Do you dream of flaunting a flat stomach? Well, we’re here to help with five proven exercises to help you tone and strengthen your abs to achieve a washboard stomach.
Whether a fitness fanatic or workout beginner, these exercises are designed to target your upper, lower, side and rectus abdominal muscles while burning excess belly fat to give sculpted results. Add them into your routine, and pair them with a healthy balanced diet, and you’ll be on your way to achieving a stronger, flatter stomach.
So, grab your exercise mat, and let's dive into these five best ab-sculpting workouts that you can easily do at home. We’ve also included ways to advance them to up the ante, plus looked into the importance of the right diet and understanding belly fat in order to achieve the top results.
The 5 best ab exercises
We’ve rounded up the following five best exercises which are proven to tone your abs. They will help strengthen the different groups of abdominal muscles and burn excess fat around the stomach. We’ve also helped you with a guide on how to do each one.
The Plank is a powerful abdominal toner for strengthening your lower abs, as well as your back muscles and arms. Here’s how to do them:
- Start by lying flat on your stomach.
- Raise your upper body, supporting yourself on your forearms. Ensure your elbows are under your shoulders and your thumbs are facing each other.
- Lift your legs off the floor, balancing on your toes, and engage your abdomen and buttocks. Your body should form a straight line without your abdomen sliding upward.
- Hold this position for at least 20 seconds (you can extend the time as you become more confident with the move).
- Rest for a brief moment, then repeat the exercise three times.
Tip: To work your side abs, try a modified lateral plank by turning to one side and supporting yourself on one forearm.
2. Mountain climbers
Mountain climbers are a classic cardio exercise to target your abs, legs, and glutes. Here's how to do them:
- Assume the classic supporting position on your hands, keeping your upper body straight and your back almost parallel to the floor. Maintain a forward gaze.
- Begin by pulling your right knee forward toward your chest, then swiftly return it back to the starting position.
- Repeat the same movement with your left leg.
- Alternate between your right and left legs, maintaining a fast-paced rhythm.
- Aim to eventually do this exercise for as long as possible, but to start, aim for 30 to 40 seconds.
3. Bicycle crunches
Bicycle crunches, also known as the ‘bug’, are an effective exercise to specifically target your oblique abdominal muscles. Here’s how to do them:
- Lie on your back, bending your knees at a 90-degree angle and slightly lifting your upper body.
- Bring your right shoulder and left knee together, followed by your left shoulder and right knee in alternating motions.
- Repeat this exercise at least 20 times.
4. Russian twist
Strengthen your abs with the Russian twist. This exercise is a variation of traditional sit-ups, focusing on twisting movements to engage the oblique abdominal muscles. It also benefits your arms, shoulders, and back for a balanced workout. Here’s how to do them:
- Sit with a slightly bent back, raising your legs so that only your buttocks touch the floor.
- Extend both hands forward, bending your elbows and clasping them together.
- Rotate your entire upper body from side to side, feeling the burn in your abdominal muscles.
- Aim for 20 reps in three rounds.
5. Shoulder bridge
Core training, similar to Pilates, targets the muscles in the middle of your body. The shoulder bridge is a simple yet effective example. Here’s how to do it:
- Lie on your back with your legs at a 90-degree angle and your arms extended at a 45-degree angle.
- Lift your pelvis, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Maintain this position for as long as you can (we suggest starting with 30 seconds), then slowly lower your hips back down to the floor.
How to advance your ab exercises
Ready to take your moves to the next level and advance your training? You can enhance your abdominal exercises using equipment to challenge yourself further and train your muscles harder.
Consider incorporating exercise balls, resistance bands, kettlebells, and dumbbells into your abdominal workouts to extend and intensify your exercises, pushing your muscles to new limits. We’ve highlighted two of these to help you get started:
- Resistance bands: Add a resistance band to some of your moves, for example, Russian twists, to create tension and increase resistance in a simple but super effective way. Check out our guide on how to use resistance bands, with tips from fitness experts for the ultimate low-down on how to incorporate them into your routine. We’ve also rounded up some of the best resistance bands, including the Perky Booty Short Fabric Resistance Band, which is our favourite thanks to its fun patterns and choice of resistance levels.
- Dumbbells: Bring in some dumbbells to increase the challenge in exercises like Russian twists and core training. Check out our guide on how to use dumbbells, with tips from personal trainers to help get you started - the Umi Neoprene Dumbbell Weights are a great option for beginners and come in a range of weights from 1kg to 10kg. We’ve also rounded up some of the best kettlebells if you prefer them over dumbbells.
The right diet for a flat stomach
Remember that achieving visible abdominal muscles requires more than just exercise; maintaining a balanced diet is also crucial. To reduce fat deposits, you should focus on maintaining a daily calorie deficit. Consuming fewer calories than you burn through exercise leads to weight loss.
Additionally, tailor your meals to your training routine. Cardio or HIIT training burns a lot of fat, so you should eat enough protein-rich foods to support and strengthen your muscles. Protein and fibre build muscle and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
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Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated is also very important when doing intense workouts. But remember, don't compromise your wellbeing by excessively cutting calories, as it can lead to fatigue and the notorious yo-yo effect.
Understanding belly fat
As we age, our bodies naturally burn fewer calories - from the age of 30 onwards, the body burns 150 fewer calories per day every ten years. This contributes to the accumulation of belly fat. However, the abdomen is an active area with a high metabolic rate, making it easier to eliminate fat cells here compared to other body parts, for example, the legs or buttocks.
Stress can also contribute to belly fat, as it promotes the storage of fat on the stomach. Sufficient sleep and hydration will help maintain consistent and energised abdominal training. Check out our tips on how to lower your stress levels to help limit your everyday worries and stressors, plus our tips for better sleep to improve the quality of your rest.
Want more guidance and expert tips on fitness? Check out our fitness section, with guides including yoga vs pilates, the best multi-gym equipment for working out at home, and how to use resistance bands with tips from fitness experts.
Cordelia Aspinall is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media, working across brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeForMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. She has previously worked and written for digital publications including Condé Nast Traveller, The Evening Standard, Cosmopolitan, and several other lifestyle brands.