11 ab exercises to take your home workouts up a level

A stronger core = an easier life.

Ab exercises
(Image credit: Getty)

Looking for the best ab exercises you can do from home? You're in the right place. A form of weight training that uses only your body weight, ab workouts can help you to build a strong core, in turn reducing aches and pains.

A bit like glute exercises and resistance band exercises, ab workouts are popular for a number of reasons - they can be done from home (bye, bye, gym anxiety), are quick to complete, and are cost-effective, too. 

It's important to note here that spot training has been scientifically proven to be a myth - that is, if you're turning to ab exercises specifically to change how your stomach looks, you might be disappointed. Case in point: one J Strength Conditioning Res study found that doing ab exercises alone doesn't reduce belly fat as ab definition is defined by a whole range of factors, including genetics, diet and lifestyle (more on this below). 

That said, combine ab exercises with a well-rounded workout routine spanning both strength training and cardio (the NHS advises a mixture of both each week) and they can be a useful way to boost strength. 

Ready to scroll? Keep reading for advice from a personal trainer, Pilates instructor and barre specialist Aimee Victoria Long (and do try this at-home abs workout for women, if you've got a bit more time).

Don't miss our guides to kettlebell exercises and bodyweight exercises, while you're here. New to weights? Our guide to how much weight to start lifting might help, too. 

Ab exercises: your guide

Why is having a strong core so important?

"Your core muscles play a huge role in your everyday activities, from getting out of bed, to walking, to bending over. Most importantly, they literally help you stay upright and support the skeletal system," explains Long.

Not only will toning your abs likely bring you aesthetic gains, if that's what you're after, but they'll help support your body through your day-to-day life, too.

Do note though: it's pointless exercising in order to achieve the same abs as your best mate or, ahem, Kayla Itsines. Everyone's bodies are different, and everyone's stomachs will be different too. 

Even if you train your core consistently, your ‘abs’ may still not be visible. That's because some people hold a little more fat in their stomachs (especially women, who have important reproductive organs stashed away in there that need an extra layer of protection) while others are genetically predisposed to just not have visible abdominals. 

Because your abdominals are made up of layers, building muscle in the deep core won't always be seen from outside, but is so important to stabilise your body's movement. In short: just because you might not see changes, it doesn't mean you're not getting so many benefits from ab training.

What are the best ab strengthening exercises?

When it comes to training your core, don’t just think sit-ups and crunches, Long advises. "Some of the most effective moves to build core strength are actually compound moves like squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, and pull ups. Performed correctly, these exercises will strengthen your core and the rest of your body," she explains.

However, to compliment this, you can isolate your abs with certain movements, she says. Try out some moves from our roundups of the best free home workouts, best no kit workouts, and our guide to strength training for women for full-body workouts that build core strength, then build on those moves with the below ab exercises. 

Do be mindful with your form - if you carry out any workout moves incorrectly, you could end up injuring yourself.

"You can put unnecessary pressure on your spine by not performing ab moves correctly," Long explains. Top tip: look up form tutorials on YouTube if you're not sure if you're doing a move correctly.

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11 ab exercises to try tonight 

The below moves are PT-approved ab strengthening exercises from Long herself. Perform the following moves for one minute each, back-to-back, and perform the whole circuit once, twice or three times a week to complement your main workouts. 

1. Dead bugs

Dead bugs target the deep core and your contralateral stability (meaning the ability to stay strong when moving in the opposite direction), so they're a great one to include to improve day-to-day movement. 

How to: Lie flat on your back with your arms extended towards the ceiling. Then lift your legs and bend your knees at 90° so your calves are parallel with the floor. Hold your arms up over your chest so your fingers are pointed towards the ceiling. 

Engage your core by drawing your belly button in so your back is flat against the floor – you shouldn’t be able to slide a hand under your back now or at any point during the exercise. 

Slowly lower your right arm behind your head and extend your left leg forwards at the same time, exhaling as you do. Keep going until your arm and leg are just above the floor, being careful not to arch through the back, then inhale to slowly return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite limbs.

How long: Aim for 60 seconds.

2. Plank shoulder taps

These are dynamic variations of a plank as you keep moving rather than staying still. That way, they develop stability so your core has the power to stay strong as you move. 

