A strong core is so important, not only to kick butt in the gym, but to move efficiently in daily life. And although it’s imperative, strengthening those muscles doesn’t have to be complicated. A little consistency goes a long way!

We’ve compiled 12 exercises for the best ab workout, split into weekly routines that will help you strengthen, stabilize, and balance. What are you waiting for?

Focus on the three moves we’ve detailed below for each week, completing three sets of each exercise

You can approach this two ways:

  • If you’re a beginner, aim for a certain number of reps. We detail the number of reps below.
  • For a more advanced routine, try timed rounds. Set the timer for one minute and complete as many reps as you can in this period. This is a great way to challenge yourself by trying to increase your rep output with each round or in future workouts.

Complete each routine three to four times before moving on to the next week.

It may go without saying, but ensure that you’re in touch with your abdominal muscles during all of these exercises. It can be easy to just go through the motions, but truly focusing on your core will only make these exercises more effective.

Complete this routine three to four times in a week.

Do 3 sets of each move:

  • 10 reps of bridges
  • 15–20 reps of crunches
  • 15–20 reps of plank twists

For detailed instructions on the reps, see below.

Bridge

The bridge is a great foundational exercise, perfect to kick off this ab circuit.

Directions

  1. Lie on your back on a mat, knees bent, feet on the floor, and palms facing down at your sides.
  2. Inhale and brace your core. Push through your feet, raising your butt and back off the ground. At the top, your body should form a straight line between your knees and shoulders.
  3. Slowly lower back down to the ground.
  4. Repeat 10 reps for 3 sets.

Crunch

Although it’s one of the most basic ab exercises, a crunch can be truly effective. It targets the rectus abdominis, or your six-pack muscles.

Directions

  1. Lie on your back on a mat, knees bent, feet on the floor, and arms crossed over your chest. Ensure your neck stays untucked throughout the movement.
  2. Using your abs, begin to roll your head, neck, and shoulder blades up off the ground.
  3. Pause when you reach the top, then slowly lower back down.
  4. Complete 15–20 reps for 3 sets.

Plank twists

Target your obliques with plank twists, which will also work on full-body strength.

Directions

  1. Get into a forearm plank position. Ensure your core is tight and your lower back isn’t sagging. Your neck should be neutral.
  2. Keeping your upper body stationary, begin to rotate your midbody, letting your right hip dip toward the ground.
  3. Once it touches, rotate the other way, all the way until your left hip touches the ground. This is 1 rep.
  4. Complete 3 sets of 5–10 reps.

Complete this routine three to four times.

Do 3 sets of each move:

  • upward plank until tired
  • 20 reps total (10 on each side) of bicycle crunches
  • 10 reps of leg raises

For detailed instructions on the reps, see below.

Upward plank

A twist on the traditional plank exercise, an upward plank recruits your core just as effectively, especially your deep transverse abdominis muscles.

Directions

  1. Sit with your legs extended, arms straight and palms down on the mat. Lean back so your upper body forms a 45-degree angle with the ground.
  2. Brace your core and begin to take your belly button up toward the sky, pushing up through your heels and your palms.
  3. Hold at the top until tired.
  4. Complete 3 sets.

Bicycle crunches

Work your obliques and rectus abdominis — those six-pack muscles — with bicycle crunches.

Directions

  1. Assume tabletop position with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and fingers interlaced behind your head.
  2. Crunch up and rotate, bringing your right elbow to your left knee and allowing your right leg to extend.
  3. Return your right elbow and right leg to the starting position, immediately crunching back up to bring your left elbow to your right knee and extending your left leg.
  4. Complete 20 reps total (10 on each side) for 3 sets.

Leg raises

This is a more challenging exercise. Be aware that leg raises can easily cause your lower back to creep off the ground to help you compensate. Focus on recruiting your abs to do the work.

