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Ever dream of a six-pack? Abs so defined you could do laundry on them. Or maybe you just want to trim down, firm up. Whatever your goals, it’s time to get serious. A million crunches will make your abs strong and fierce, but if they’re covered by a layer of fat the crunches aren’t going to remove that. If you’re trying to lose weight – doing a bunch of “core” work won’t actually help very much. What it will do is firm up your muscles so when you do lose weight (through diet), your abs will be rocking.REALITY CHECK: 95% (or more) of your waistline is going to be diet. Set your expectations appropriately.
Equipment Needed for the Home Ab Workout
You need nothing to do this workout. But, I suggest a yoga mat or something to cushion your back.
If you’re on the floor and feeling it in your tailbone, add a cushion underneath for some extra padding.
If you’re an advanced exerciser, you might want to add some weight. Check out the amazing upper body workout for a great workout and free DIY weight alternatives.
The Ab Exercises: Muscles Worked, Progressions & Alternatives
This ab workout only has 4 exercises to cover and you can adjust each one to your fitness level. You can do this ab workout as a home ab workout or you can add it to your gym routine.
Core Exercise #1: The Crunch
Sorry, but a Crunch chocolate bar won’t do much for your abs.
The situp/crunch is the most basic and best-known ab exercise. And there’s a reason for that – it works.
Crunches vs Situps
The difference between crunches vs situps is usually thought to be the height. A situp, as the name implies, suggests you sit all the way up. A crunch is a partial situp, just enough to crunch your stomach.
Which is better? Crunches vs situps? These days, crunches are usually recommended over situps, and I’m going to stick with that.
What muscles are used for crunches
Primary Muscle Group: rectus abdominis
Secondary Muscle Groups: obliques
Crunches will also hit a host of smaller muscles in your core.
How to do a crunch
When you’re first starting out, you should do plain basic crunches.
Lay on the floor, flat on your back, bend your knees and keep your feet on the floor. Slowly engage your abs and curl yourself up (about 4 inches is enough). Curl back down and repeat.
If you have an exercise ball, you can try crunches on an exercise ball. Instead of laying flat on the floor, you would lay flat on the ball with your knees bent 90 degrees.
Progressions for crunches are to raise your feet off the floor, a little bit at a time until your legs are extended straight.
FORM CHECK: Watch your form. Keep your spine neutral. Use your abs to curl not your back.
Core Exercise #2: The Russian Twist
How often do you rotate your body? No really, think about it. Just reaching over to the table, dropped something a bit behind you, plugging something in, putting your seatbelt on, the list goes on and on.
Now, how often do you do rotational exercises? Probably not as often as you should, amirite? That’s where the Russian Twist comes in.
What Muscles are Used for Russian Twists
Primary Muscle Group: obliques
Secondary Muscle Groups: core, spine
The Russian Twist works your obliques, an area that is often under-exercised. It also helps with balance, stability, posture and more. It’s a great exercise.
How to do a Russian Twist
Sit on the floor. Bend your knees and lean back a bit, your body should form a V. Twist your body from side to side without moving your legs.
Note: Move slowly and don’t forget to breathe. Keep your core engaged.
Russian Twist Progressions
Raise your feet off the floor. Get higher until they’re straight, completing the V shape.
Need more? Add weight.
Core Exercise #3: Leg Raises
Leg raises are what they sound like – you raise your legs up.
What Muscles are Used for Leg Raises
Primary Muscle Group: hip flexor (iliopsoas)
Secondary Muscle Groups: rectus abdominis
Note: with straight legs, you’ll also work the rectus femoris (one of your quads)
Leg raises are always considered an ab exercise. You’re going to feel them in your abs. They’re going to work your abs. But they’re a secondary muscle.
They’re still a worthy addition to an ab workout.
How to do Leg Raises?
Keep your body straight and raise your legs to 90 degrees. Leg raises aren’t a standing exercise.
Types of Leg Raises
Lying Leg Raises: Lay flat on your back and raise your legs off the ground.
