18 Best Ab Exercises For Women

Planks, oblique crunches, dead bug, v-up crunches…these are the 18 best ab exercises for women! This ab workout for women takes you from beginner ab exercises to more advanced core exercises that will sculpt and strengthen your mid-section.

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Scoring toned abs is more than cranking out crunches.

To sculpt a stronger, more defined core, you need to functionally train the muscles that criss-cross around the trunk of your body (aka your core).

The best ab workouts incorporate exercises that fire up ALL of these major muscles in the core. Particularly exercises that work ALL the ab muscles at the SAME time (like planks, dead bugs, and side planks).

If you want ab muscles, you have to train your abs from every angle.

Bonus, the benefits of strengthening your abs go FAR beyond aesthetics. A strong core: 

  • Prevents Injury
  • Reduces Back Pain
  • Improves Posture
  • Provides Stability To Common Every Day Actives and Movements

challenging ab exercises for women

What muscles make up the core?

There are over 24 muscles between your hips and shoulders that make up “the core”. Some of the most prominent core muscles include:

  • Traverse Abdominis — the deep core muscles, sometimes referred to as the “corset” of the body.
  • Internal and External Obliques — the muscles along the side of your core.
  • Rectus Abdominis — known as the “six-pack” ab muscles.
  • Multifidus and Erector Spinae — important stabilizing muscles located along the spine.

What is the most effective ab exercise for women?

The bicycle crunch according to this study done by the American Council on Exercise

Because the bicycle crunch uses all of the abdominal muscles listed above.

Personally, I believe it’s the plank. Which also hits ALL parts of the core.

When holding a plank you are working:

  • All of the stabilizing muscles along your spine
  • The lower abs
  • The upper abs
  • The deep transverse abdomen and the outer “six pack” ab muscles

What are the 5 best core exercises for women?

  • The Plank
  • Dead Bug
  • Reverse Crunch
  • Bear Crawl
  • Side Plank

Side Plank | best ab exercises for women

How to Engage Your Core During Ab Workouts

These are some common “fitness instructor cues” you’ll hear in workout classes or during personal training sessions that are designed to help you safely perform core exercises:

  • Pull your belly button towards your spine. Your belly button is connected to your transverse abdominis, your deepest ab muscle which you want ‘pulled in’ when performing ab exercises.
  • Whenever you’re doing an exercise on your back, make sure to press your lower back into the mat. Maintaining a neutral spine again the floor is the safest way to perform lying ab exercises, without injuring your back.
  • MY FAVORITE: Imagine there is a string between your hip bones. As you exhale that string (or your TA muscles) are pulling your hip bones together.

Now, let’s look at some of the most common ab workout mistakes or pain-points and how to correct them.

1. If you feel neck pain during ab workouts…

Neck pain can also be a sign that your core isn’t quite strong enough to complete the exercise you’re attempting. Rather your body is relying on your neck muscles to compensate for weak ab muscles.

Trainer tips for next pain: 

  • Any time your hands are behind your head, think about pressing your head into your fingertips, rather than using your hands to “pull up” on your head.
  • Imagine there’s a tennis ball tucked underneath your chin — this creates space between your chin and your chest and avoids extra neck strain.

the best ab workouts for women crunches

2. If you feel ab workouts in your hips and hip flexors…

It’s fairly common to feel ab exercises in your hip flexors (the group of muscles along the front of your hip).

Especially if you spend most of your day sitting, your hip flexors might be tight and therefore overpower your abs.

Trainer tips for feeling ab workouts in your hips: 

18 best ab exercises for women

3 Ways to Complete This Ab Workout for Women

You can approach this ab workout for women three different ways:

  1. Make it a 20 Minute AMRAP Core Workout — complete 20 repetitions (or a 20-30 second isometric hold) of each ab exercise. Continue working through all 18 ab exercises as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) in 20 minutes.
  2. Make it a 10 Minute Ab Workout — complete 20 repetitions (or a 20-30 second isometric hold) of each ab exercise. The goal is to make it through all 18 ab exercises in 10 minutes.
  3. Make it a 5 Minute Add-On Ab Workout — pick 5-10 of your favorite ab exercises from the list below. Complete 20 repetitions (or a 20-30 second isometric hold) of each exercise.

