There are endless ways to work your abs, with both targeted abs exercises and total-body movements that require your whole midsection be engaged to keep you stable. You can work your abs with weights or without. But no matter how you do it, to make sure your core is strong and able to do its job—both in everyday life and during your workouts—it’s important to work all the muscles, not just one or two.
Quick refresher on the abdominal muscles: They include the transverse abdominis, the deepest muscle in the abdominal wall that’s key in stabilizing the spine; the obliques, which run along the sides of your trunk and are used primarily in twisting and turning movements; and the rectus abdominis, which sits on top of all the other smaller muscles and tissues, and forms what you think of as “abs.” There are a handful of other muscles located in the abdominal area that contribute to a well-functioning core, but these are the main ones that bear the brunt of the weight and tend to be the focus of most abs exercises and workouts.
While some abs exercises may engage one muscle a little more intensely than another, none of these muscles typically ever work alone. They do their jobs together to form one strong unit and help you power through everything from a run to a really heavy lift.
The abs workout below includes a handful of bodyweight exercises that together show all your abs muscles some love. In less than eight minutes, you can challenge and strengthen these important muscles. But prepare yourself: You’re going to feel the burn pretty quickly. That’s normal. Continuing to work through that burn—keeping those muscles under tension for longer—will help you strengthen them. However, if you feel a sharp pain or find that these exercises irritate your lower back, stop doing them and talk with your doctor before doing this or any other workout. (And if you’re looking for core exercises that help with lower-back pain, you can find great ones here.)
You can do this workout on its own, but it’s also a great complement to your regular workout. Do it at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a strength or cardio workout to give your abs some extra work. If you only have a few minutes, you can also just do one or two rounds of the exercises instead of the full workout. Basically, you should feel free to use this abs workout however it works best for you and your routine—there’s really no wrong way.
Do each exercise for 30 seconds. Move quickly from one move to the next and avoid resting in between. (If you need to take a break, though, that’s totally fine, particularly if taking a break will ensure that you doing each move with proper form.) Do three rounds, or four if you’re up to it.
- Dead Bug: 30 seconds
- Forearm Plank Rock: 30 seconds
- Plank Up-Down: 30 seconds
- Lateral Plank Walk: 30 seconds
- Bird Dog Crunch: 30 seconds
Demoing the moves below are Rachel Denis, a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York state powerlifting records; Cookie Janee, a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; and Crystal Williams, a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City.