The goal is usually to hit 90 degrees with your legs straight. I can’t do that so I usually alternate sets. One set with straight legs lifted as high as I can go. The next set with legs raised to 90 degrees but bent as much as necessary.
Incline Leg Raises: If you have access to an incline bench, you could set it at 45 degrees, lay down and raise your legs.
Hanging Leg Raises: If you have an overhead bar (like the one used for pull-ups), hang off of it and raise your legs. These are hard. Really hard.
Captain’s Chair Leg Raises: A captains chair is a device that allows you to rest your elbows while hanging. If you go to a gym, it’s very likely they’ll have one.
Core Exercise #4: Bicycles
Bicycles got their name because you move your legs in a similar pattern as biking.
What Muscles are Used for Bicycles
Primary Muscle Groups: rectus abdominus and obliques
Secondary Muscle Groups: Hips + too many small muscles to count
Bicycles are a great ab workout. They use so many of the muscles. They’re almost a progression of the regular crunch – but they’re not. Don’t skip the regular crunches!
How to do a Bicycle
Lay flat on your back and bend your knees. Raise your feet and shoulder blades off the ground. This is the starting position.
Twist your body so your right elbow touches (or moves towards) your left knee while simultaneously straightening your right leg. Pause here for a couple of seconds.
Return to the starting position. Pause for a couple of seconds.
Twist your body so your left elbow touches your right knee while simultaneously straightening your left leg. Pause here for a couple of seconds.
Return to the starting position. You’ve completed one rep. Pause for a couple of seconds and repeat.
Some Important Notes
Keep your elbows out. Don’t bend your arms in to make it easier to touch your knees. You should be touching the knees through your body’s rotation.
Don’t hold your breath! You should inhale in the starting position and exhale through the rotation.
Don’t rush it. You should be controlling the movements. Pause at each point to fully challenge your body!
There aren’t a lot of bicycle progressions.
To make it easier: Lift your legs higher. Keep your knes bent.
To make it harder: Add ankle weights. Hold some weight behind your head.
The Home Ab Workout Plan
This ab workout is quick. Do it on its own or add it to the beginning or end of your leg workout, upper body workout or cardio workout.
Personally, I like to do it before cardio.
Option 1: A Circuit Ab Workout
This is my preferred method. I think it’s faster and I actually get more exercise in.
Complete 3 circuits (4 if you’re feeling motivated)
Do as many reps of each exercise as you can in 20 seconds. Do not rest between exercises. Once you’ve completed a circuit of all 4 exercises, rest for 15-20 seconds. Repeat.
- Russian Twists
- Leg Raises
*Choose the variation that suits you.
Option 2: Traditional Ab Workout
Complete 3 sets of 15 reps of each exercise. Rest 20 seconds between sets. Rest 30 seconds between exercises.
- Russian Twists
- Leg Raises
*Choose the variation that suits you.
Keeping Track of Your Workouts
It’s important that you keep track of what you do each workout session so that you can make sure you’re improving.
What variation of an exercise are you doing? Are you adding any weights? How many reps/sets did you complete?
Bonus: How did you feel afterward? Was it too hard, too easy?
If you don’t keep track, how will you know if you’re improving? You won’t. You might remember-ish- but you won’t remember everything. It only takes a minute to keep track. I use Jefit (there’s an app and a web-version) and love it – but you could also use a bullet journal, a piece of paper, a google doc, whatever. It doesn’t matter HOW you keep track, just as long as you do.
A SMARTER Ab Goal
Goals are helpful to give you an actionable plan to achieve whatever it is you want. You should be setting SMARTER goals.
Here’s an example of a SMARTER ab goal
Call a Friend
Get a gym buddy. They don’t have to work out with you simultaneously. They don’t have to be someone you know IRL. They have to be someone who will support, motivate and encourage you. This will help keep you accountable.
If you need someone, This Bitch & Her Readers would be happy to help. Let us know what you’re doing, what you’re struggling with or whatever you need in the comments below. We’d love to help!
A Six Pack for Everyone
If you work your abs, you’ll grow your ab muscles. Maybe one day you’ll have a new spot to do your laundry – washboard abs don’t have to be a fantasy. Start working on yours today!
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