Or simply select your favorite ab exercises from this list below and complete each exercise for repetitions or timed intervals. 

The 18 Best Ab Exercises for Women

Refresh your ab workout routine with these 18 best ab exercises for women.

The 18 ab exercises below are some of the best abs exercises you can do. Mix and match them to create an abs workout that’ll get you strong and toned!

I suggest adding these ab exercises to your training routine 2-3 times a week. 

Because I believe all workouts are scaleable to your fitness level, I’ve divided these 18 ab exercises into two lists:

  • 7 Beginner Ab Exercises — start here if your a fitness beginner, new to fitness or working out, recovering from an injury, surgery or postpartum and regaining core strength.
  • 11 Advanced Ab Exercises —  if you’re a more advanced fitness enthusiast you can start here.

Workout Equipment:

No equipment needed, just your bodyweight!

Workout Instructions:

Select your favorite ab exercises from the two lists below. Then move through each ab exercise at your own pace (counting reps or performing each exercise for a timed interval).

You’ll find a GIF image demonstration of each ab exercise below. 

7 Beginner Ab Exercises

  1. Incline Plank
  2. Knee Down Side Plank
  3. Bent Knee Leg Lowers
  4. Bent Knee Side-to-Side Leg Lowers
  5. Assisted Boat Pose
  6. Side Oblique Crunch
  7. Bent Knee Bicycle Crunch (March)

11 Advanced Ab Exercises

  1. High Plank
  2. Side Plank
  3. Double Leg Lowers
  4. Side-to-Side L Leg Lowers
  5. Advanced Boat Pose
  6. Oblique V-Up Crunch
  7. Bicycle Crunch
  8. Dead Bug
  9. Seated Twist
  10. Bear Crawl
  11. V-Up Crunch

1. Incline Plank

Targets: deep transverse abs

Incline Plank ab exercise for women

How to do an incline plank: 

  1. Start standing near a stable countertop, chair or bench as an incline.
  2. Place your hands on the stable incline, then step back extending your legs behind you, shoulder width apart. Balancing on the balls of your feet.
  3. Your wrists should be stack under shoulders with arms straight (soft bend in the elbows). Your body should form a straight line, at an incline, from shoulders to heels. Pull up on your kneecaps and push your heels toward the ground behind you.
  4. Perform an isometric hold in this incline plank position.

From here progress to: standard high plank (exercise #8 below).

2. Knee Down Side Plank

Targets: obliques, transverse abs, rectus abdominis

Knee Down Side Plank for obliques

How to do a modified side plank: 

  1. Lie on your right side with your right knee bent at 90 degrees underneath you to help support you. Place your right hand flat on the ground, shoulder stacked over wrist (with slight bend in the elbow). Option to place your right forearm on the ground.
  2. Extend your left leg long and your left hand overhead.
  3. Engage your core, obliques, by keeping your hips lifted to your highest point.
  4. Perform an isometric hold in this knee down side plank position.
  5. Complete the number of reps or timed interval on both the right and left sides of the body.

From here progress to: standard side plank (exercise #9 below).

3. Bent Knee Leg Lowers

Targets: transverse abs and lower abs

Bent Knee Leg Lowers beginner ab exercises for women

How to do bent knee leg lowers: 

  1. With your low back pressing firmly into the mat and your abdominal wall wrapped as tightly as possibly around your core, bring your legs to a 90 degree bend.
  2. Note, the closer your knees are to your chest the easier this ab exercise will be. The farther your knees are from your chest, the harder this lower ab exercise will be.
  3. Slowly lower both feet towards the ground, maintaining the 90 degree bend in your knees.
  4. Once your toes tap the ground, pull up through your lower abs to return to starting position.

