Pop quiz: What muscle group is involved in every exercise you perform?
If you guessed the abdominals, then you're correct (or you saw the title). The core is what helps promote stability and strength. And for most women looking to tone their physique, this can be a problem area. After all, your stomach is the main area where excess fat is stored.
While there are many exercises that can target your abs, knowing the best ab workouts for women can save you time and effort, ultimately helping you reach your goals in the most effective way possible. Training your abs also transfers to improvements in other activities like running, CrossFit, weightlifting, and just about any other sport you can think of.
If you're looking to transform your tummy, you're in luck. We break down our top ab exercises for women below. Any combination of four or five of these 15 exercises can serve as an all-star ab session. Better yet, try performing one set of all fifteen exercises with minimal rest in between for a killer core circuit.
15 Best Ab Workouts for Women
- Hollow hold
- Hip lift
- Tabletop crunch and reach
- Sit-ups with towel
- Flutter kicks
- Twisting mountain climber
- Lying toe touches
- Hip dip plank
- Russian twist
- Stir the pot
- Exercise ball crunch
- Side bend
- Weighted ball sit-up and throw
1. Hollow Hold
Some exercises don't require movement at all. Simply staying stationary in an upright position can serve the purpose. The hollow hold is one of those movements that will do just that.
Lie on the floor and straighten your arms behind your head. Contract your abs and bring the shoulders off the floor. The chin should be in towards the chest. Your legs should be elevated but kept straight. The lower back should maintain contact with the floor. Hold this position until you can no longer hold it, or 30 seconds have passed.
Expert tip: If you can go beyond 30 seconds, challenge yourself to hold it as long as you can. Repeat for three sets.
2. Hip Lift
The best ab workouts for women are those that can be performed at home or the gym. And all you need for the hip lift is your body and room to move.
Lie on your back with your legs together but pointed up towards the ceiling. Keep your arms flat to your sides with your palms on the floor. Suck in your stomach as if you want your belly button to touch your spine. Lift your hips off the floor while keeping your legs straight. Lower your hips back down. This is one rep. Repeat for at least 8 reps, or 12 if more advanced.
Expert tip: Hold the top position for five seconds, lower for three seconds, and stop short of the bottom before raising your hips up again. This increases your time under tension, which makes the exercise that much more intense.
3. Tabletop Crunch and Reach
Most crunches keep the focus on the upper abs but doing them in a tabletop style helps engage the lower group as well. The result is a more intense version of a classic exercise.
Lie on your back with your arms raised toward the ceiling. Lift your legs so they are bent at 90 degrees. The thighs should be perpendicular to the floor with the lower legs parallel.
Perform a crunch, lifting your arms out past your knees as if you want to touch your feet. As you lower yourself down, move your arms so they are behind your head, and straighten out your legs without letting them touch the floor. Perform the next rep by bringing the legs and arms in towards each other. Start out completing 10 reps and increase as you grow stronger.
Expert tip: Try wearing ankle and wrist weights while doing the exercise to add a strength component to the equation.
4. Sit-ups with Towel
Some people have to avoid sit-ups because they believe it leads to back pain. But this towel method helps you focus on the abdominals while minimizing strain on the lower back.
Roll up a mat or towel and place it by your glutes while you're sitting on the floor. Lie back on the floor so the towel is directly underneath your lower back. Your upper body should be flat, and your legs should either be straight or in a butterfly position with your feet touching, whichever is more comfortable.
Start with your hands behind your head. Sit up while bringing your hands up and reaching for your feet. Once you either touch your feet or reach maximal contraction, slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position. Try to go for 15 reps or as many as you can do.
Expert tip: The thicker the towel, the more your abs are extended at the bottom which improves your range of motion. Just don't make the towel or mat so thick it becomes uncomfortable.
5. Flutter Kicks
This exercise involves a little more coordination and concentration because you don't want the hips to dominate the exercise. Don't go at a snail's pace, but a world record speed isn't necessary, either.
Lie on your back with your arms to the sides. Keep a towel or mat under your mat if it makes you more comfortable. Lift your legs straight up to a 45-degree angle. Lower one leg towards the floor, but don't let it touch. As you lift the first leg back up, lower the other one at the same time. Repeat by alternating legs until you've performed all the desired reps (10-12 reps each leg is a good place to start).
Expert tip: Lift your head slightly off the floor to engage the abs and minimize hip flexor recruitment.
6. Twisting Mountain Climber
The mountain climber is an oldie but a goodie, but the twisting motion is what takes it to the next level. Once you get used to this exercise, you'll likely keep it in your routine for a long time to come.
Assume the top of a pushup position. Pull one knee into the opposite side of your chest. If you start with the right knee, then pull it up and in towards the left side of your chest. Once you return to the starting position, lift your left knee towards the right side of the chest.
Expert tip: You can place your hands on a higher surface like the edge of a table, so you have more room to lift your leg up. This can also be done by resting your hands on a barbell at hip height in a squat rack.
