Planks, oblique crunches, dead bugs, and v-ups – these are the 18 best ab exercises for women. This ab workout for women includes 9 beginner ab exercises and 9 advanced core exercises that will sculpt and strengthen your mid-section from every angle.
To sculpt a stronger, more defined core, you need to functionally train the muscles that criss-cross around the trunk of your body.
The best ab workouts for women incorporate exercises that fire up all of these major muscles in the core. Particularly exercises that work multiple ab muscles at the same time (like planks, dead bugs, and bear crawl variations).
If you want defined 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:
Reduces lower back pain
Provides stability to everyday movements and activities.
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Ab Workouts For Women FAQs
Why Is A Strong Core Important?
A strong core is important for so many reasons. According to Mayo Clinic, a strong core is tied to improved balance and stability, improved posture, reduced risk of lower back pain, and reduced risk of injuries (especially from activities that involve core rotation).
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 the transverse abdominis (deep core muscles, sometimes referred to as the “corset” of the body), internal and external obliques (muscles along the side of your core), rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” ab muscles) and multifidus and erector spinae (important stabilizing muscles located along the spine).
What Are The Most Effective Ab Exercises For Women?
Planks, bear crawls and dead dugs. These exercises hit all parts of the core and train the abs to stabilize the trunk of the body. The bicycle crunch is another one of the most effective ab exercises according to this study done by the American Council on Exercise.
Start lying on your side, right arm on the mat, left hand behind your head. Extend both legs long, feet stacked on top of one another. Brace your core.
Lift your head, neck and shoulders off the ground while also lifting your legs up off the mat. Keep both legs straight as you raise them, forming a “V” shape with your body. Think about bringing your left elbow to meet your left knee.
Slowly lower back down to the starting position.
Modification: Keep both legs on the ground for the entire movement, knees bent and feet together. Squeeze the core, and crunch through the side of your body to raise your head, neck and shoulders off the mat.
Targets: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominal muscles and obliques
Start lying flat on your back, lower back pressing firmly into the mat. Bring your legs to a raised 90 degree bend.
Lift your head, neck and shoulders off the ground. Place your hands behind your head and think about pressing your head into your fingertips.
Lift your right elbow towards your left knee as you extend your right leg long.
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.
Continue to repeat this ‘bicycling’ movement, alternating knee to elbow crunches.
Modification: Perform with knees bent, reducing the range of motion.
Targets: Deep core muscles (transverse abdominis), lower abdominal muscles, hips, shoulders and back (posterior and anterior deltoids).
Beginner (Dead Bug) / Advanced (Weighted Dead Bug)
How To Do A Dead Bug
Lie on your back flat on the floor, performing a slight pelvic tilt to press your lower back into the mat. Lift your knees to form a 90-degree angle (knees stacked on top of hips).
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your hands straight overhead toward the ceiling. Inhale, letting your belly expand.
Exhale, engaging your core. Extend your left leg and right arm away from your body, lowering the dumbbell in your right arm towards the ground with control. Left arm and right leg remain in place. With control, inhale as you return to center.
Then repeat on the opposite side. Exhale as you extend your right leg and left arm away from the body, lowering the dumbbell in your left arm towards the ground. With control, return to starting position.
Modification: Perform with just your bodyweight instead of adding a dumbbell. Option to reduce range of motion of your legs, performing dead dugs with knees bent instead of straight leg dead bugs.
Targets: Deep transverse abdomen muscles, rectus abdominis (six-pack ab muscles), oblique muscles, shoulders, back, legs, glutes and quads.
Beginner (Bear Crawl Hold) / Advanced (Bear Crawl and Arm Extension)
How To Do A Bear Crawl:
Start in a table top position, quadruped on all fours, shoulders stacked over wrists and hips stacked over knees, pelvis even.
Inhale as you let your belly slightly drop, raising your gaze up as you breathe through into your belly.
Exhale, drawing your belly button towards your spine. Tuck your toes under and lift your knees one inch off the mat, finding a bear crawl.
Hold this bear crawl position, then extend your right arm straight overhead, reaching out away from your body.
Return your right palm to the mat and repeat on the other side. Extending your left hand away from the body and then returning it to the mat.
Continue this pattern, alternating which hand is extended.
Modification: Hold a bear crawl for the timed interval.
Ab Workouts For Women: Trainer Tips and Tricks
Start with the beginner version, and scale up to more advanced versions when you feel ready. For reference, here are the best beginner ab exercises and advanced ab exercises:
9 Beginner Ab Exercises
Knee Down Side Plank
Bent Knee Leg Lowers
Bent Knee Side-to-Side Leg Lowers
Assisted Boat Pose
Side Oblique Crunch
Bent Knee Bicycle March
Bear Crawl Hold
9 Advanced Ab Exercises
Alternating Leg Lowers
Side-to-Side Leg Lowers
Advanced Boat Pose
Oblique V-Up Crunch
Weighted Dead Bug
Bear Crawl with Arm Extension
How To Engage Your Core During Ab Workouts
These are some common fitness instructor cues designed to help you safely perform core exercises:
Pull your belly button towards your spine. Your belly button is connected to your deepest ab muscles, which you want ‘pulled in’ when performing ab exercises.
When performing a mat ab exercise, press your lower back into the floor. This activates your core muscles and protects your back from injury or strain.
Imagine there is a string between your hip bones. As you exhale, imagine that string (or your TA muscles) are pulling your hip bones together.
How To Avoid Neck Pain During Ab Workouts
Avoid “pulling” on your neck. 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.
Take modifications. Neck pain can be a sign your core isn’t quite strong enough to complete the exercise you’re attempting.
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