5(6):514-522. doi:10.1177/1941738113481200

  2. Vispute SS, Smith JD, LeCheminant JD, Hurley KS. The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(9):2559-64. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181fb4a46

  3. Hibbs AE, Thompson KG, French D, Wrigley A, Spears I. Optimizing performance by improving core stability and core strength. Sports Med. 2008;38(12):995-1008. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200838120-00004