They say abs are made in the kitchen, but that’s only half true. Sure, your body-fat percentage is largely influenced by what you put in your mouth, but the actual muscles you’re trying to see are built in the gym. Lifting up your shirt to unveil the equivalent of a washboard is just the bonus part of having abs that are as tough as they are sexy.
Having a healthy midsection isn’t just about what your tape measure reads — what’s underneath is equally important. Your core muscles play a role in every activity you do, keeping your spine safe and body aligned when you’re doing chores, sitting at a desk, or hitting the gym.
And if we’re talking fitness, you’ll definitely want a routine just for your abs, because you’ll see an improvement in your other workouts, too. A solid core translates to heavier (and safer!) deadlifts, better stability when you’re pressing a weight overhead, staying upright longer during squats, or even having better alignment when you’re going for a run. You can look forward to preventing injuries outside the gym, too, and in 50 years from now you definitely won’t be that old lady hunched over a cane. You’ll be the one keeping up appearances at the gym alongside laddies and lasses 30 years your junior.
To reap the rewards, we’ve created a workout made up of three circuits designed to work your abs using your upper and lower body as well as to challenge the endurance, strength, and stability of your core. Check out the moves, and get ready for some Insta-worthy abs.
Your first round of circuits will consist of three body-weight exercises to get you engaging your core muscles, warming them up for the harder moves later on.
In the second round, you’ll switch between using your upper body to engage your abs (the sit-up) and using your lower body (leg scissor), with the added challenge of a static press.
In the last round, you’re challenging your core in three ways: its stability with the ball knee-ins, its strength with the reverse crunches using the cable for more resistance, and its endurance with high-rep crunches.
Birddog with Knee-In
Targets: Abdominals, lower back, glutes
Get on all fours with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Extend your right arm forward and left leg back, gazing down at the floor. Pull your knee and elbow in beneath you to crunch until they touch, then extend both limbs back out. Finish all reps before repeating on the opposite side.
Tip: Have someone observe you to ensure your hips and shoulders stay level during your reps.
Single-Legged Staggered Plank
Targets: Abdominals, deltoids
Get into a high plank with your hands under your shoulders, then move one hand about 12 inches forward on tented fingertips. Pull the opposite knee in toward your chest. Hold this position, using your core strength to maintain balance, then switch sides.
Tip: The farther away you place your hand, the harder this move becomes.
Targets: Abdominals, deltoids, glutes
Beginning on all fours and keeping your toes on the ground, lift your knees slightly while lowering your chest toward the floor — this is the starting position. In one swift motion, jump your feet toward your hands and lift your chest up, landing in a crouched position. Place your hands flat on the floor and jump them back. Repeat immediately.
Tip: Squeeze your core to pull your legs in when you pop forward and to keep your hips steady when jumping back.
Weighted Decline-Bench Sit-Up
Targets: Abdominals, hip flexors
Holding a weight plate in front of your chest, lay down on a decline bench with feet secured under the cushion. Use your abs to lift your upper body as high as you can, maint aining a neutral spine. Carefully lower yourself back down, and repeat.
Tip: A weird trick that can help you keep your head and neck aligned is to touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth during this move.
Leg Scissor with Static Press
Targets: Abdominals, deltoids, chest
Begin on your back , legs extended, holding a barbell with your arms perpendicular to the floor. Flex your upper abs to lift your shoulders off the ground (like a crunch) and, holding this position, scis sor your legs up and down, keeping them straight. Your shins should touch the barbell at the top.
Tip: Avoid slamming your feet into the ground. Lower each leg with full control — you’ll feel it a lot more in your lower abs and hip flexors.
Single-Legged Stability Ball Knee-In
Targets: Abdominals, deltoids, quadriceps, glutes
Start in a high plank position with the tops of your feet on a stability ball. Lift one leg off the ball, keeping your hips level. Pull your raised leg in toward your chest while extending the other, then reverse. When complete, switch sides.
Tip: If this move is too tricky, try it with both feet on the ball instead of having one leg raised.
Cable Reverse Crunch
Targets: Abdominals (especially the lower portion)
Use the ankle cuff attachment on the bottom of a cable pulley. Lie on your back with your knees and feet lifted, shins parallel to the floor. Hold the bar behind your head, bend your knees, and crunch up and in until your heels are at least over your hips. Slowly reverse to return to the start.
Tip: If you don’t feel resistance as soon as you begin the move, adjust your distance from the machine.
Cable Rope Crunch
Targets: Abdominals, hip flexors
Use a rope attachment on a medium-to-high setting for the cable machine. Face the pulley, kneel about two to three feet away from it, grab the rope handles, and bring them down to chin level. Crunch forward until your back is at least parallel with the floor, then slowly reverse to the start, and repeat.
Tip: Keep your elbows bent and close to you at all times. Your abs should be doing all the pulling work here, not your arms.