Training

The Best Ab Exercises for Women

Sculpting your core will not only require hard work and dedication in the gym or your home workouts, but more defined muscles are made in the kitchen. When training your abs, you should also aim to develop the rest of the muscles around your core too – like the spinal erectors in your lower back. Training your core effectively can significantly improve sports performance, carry over to other compound training lifts, help you reach your aesthetic goals and aid in injury prevention in the long run.

If you’re intending on doing a core-focused workout, then choose 5-8 exercises from this list and perform around 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps throughout the workout. Add some additional weight if you fancy a challenge and don’t forget to strengthen your lower back too!

 

1. Plank

Sets and Reps: 4×30-60 seconds

Technique: Get down into a push-up position, but put your elbows onto the ground, beneath your shoulders. With a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles, hold this position for the duration of the rep.

Tip: Keep your elbows stacked beneath your shoulders – but you can shift your elbows further forwards if you want to make the exercise more difficult. Make sure you don’t let your hips sag towards the floor. Squeeze your glutes and abdomen for maximal effects.

 

2. Side Plank

Sets and Reps: 3×30-60 seconds

Technique: Start lying on your side, then prop your torso up by stacking your elbow underneath your shoulder. Maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles and hold this position for the duration of the rep.

Tip: Try to avoid allowing your top shoulder to roll forwards – so both shoulders should essentially be stacked over the one elbow at the base. Make sure your hips are also extended and not flexed during this exercise.

 

3. Hip Dips

Sets and Reps: 3×10-20

Technique: Get into the side plank position, then allow your hips to slowly drop to the floor before performing the opposite of this movement to return to the start position.

Tip: Keep your shoulders stacked over the one base elbow and control the movement for maximal effects.

 

4. Lying Leg Raises

Sets and Reps: 3×12-20

Technique: Lying flat on your back with your legs straight, flex only at the hip so that your legs raise to around 90-degrees perpendicular to the ground. Slowly lower your legs until you have returned to the start position before initiating the following rep.

Tip: Make sure that your lower back stays in contact with the ground. If you find this exercise too difficult, then try with slightly bent knees.

 

5. Pallof Press

Equipment: Resistance band/Cable machine

Sets and Reps: 3×12

Technique: With the resistance band or cable fixed to around chest height, stand side on and hold the apparatus directly in front of your chest so that there is tension/load that you must resist. Keeping the apparatus directly in front of your chest, press it away from you, then slowly bring it back towards your chest.

Tip: Hold in the pressed-out position for 2 seconds on each rep to maximise the challenge.

 

6. Weighted Side Bends

Equipment: Dumbbell/Kettlebell/Weight Plate

Sets and Reps: 3×10-15

Technique: Start standing upright with the load held in one hand. Lower the weight down the side of your leg until your torso is fully flexed to the side. Contract your obliques on the opposite side to return to the start position.

Tip: Try to be strict about keeping your shoulders/chest facing straight on throughout the exercise, not allowing them to cave towards the weight being held.

 

7. Knees to Chest

Sets and Reps: 4×10-15

Technique: Lying on your back, tuck your knees to your chest, allowing your lower back to round as you tuck as far as you can. Slowly lower back to the start position with your feet on the floor before initiating the following rep.

 

8. Hollow Body Holds

Sets and Reps: 3×20-40 seconds

Technique: Start lying on your back on the floor. Raise your arms above your head, then elevate your upper back/shoulders from the floor by a few inches. Additionally, with your legs straight, raise your feet off the floor by a few inches too. Hold this position for the duration of the rep.

Tip: Keep your lower back in contact with the floor throughout the rep.

 

9. Dead Bug

Equipment: Swiss ball or no equipment

Sets and Reps: 4×10-12

Technique: Lying on your back with the swiss ball held on top of your stomach. Push one arm down into the swiss ball whilst simultaneously pushing the knee of the opposite side leg into the bottom of the swiss ball. Bring the opposite limbs to the ball, releasing the other two back to the start position.

Tip: Keep your lower back in contact with the ground throughout the duration of the exercise.

 

10. Bird Dog

Sets and Reps: 3×10-15

Technique: Start on all fours, with your back straight. Elevate the opposite arm and leg, raising them to form a straight line through your body. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to the start position and performing the same for the opposite limbs.

Tip: Maintain a straight back throughout and widen your base if you struggle to balance.

 

11. Abdominal Crunches

Sets and Reps: 4×12-20

Technique: Lying on your back with your knees bent to around 45 degrees and your feet on the floor, flex your abdominal muscles to ‘crunch’ your head and shoulders up towards your knees. Slowly lower yourself back down in a controlled manner before executing the next rep. Tip: Try not to swing and use momentum, instead opting for strictly contracting your muscles until full range of motion is achieved.

 

12. Weighted Russian Twists

Equipment: Medicine ball or other appropriate weight

Sets and Reps: 3×12-20

Technique: Start by sitting on the floor with your knees bent to around 45 degrees and your torso upright but leaning back. Hold the weight over your abdomen, then rotate to one side as if you are going to place the weight down next to your hip. Rotate to the opposite side and repeat.

Tip: Aim to keep the movement controlled, utilising your muscles and not momentum.

 

13. Stir the Pot

Equipment: Swiss ball/Exercise ball

Sets and Reps: 3×12-20

Technique: Assume the plank position, but with your elbows placed on a swiss ball to decrease stability. Rotate your elbows in a clockwise or anti-clockwise motion, ‘stirring the pot’.

Tip: Use a wider base with your feet if you struggle to balance.

 

14. Flutter Kicks

Sets and Reps: 4×10-20

Technique: Start lying on your back with your legs straight. Elevate both feet by about 6 inches from the floor. Elevate and lower your feet in an alternating manner, similar to scissors with each moving in a different direction.

Tip: Keep your lower back in contact with the ground throughout the exercise.

 

15. Horizontal Wood Chop

Equipment: Resistance band/Cable machine

Sets and Reps: 3×12-15

Technique: Set up similar to the Pallof Press exercise. Start with a very slight amount of tension that you must resist, then with straight arms, bring the cable/band directly in front of your chest in a chopping motion.



Scott Whitney

Scott Whitney

Writer and expert

Scott developed a passion for sport and performance through competing in long‐distance running and bouldering prior to attending university. Scott’s academic achievements include a BSc honours degree in Sports Therapy and an MSc degree in Strength and Conditioning. He is also a member of The Society of Sports Therapists and CIMSPA. Previously, he has worked with amateur and elite athletes, ranging from university sports teams to elite rugby league athletes and Team GB rowers. He currently works with various gyms in developing and delivering training programmes for amateur athletes and gym‐goers. While passive treatments remain in his arsenal as a Sports Therapist, Scott uses his skills to promote physical activity for combatting obesity, lower back pain and other sporting injuries, and simultaneously providing programmes for athletic development. Being a recent graduate, Scott strives to gain experience wherever possible, offering advice and sharing knowledge along the way. He believes it is important to practice what you preach, so in his spare time, Scott practices Olympic Weightlifting and enjoys being active outdoors in all weathers, although he still believes it is important to make ample time for social activities.


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