From here progress to: double leg lowers (exercise #10 below).

4. Bent Knee Side-to-Side Leg Lowers

Targets: obliques, transverse abs, rectus abdominis

Bent Knee Side-to-Side Leg Lowers

How to do bent knee side-to-side leg lowers: 

  1. With your low back pressing firmly into the mat and your abdominal wall wrapped as tightly as possibly around your core, bring your legs to a 90 degree bend.
  2. Note, the closer your knees are to your chest the easier this ab exercise will be. The farther your knees are from your chest, the harder this lower ab exercise will be.
  3. Slowly lower both legs towards the ground on the right side of the body, maintaining the 90 degree bend in your knees.
  4. Once your legs get as close to the ground as comfortable for you, pull them back to the starting position and repeat on the left side if the body.

From here progress to: side-to-side L leg lowers (exercise #11 below).

5. Assisted Boat Pose

Targets: rectus abdominis and transverse abs

Assisted Boat Pose | Ab workouts for women

How to do assisted boat pose: 

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs bent at 90 degrees. Lean back slightly sitting on your sit bones (two sitting bones and tailbone), keeping a nice long spine, shoulders down and back.
  2. Place your hands behind your knees and pull your feet off the ground so your bent legs are extended out in front of you.
  3. Hold this isometric boat pose position for a timed interval.

From here progress to: advanced boat post (exercise #12 below).

6. Side Oblique Crunch

Targets: obliques, transverse abs, upper abs and lower abs

Side Oblique Crunch beginner ab exercises

How to do a side Oblique Crunch: 

  1. Lie on your right side with your right knee bent at 90 degrees underneath you to help support you. Place your right forearm flat on the ground, shoulder stacked over elbow.
  2. Extend your left leg long, foot flexed, and your left hand overhead.
  3. Engage your core and obliques, by keeping your hips lifted to your highest point.
  4. From here pull your left toe towards your left hand; they should meet near shoulder height.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat.
  6. Complete the number of reps or timed interval on both the right and left sides of the body.

From here progress to: oblique v-up crunch (exercise #13 below).

7. Bent Knee Bicycle March

Targets: transverse abs, upper abs and lower abs

Bent Knee Bicycle March

How to do bent knee bicycle march: 

  1. With your low back pressing firmly into the mat and your abdominal wall wrapped as tightly as possibly around your core, bring your legs to a 90 degree bend, feet flat on the ground.
  2. Place your hands behind your head and think about pressing your head into your fingertips. Imagine there’s a tennis ball tucked underneath your chin — this creates space between your chin and your chest and avoids extra neck strain.
  3. On the exhale use your core to lift your neck and shoulders off the ground pull your right elbow towards your left knee.
  4. Slowly lower back down to the starting position and repeat on the other side; pulling your left elbow towards your right knee.
  5. Continue to repeat this movement alternating knee to elbow crunches.

From here progress to: bicycle crunch (exercise #14 below).

8. High Plank

Targets: transverse abs, upper abs, lower abs and entire core

High Plank Pose best ab exercises for women

How to do a plank: 

  1. Start in a table top position with shoulders stacked over wrists (soft bend in the elbows) and hips over knees.
  2. Then extend legs long, balance on balls of the feet. From here your body should form a straight line from shoulders to heels. Pull up on your kneecaps and push back on your heels to keep your core engaged.
  3. Hold this position for a timed interval, maintaining a straight line with your body, gaze slightly in front of you.

To modify: see exercise #1 above, incline plank.

9. Side Plank (option to lift outside leg)

Targets: obliques and transverse abs

Side Plank advanced ab exercises for women

How to do a side plank: 

  1. Lie on your right side with right forearm flat on the floor, elbow under shoulder, and both legs extended long. Your body should form a straight line from head to feet. Feet can be stacked on top of one another or staggered.
  2. Engage your core and lift your hips up off the mat. Extending your left arm straight overhead.
  3. Option to hold this side plank position or advance the exercise by lifting your left leg.
  4. Hold this position for a timed interval.

