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7 Best Core Exercises for Sculpted Abs

Blast away belly fat and reveal chiseled abs with these seven essential moves.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

Variety is the spice of life. It's also the key to sculpting a toned midsection with well-defined abs. So instead of doing endless sit-ups to strengthen your core, incorporate a wide variety of ab exercises into your workout routine. To help get you started on the path to sculpted abs, we spoke with Jarrod Nobbe, CPT, a performance coach and certified personal trainer with Garage Gym Reviews, who delivers his top seven core exercises for sculpted abs. Not only do they target the rectus abdominis (the "six-pack" muscles) but they also work the deeper core muscles, including the obliques, transverse abdominis, and lower back muscles.

The benefits of having a solid core extend far beyond aesthetically pleasing ab muscles. According to a study published in Sports Health, core strength is essential for stability, balance, posture, and injury prevention. Plus, these exercises require no equipment or costly gym memberships and can be done right at home or anywhere you have a little space.

"There are countless ways to work the abs, from targeted exercises to total-body moves," says Nobbe. "You can't go wrong with the following exercises that collectively hit the entire core, which comprises all of the muscles that wrap around the midsection, including the six-pack muscles."

If your goal is to achieve well-defined abs, Nobbe reminds us that nutrition is an essential piece of the puzzle. "Working the muscles below can help you define abs and build overall stability, but abs won't look defined unless your overall body fat is low enough to reveal them."

Keep reading for the exercises along with detailed how-tos, then don't miss The Best Core Workouts for Flatter Abs After 40.

Cross-Body Mountain Climbers

fit woman doing mountain climbers on mat, part of 10-minute indoor cardio workout

"The cross-body mountain climber combines ab work and cardio for a double-whammy core workout," states Nobbe.

Begin in a pushup position with your hands shoulder-width apart, and keep your spine as neutral as possible throughout this movement. Pull your right knee toward your left shoulder, and quickly step back into a pushup position once you reach the end of your range of motion. Then, switch legs while pulling your left knee toward your chest and keeping your right leg extended back. Continue alternating legs in a running motion. Do this for one minute straight without rest for three rounds.

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Dead Bugs

dead bug

Dead bugs are an ultra-effective core exercise targeting the abs, hip flexors, and lower back. "This exercise is a low-impact core crusher that also helps with coordination since opposite sides of your body move in opposite directions in sync," says Nobbe.

Lie on your back with your arms extended straight toward the ceiling and your hips and knees bent at 90-degree angles. Slowly lower your right arm and left leg toward the floor while pressing your lower back into the floor. Return to the starting position and alternate sides with each rep. Complete three sets of 15 to 20 reps.

Hanging Leg Raises

woman doing hanging leg raises

"Hanging leg raises are notorious for taxing the lower abs, but they also work the rest of the core and the hip flexors," says Nobbe.

Hang onto a pull-up bar or other sturdy bar with your arms and legs fully extended. Engage your core and lift your legs, hinging at the hips and bringing your knees toward your chest. Slowly lower them back down, then repeat, ensuring you don't swing or use momentum. Keep your legs straight while you hinge at the hips to make the move more challenging. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

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woman doing forearm planks on yoga mat outdoors, concept of strength exercises to tone your belly from every angle

This foundational core exercise has stood the test of time for a reason. Planks target your entire midsection. Nobbe tells us, "The classic plank works your entire core, including your abs, back, and glutes. It's also an excellent way to build stamina in your core muscles."

Begin in a pushup position with your hands shoulder-width apart and your shoulders, elbows, and hands aligned, then lower to rest on your forearms. Ensure your core is engaged and your hips align with your ankles and shoulders. Hold this position for three rounds of 45 to 60 seconds while maintaining proper form.

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Side Plank with Hip Dips

side plank hip dip

"This movement works the obliques and all-around core and helps build upper-body stability and strength," states Nobbe.

Start in a standard side plank position, resting on one forearm with your hips and legs extended and one foot on the other. Engage your core, and lower your hip toward the floor until you reach the end of your range of motion with good form, then lift it back up. Focus on engaging your obliques as you complete each rep. Complete three sets of 12 to 15 reps per side.

Spiderman Plank

spiderman plank

Your friendly neighborhood Spiderman plank is a stellar core exercise that works your abs, obliques, and hip flexors. "The Spiderman plank is challenging, but if you master it, there's no question about your balance, coordination, or mobility," explains Nobbe.

Begin in a plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and elbows extended. Slowly lower your body toward the floor, bringing your right knee up and out toward your right elbow. Return to the plank position, and repeat the movement with your left knee toward your left elbow. Do three sets of 15 to 20 reps per side.

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Toe Touches

illustration of woman doing toe touches exercise

"This movement gets deceptively tricky after a few reps, so pay attention to form to ensure your muscles are getting the most out of it," advises Nobbe.

Lie on your back with your hips at a 90-degree angle and your legs extended toward the ceiling. Reach your arms toward your toes, and lift your upper back off the floor. Lower back down, and repeat, moving slowly and with control and focusing on engaging your abs throughout the movement.

Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more about Adam
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