Directions

  1. Lie on your back on a mat, arms down by your sides and palms on the ground or underneath your butt for extra support.
  2. Recruit your core to lift your legs straight up until your body forms a 90-degree angle.
  3. Slowly lower your legs back down to the ground.
  4. Complete 10 reps for 3 sets.

Complete this routine three to four times.

Do 3 sets of each move:

  • 10 reps of arm slides
  • side plank until tired
  • 12 reps of flutter kicks

For detailed instructions on the reps, see below.

Arm slide

You’ll either need two small towels and a slippery floor or core sliders on carpet to complete these arm slides.

Directions

  1. Start on all fours with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips. Place the core sliders or towels underneath your palms.
  2. Brace your core and, keeping your arms extended, slide your palms forward, shifting your weight into your upper body.
  3. When you can’t go any farther, pull yourself back to start.
  4. Repeat 10 reps for 3 sets total.

Side plank

A great exercise for your obliques, the side plank can be easily modified by performing off of your knee instead of your foot.

Directions

  1. Lie on your right side and support your upper body with your forearm. Bend your knees at a 45-degree angle, and stack your left leg on top of your right. Extend your left arm toward the sky.
  2. Keep your feet touching. Using your obliques, pull your left hip toward the sky, straightening your legs as you go.
  3. Hold this position until you tire and can’t keep proper form.

Flutter kicks

Similar to leg raises, ensure that your lower back doesn’t come up off the ground while performing flutter kicks. If you have tight hips, it may creep up.

Directions

  1. Lie on your back on a mat with your legs extended up so your body forms a 90-degree angle. Flex your feet.
  2. Slow and controlled, lower your right leg down toward the ground as far as it will go.
  3. Return your right leg to start, and lower your left leg down.
  4. Complete 12 total reps for 3 sets.

Complete this routine three to four times.

Do 3 sets of each move:

  • high plank for 30 seconds or until tired
  • 10 total reps (5 on each side) of windshield wipers
  • boat pose for 15 seconds or until tired

For detailed instructions on the reps, see below.

High plank

Although it’s a basic exercise, the plank is one of the most beneficial moves you can perform. Your core muscles — specifically your transverse abdominis — ensure that you maintain good form here.

Directions

  1. Get onto all fours, hands directly underneath your shoulders and knees slightly behind your hips.
  2. Push up from your hands and feet to assume the plank position. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet. Utilize your core to stay stable, ensuring your lower back doesn’t sag. Roll your shoulders back and down. Your neck should be neutral, and your gaze should be down.
  3. Shoot to hold for 30 seconds or until tired.
  4. Repeat 3 sets.

Windshield wipers

Windshield wipers require core strength and stability. Going slow and controlled is key.

Directions

  1. Lie on your back in the tabletop position with your arms out at your sides at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Controlling through your core, let your knees drop to the right until your right thigh touches the ground.
  3. Return to center and repeat, dropping your knees to the left.
  4. Complete 10 total reps (5 on each side) for 3 sets.

Boat pose

This is a yoga move. It’s truly challenging for your core. The farther you lean back, the harder it will be.

Directions

  1. Setup: Sit on a mat with your knees bent, feet flat on the ground, and your arms extended out in front of you.
  2. Utilizing your core, lean back slightly and lift your legs up to a tabletop position, balancing here.
  3. Hold this for 15 seconds or until you tire and can’t keep proper form. Complete 3 sets.

By just focusing on three exercises per week for one month, the best ab workout is simple and effective.

Although these routines will strengthen your core, you’ll also need to focus on your diet and cardio to see that visible six-pack (“spot-reducing” isn’t possible). Start today and, combined with a moderate, balanced diet, you’ll see results in just about a month.


Nicole Davis is a Boston-based writer, ACE-certified personal trainer, and health enthusiast who works to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. Her philosophy is to embrace your curves and create your fit — whatever that may be! She was featured in Oxygen magazine’s “Future of Fitness” in the June 2016 issue. Follow her on Instagram.