To modify: see exercise #2 above, knee down side plank.

10. Double Leg Lowers

Targets: rectus abdominis, transverse abs, lower abs

Double Leg Lowers lower ab exercises

How to do double leg lowers: 

  1. With your low back pressing firmly into the mat and your abdominal wall wrapped as tightly as possibly around your core, bring your legs straight ‘up the wall’ or raised to the top of your hips. Legs are extended long, feet flexed towards your face.
  2. Slowly lower both legs towards the ground, keep the legs as straight while maintaining low back contact with the mat.
  3. Once your heels tap the ground, pull up through your lower abs lifting your straight legs back to the starting position.

To modify: see exercise #3 above, bent knee leg lowers.

11. Side-to-Side L Leg Lowers

Targets: rectus abdominis, transverse abs, obliques

Side-to-Side L Leg Lowers ab exercises for obliques

How to do side-to-side leg lowers: 

  1. With your low back pressing firmly into the mat and your abdominal wall wrapped as tightly as possibly around your core, bring your legs straight ‘up the wall’ or raised to the top of your hips. Legs are extended long, feet flexed towards your face.
  2. Slowly lower both legs towards the ground on the right side of the body, keeping legs as straight as possible while keeping your left shoulder connected to the mat.
  3. Once your legs get as close to the ground as comfortable for you, pull them back to the starting position and repeat on the left side if the body.

To modify: see exercise #4 above, bent knee side-to-side leg lowers.

12. Advanced Boat Pose

Targets: rectus abdominis and transverse abs

Advanced Boat Pose ab workouts for women

How to do boat pose: 

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs bent at 90 degrees. Lean back slightly sitting on your sit bones (two sitting bones and tailbone), keeping a nice long spine, shoulders down and back.
  2. Place your hands behind your knees and pull your feet off the ground so your bent legs are extended out in front of you.
  3. If possible, slowly straighten your legs out in front of you, raising the tips of your toes slightly above the level of your eyes. If this isn’t possible remain with your knees bent (reference exercise #5, assisted boat pose).
  4. Stretch your arms long out towards your feet. Spread the shoulder blades across your back and reach strongly out through the fingers. If this isn’t possible, keep the hands on the floor beside your hips or hold on to the backs of your thighs.
  5. Hold this isometric boat pose position for a timed interval.

To modify: see exercise #5 above, assisted boat pose.

13. Oblique V Up Crunch

Targets: obliques, transverse abs, upper abs and lower abs

Oblique V Up Crunch advanced ab workouts for women

How to do an oblique v up: 

  1. Lie on your right side with your right arm extended flat on the floor in front of you, left hand behind your head, and both legs extended long. Feet stacked on top of one another.
  2. Engage your core and simultaneously lift your neck and shoulders up off the ground while also lifting your legs up off the mat. Therefore, your left elbow and legs are coming up to meet one another.
  3. Slowly lower back down to the starting position and repeat this oblique v up crunch for a number of repetitions or timed interval.

To modify: see exercise #6 above, modified side oblique crunch.

14. Bicycle Crunch

Targets: rectus abdominis, transverse abs and obliques

Bicycle Crunch best ab exercise for women

How to do a bicycle crunch: 

  1. With your low back pressing firmly into the mat and your abdominal wall wrapped as tightly as possibly around your core, bring your legs to a raised 90 degree bend.
  2. Lift your neck and shoulders off the ground. Placing your hands behind your head and thinking about pressing your head into your fingertips. Imagine there’s a tennis ball tucked underneath your chin — this creates space between your chin and your chest and avoids extra neck strain.
  3. Use your core to lift your right elbow towards your left knee as you extend your right leg long.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat on the other side; pulling your left elbow towards your right knee as you extend your left leg long.
  5. Continue to repeat this ‘bicycling’ movement, alternating knee to elbow crunches.