How to: Begin in a high plank position with your palms on the floor directly underneath your shoulders and legs kicked straight back behind you. Engage the core by pulling your belly button to your spine and pressing your ribs down as though trying to connect them to your pelvis. 

Lift your left hand off the floor and tap your right shoulder, then lower the hand back to the floor and repeat on the other side. Make sure you aren’t letting your hips rock from side to side - the only thing moving should be your arms. 

How long: Aim for 60 seconds.

3. Leg raises

Leg raises are all about fighting gravity which helps to develop your core control.

How to: Lie on your back and place your hands flat on the floor on either side of you. Stretch the legs out fully and engage the core with the same belly-to-spine action. 

Raise both legs off the floor slowly by contracting your abs, lifting them to a 90-degree angle. Make sure that your spine remains in contact with the floor the whole time.

As you lower, work against gravity by moving slowly. Tap your heels on the floor and lift again. 

How long: Aim for 45 seconds.

4. Butterfly crunches

These work the whole front of the body, including the hips and lower abs. By taking the legs wide, you can't rely on your feet for balance and stability, which makes the move even trickier. 

How to: Lying on your back, place the soles of your feet together - the closer they are towards your groin, the harder it will be on your hip stability. 

Ensure there's no back bend by (you guessed it) drawing your belly button towards your spine. Crunch up so your hands can touch your toes, then slowly lower back down. 

How long: Aim for 45 seconds.

5. Slow roll-ups

This Pilates move is perfect for increasing the amount of time the deep core is under tension.

How to: Lying flat on the floor/bed/yoga mat, stretch your legs straight and place your arms straight above your head. Very slowly, lift yourself up to a sitting position, reaching your arms down as if to touch your toes. Very slowly, as you count to five, lower yourself back down on the bed, back into a flat position. Again, keep your core engaged the whole time. 

How long: Aim for 60 seconds.

6. Plank lifts

Another pilates move, plank hip lifts are all about control. Lifting through the belly button will target your lower abdominals, too. 

How to: In a low plank stance (on your forearms rather than your hands, but maintaining the same 'switched on' position), lift your hips up towards the ceiling by squeezing your abdominals to come into an inverted V position. Hold for two seconds and then lower your hips back down. 

How long: Aim for 60 seconds.

Quick ab strengthening exercises

After a quick-fire round? Try 10 repetitions of the following moves.

7. Vs

This classic ab move is an advanced move that targets your total core while also raising your heart rate. 

How to: Lie on your back with your legs stretched straight and your arms above your head. Slowly raise your legs and arms up by contracting your abdominals. Reach your hands toward your feet to create a ‘V’ shape with your body. 

How long: Aim for 60 seconds.

8. Bicycle crunches

These target the side of the abs, called the obliques, for 360 strength. 

How to: Again, begin on your back. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows bent and raise your legs up off the floor a few inches with a bend in your knee. Twist your upper body to the left while bending your left leg in towards your chest, touching your right elbow to your left knee (or as close as possible).

Twist back to centre and ‘pedal’ to the other side.

How long: Aim for 60 seconds.

9. Pillow prop

Raising your legs effectively 'switches off' your hips and quads, so the abs are totally isolated in this exercise. 

How to: Stack two pillows under your feet as you lie on the floor. Cross your arms over your chest and breathe in deeply as you pull your stomach in towards your spine. Breathe out as you lift your upper body towards your feet. Breathe in as you slowly lower down. 

How long: Aim for 60 seconds.

10. Roundhouse kicks

One of the best Pilates exercises, these work into your glutes and hips as well as stabilise your abdominals for total core strength.

How to: Place your hands palm down on the floor as you lie on your back. Keep your legs straight and squeeze your core as you lift your right leg up. Rotate it in the widest circle you possibly can; bringing your foot down to just above the floor then up towards the ceiling and back to centre. Complete all the reps on one side then swap to the other.

How long: Aim for 60 seconds.

11. Side planks

Side planks are one of the best plank variations you can do to strengthen your obliques.

How to: Begin in your low plank stance and roll your hips all the way over to the side so your weight is on one arm. Place your top foot on the floor in front of your other foot and squeeze your hips up to the ceiling. 

How long: Hold for 30 seconds then swap sides.

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and is a stickler for a strong stat, too, seeing over nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.