The 10 Best Abs Exercises for Beginners

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The Summer Six-Pack Program


Focusing your training on the abs can often feel like an exercise in frustration. Unlike, say, biceps, attaining abs comes down to a combination of diet, training, and overall core strength. Plus, any core exercise that’s working the musculature of the shoulders, hips, and midsection will improve your abs.

But there are times when you’ll want to hit the abs hard—perhaps at the end of a workout or at the end of a cardio session, when you still have a little left in the tank and you really want to polish off your physique.

These 10 abs exercises will help you chisel your abs, assuming you’ve laid the foundation by building core strength and dialing in your nutrition.

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1. Cat / Cow

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WHY IT WORKS: This familiar two-part yoga move improves flexibility to the lumbar and cervical spine while strengthening the abs, and provides a reminder of how you should breathe during abdominal movement.

HOW TO DO IT: Start on all fours with hands beneath your shoulders and knees on the ground. Inhale, dropping your chest as you push your hips and shoulder blades back into “cow” position. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze forward. For “cat,” exhale as you draw your bellybutton to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling like a cat.

PRESCRIPTION: 2 sets of 10 reps with 60 seconds rest between sets.

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2. Plank

Up-Down Plank

Edgar Artiga

WHY IT WORKS: By keeping your bellybutton drawn in and challenging your stability throughout your shoulders, core, and hips, you’re building strong abs.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie in a prone pushup position with forearms resting on the floor. Your elbows should be under your shoulders, and bent 90°. Push up off the elbows, tucking your chin so your head is in line with your body. Keep head in-line with your spine, and belly button drawn in. Hold for one minute.

PRESCRIPTION: 2 sets of 60-second holds, with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

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3. Swiss Ball Leg Rollout

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WHY IT WORKS: This not only works your abs by challenging your stability on the ball, it also stretches the muscles of the lower back.

HOW TO DO IT: Get in a pushup position with your shins on a Swiss ball. Pull your knees to the chest until the toes are on top of the ball. Return to the starting position. Be sure to keep your bellybutton in, and shoulders pushed away from the ball.

PRESCRIPTION: 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

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4. Swiss Ball Arm Rollout

Rob Melnychuk / Getty

WHY IT WORKS: This exercise works like popular “abs wheel” devices—but it challenges the abs even further because of the ball’s instability.

HOW TO DO IT: Kneel on the ground with arms extended, and the back of your hands on a Swiss ball. Roll the ball forward while keeping a straight line from knees to shoulders. Pull the ball back to starting position, and repeat.

PRESCRIPTION: 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

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5. Swiss Ball Plate Crunch

Physio Ball Plate Crunch

James and Therese

WHY IT WORKS: Using the ball gets you in a fully stretched starting position, and forces you to use your abs rather than your momentum to perform the crunch.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie supine (facing the ceiling) on a Swiss ball with your torso arched over the ball. Touch your shoulders to the ball, then your back, and finally your glutes to the ball so that your abs stretch. Hold a weight plate over your head (it’s easiest if you can have a partner hand it to you, or if you pick it up off a bench). Roll your hips and chest up, crunching from the top of your torso. Lower your hips and chest to the starting position.

PRESCRIPTION: 2 sets of 10 reps with 60 seconds rest between sets.

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6. Hanging Legs Raise

Hanging Leg Raise

Per Bernal / M+F Magazine

WHY IT WORKS: This challenges you to raise your entire lower body with your abs and hip flexors while bracing your upper body with your arms and upper back—a key part of core strength.

HOW TO DO IT: Grab a pullup bar with an overhead grip. Arms should be straight, and feet off the ground. Keeping your legs straight, use your abs to raise your feet toward your shoulders, pausing when your thighs reach your chest. (Yes, that requires a lot of flexibility.) To scale the move down, try bending your knees as you raise them, or using slings to help support your weight.

PRESCRIPTION: 2 sets of 10 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

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7. Mountain Climber

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M+F Magazine

HOW TO DO IT: Start in pushup position, with the balls of your feet on the ground. Alternate driving your knees forward to their corresponding arms for 30 seconds. Keep your hips down for the entire motion.

WHY IT WORKS: Like a mountain climber working a wall, you’re using the abs and hip flexors to “climb”.

PRESCRIPTION: 2 sets of 30 seconds with 30 seconds rest between sets.

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8. V-sit Crunch (aka V-up)

HOW TO DO IT: Begin on your back with hands extended over your head. Lift your legs and crunch up at the same time, forming your body into the shape of a V. Exhale as you lift your legs, and crunch and inhale as you return to the starting position.

WHY IT WORKS: For all of the abs-challenging reasons of a traditional crunch, but also because it keeps you from putting unnecessary torque on your neck and using momentum to complete the crunch.

PRESCRIPTION: 2 sets of 30 seconds with 60 seconds rest between sets.

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9. Overhead Squat

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WHY IT WORKS: Squats are best known as a legs move, of course, but the overhead squat forces your core area from hips to shoulders to work hard as you hold a barbell or dumbbells overhead.

HOW TO DO IT: Stand holding a barbell or broomstick over your head with arms straight. Squat back and down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the ground. Push through your hips to the standing position.

PRESCRIPTION: 2 sets of 10 reps with 60 seconds rest between sets.

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10. Burpee

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WHY IT WORKS: This full-body, pushup-like exercise gives you all the benefits of pushups while also challenging your cardiovascular system and ratcheting up the intensity of your workout.

HOW TO DO IT: From a standing position, squat, place you hands on the ground, and “jump” your feet out into a pushup position. Perform a pushup, and then jump your feet to your hands. Then jump as high as you can, throwing your hands over your head.

PRESCRIPTION: 2 sets of 10 reps with 60 seconds rest between sets.

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