To modify: see exercise #7 above, bent knee bicycle march.

15. Dead Bug

Targets: rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abs

Deadbug effective ab workout for women

How to do dead bug: 

  1. Lie on your back with your arms extended directly overhead and legs bent to 90 degrees (knees above hips).
  2. Note, the closer your knees are to your chest the easier this deadbug exercise will be. The farther your knees are from your chest, the harder this ab exercise will be.
  3. Keeping low back pressed into the floor, brace core and slowly and simultaneously extend and lower right leg until heel nearly touches floor and left arm until your hand nearly touches floor overhead.
  4. Then return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side. So simultaneously extend and lower your left leg until heel nearly touches floor and left arm until your hand nearly touches floor overhead.
  5. Continue this deadbug movement for a counted reps or a timed interval.

To modify: see exercise #3 above, bent knee leg lowers.

16. Seated Twist

Targets: obliques

seated twist abs exercise for women

How to do a seated twist: 

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs bent at 90 degrees. Lean back slightly sitting on your sit bones (two sitting bones and tailbone), keeping a nice long spine, shoulders down and back.
  2. Option to lift your legs off the ground, or keep them connected to the mat.
  3. With arms bent, claps your hands together.
  4. Simultaneously rotate your torso and clasped hands to the right side so that right elbow is hovering just off mat. While your lower body remains still. And your gaze should follow your hands as you move.
  5. Return the the starting position and then rotate hands and upper body to left side until left elbow is just off mat.
  6. Continue this seated ‘twisting’ motion for counted reps or timed interval.

To modify: see exercise #7 above, bent knee bicycle march.

17. Bear Crawl

Targets: rectus abdominis, transverse abs

bear crawl exercise for core strength

How to do a bear crawl: 

  1. Start in a table top position with shoulders stacked over wrists (soft bend in the elbows) and hips over knees.
  2. Then tuck your toes under, lifting up on your quads and engaging your low abs so knees hover a few inches off the floor.
  3. Keeping your hips stable, and your head in line with your tailbone, slowly step opposite hand and foot forward.
  4. Repeat with the other hand and foot. Continue this ‘bear crawl’ motion to the top of your mat.
  5. Then, reverse the movement to step backwards; returning to the starting position.
  6. Continue this ‘bear crawl’ movement for a timed interval.

18. V-Up

Targets: rectus abdominis, transverse abs

v up crunch advanced ab workout for women

How to do a V Up: 

  1. Start lying on your back with your arms and legs extended long. And your low back pressing firmly into the mat and your abdominal wall wrapped as tightly as possibly around your core.
  2. On the exhale, in one movement use your core to lift arms and upper body towards your legs; forming a “V” shape with your body. Lower back remains connected to the mat.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat this ‘V’ up movement for counted reps or a timed interval.

To modify: see exercise #7 above, bent knee bicycle march.

More of The Best Ab Workouts for Women

If you prefer to be coached through your workout, try out one of these full-length, follow-along workout videos:

Pin this Workout: The Best Ab Exercises For Women

The 18 best ab exercises for women

10 comments
    • Thanks Jen! I’m always on the lookout for new core moves, so let me know if you have any suggestions! xo-Lindsey

    • Caity! Yes, it’s always fun to find some new core moves — excited for you to give these a try! I did this routine one time through this morning and it’s a burner! xo-Lindsey

  1. This is so AWESOME! I need some more CORE moves for myself and the class that I teach…I have already pinned and wrote them down to use on Thursday morning! I needed this inspiration to up the core game…thanks for sharing friend! XOXO

    • Hi Katie! Yay, so glad you love these core exercises as much as I do! I’m working on a new Core workout video myself so this was a little inspiration for me too! Thanks for pinning and sharing! Have a great day! xo-Lindsey