Some ab workouts are more challenging than others. This one may take some practice before you feel confident doing it, but once you do, the results speak for themselves.
Lie on your back with your legs straight up toward the ceiling. Raise your arms straight up as well. Suck in your belly button as if you want to touch your spine. Lower your left leg toward the floor while simultaneously lowering your right arm behind you. Don't let either limb touch the floor. Bring both limbs back to the starting position and repeat with the opposite leg and arm.
Expert tip: Try not to get frustrated with this one. Take your time slowly practicing the motion until it feels comfortable and smooth.
This exercise is exactly as it sounds: Essentially, you'll make a V-shape with your body, and rotate up and down.
Lie flat on your back with legs straight and arms down to the sides. In one motion, lift the upper body and legs until they are both at 45-degree angles. You should feel like you're balancing yourself on your tailbone. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Expert tip: Focus on performing these at a consistent cadence, then try to do them with five-second negatives (meaning you count out five full seconds when returning to the starting position).
9. Lying Toe Touches
Remember when you were a kid and toe touches were all the rage in P.E. class? If so, you're halfway there—we're introducing a lying version of that exercise.
Lie on your back with your legs pointed up to the ceiling. Reach with your arms as if you want to touch the ceiling. Contract your abs and lift your upper body up with the goal of touching your toes with your fingers. Don't bend your knees or move your legs to assist. Once you reach your toes or get as close as you can, go back to the starting position and repeat.
Expert tip: Pause at the top when you reach your toes before going back down to the starting position. That slight pause will make the burning sensation even more intense.
10. Plank Hip Dip
This exercise is one of those movements that might seem simple, but as you continue doing it, the intensity will ramp up. The result will be stronger abs and obliques.
Assume a forearm plank position. The elbows should be directly below the shoulders. The hips and spine should be neutral and straight. Squeeze the glutes and abs. Rotate the left hip down towards the floor. Bring your pelvis back up and lower the right hip. Once you return to the starting position, you've done one rep.
Expert tip: Perform as many as you can in 30 seconds, and then hold a traditional plank for 30 seconds.
11. Russian Twist
The Russian Twist requires stability, coordination, and a range of motion. This is one of those ab workouts for women that take any training session to a new level of intensity.
Sit with the knees bent, heels off the floor, and chest lifted while holding a kettlebell or weighted ball. Maintain control of the ball or weight and twist from side to side. Continue for as long as you can or until you perform the desired reps.
Expert tip: If you're new to the exercise, keep the heels on the floor, don't hold a weight, and keep your hands together.
12. Stir the Pot
If you have an exercise ball, then this one can double as both an ab exercise and a great addition to your warm-up routine.
Assume a kneeling plank position with your forearms resting on an exercise ball. The body should be in a straight line from the top of the head to the knees. Tighten your core and turn the ball clockwise with your forearms while maintaining your position. Once you complete a clockwise turn, repeat by going counterclockwise. Continue for as many reps as you can.
Expert tip: Try completing 12 reps in one direction before switching to the opposite direction for the same number of reps. Repeat for three sets.
13. Exercise Ball Crunch
Want a quick superset that torches the abs? Follow up the previous exercise with this one since you already have the exercise ball handy. If you focus on reps instead of bouncing, then you'll really target the midsection with this one.
Lie on the ball with your feet flat on the floor. Cross your arms across your chest. Lower your head back as if you're trying to wrap your back around the ball. Once you feel your abs stretch, engage them to bring the shoulders up. Crunch your abs and hold the squeeze for a second. Lower yourself back to the starting position. That's one rep.
Expert tip: Add a twist at the top of the crunch to engage the obliques as well: Go up, left, right, then back down.
14. Side Bend
This movement could be done as a part of a larger ab workout, or you can add this exercise to other movements such as a squat or press.
Stand with a dumbbell in one hand and the other hand on your hip. Bend to the side with the dumbbell and lower the weight until it reaches your knee. You should feel a stretch on the non-weighted side. Slowly lift yourself back up and bend the opposite way so the weight comes above the hip. Return to the starting position. This is one rep. Once you finish the reps on one side, repeat with the other.
Expert tip: Don't be afraid to go heavy with this one once you have the form down.
15. Weighted Ball Sit-up and Throw
This exercise should be done with a partner or next to a surface where you can bounce a weighted ball, so it returns to you. You can also include it in a full-body training session for double the burn.
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a weighted ball on your chest with your back flat on the floor. Sit up and throw the ball to your partner or to the wall so it bounces back. Once you catch it, lower yourself under control to the floor. This is one rep.
Expert tip: Set a time and perform as many reps as you can within that time limit. You can also set a target rep range (like 30 reps) and try to achieve it in the fastest time possible.
Some women might struggle to tone their core but achieving a solid set of abs is easier than you think. As long as you focus on eating nutritious, healthy foods, training consistently, and targeting your core with the best ab workouts for women, you're well on your way to a tight, toned stomach.